After almost two years of delays, motions and negotiations, CCR attorneys have finally received some–but not all–of the documents from the federal agencies which may possess information concerning Ben Linder; who was murdered in 1987 by U.S. supported contras in Nicaragua.
Linder, a U.S. citizen, and two Nicaraguans were murdered in April 1987by contras who attacked them while they were constructing a small dam in the village of Bocay. The dam was part of a project to provide electricity and possible water and to boost development in a poor, rural area of Nicaragua.
In 1988, CCR filed suit in federal district court in Miami against the contra organizations and their leaders, Adolfo Calero, Enrique Bermudez, Aristides Sanchez and Ignacio Rodriguez, charging them with the death of Linder. the complaint alleged they ordered the killing, or were at least aware of or condoned the contra practice of killing civilians and executing the wounded. Plaintiffs, the family of Benjamin Linder, asserted a cause of action under international law and the wrongful death law of Florida–the state in which the contras then had their headquarters and where much of their leadership resided.
In 1990, the district court dismissed the case on political question grounds–a discretionary doctrine which precludes federal courts from deciding cases which could interfere with foreign policy. But in a precedent-setting-opinion the appeals court reversed in 1992, signifying, for the first time, that tort suits–suits for damages–could be based on violations of the customary laws of war.
CCR subpoenaed government documents relevant to the case in late 1993. After the government refused to even discuss complying with the subpoenas, we filed a Motion to Compel in April 1994. The court ordered the government to produce some documents and the government finally complied in July 1995.
Discovery will continue, as CCR attorneys study the documents they have received and endeavor to obtain others pertaining to this case.
Michael Ratner, Beth Stephens, Jules Lobel, Mahlon Perkins, Margaret Ratner, Jennifer M. Green and Harold Koh of Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic of Yale Law School and Daniel E. Jonas