Tuesday, September 1, 2009

More on the Geoffrey Sullivan case (updated)

Last month I wrote about a lawsuit where a Maine woman, Sherry Sullivan, won a $21 million judgment for the wrongful death of her father. She had alleged that her father, Geoffrey Sullivan, had died in Cuban custody. Sullivan and an associate, Alexander Rorke, had a history of flying over Cuba in the early 1960’s to carry out activities, shall we say, in opposition to the Castro government.

The Cuban government didn’t respond in court, and the judge ruled in the plaintiff’s favor.

I was interested in the judge’s reasoning, especially on the issue of evidence regarding Sullivan’s whereabouts and his alleged incarceration in Cuba, so I obtained his decision (pdf) from the court.

On that score, the decision isn’t very helpful. The judge simply took the plaintiff’s proposed “findings of fact and conclusions of law,” made a few edits by hand, and made the document his judgment in the case. He removed Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and the “Army of the Republic of Cuba” as defendants and left the Cuban government as the sole defendant.

The plaintiff’s document is interesting, however. It says that Sullivan and Rorke had “participated in various anti-Castro covert operations in Central America and Cuba” including “Operation Mongoose, the covert-action sabotage and subversion program against Cuba initiated in November, 1961 and the widely-publicized April, 1963 bombing of the former Esso oil refinery in Havana, Cuba, as well as collateral activities in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.”

It goes on to cite accounts by unnamed former prisoners in Cuba who say an American named Sullivan was in Cuban prisons. It states that Sullivan has been declared legally dead in the United States, and that his death “constitutes an extrajudicial killing under applicable law.” Further, since Cuba is listed by the U.S. government as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” U.S. anti-terrorism statutes apply to the case.

A few observations:

If someone sues you in Waldo County, Maine, you had better show up and respond in court.

These days, flying over a foreign country to bomb a refinery would be considered terrorism, or it would be considered an act of war if a government were behind it. The irony of using an anti-terrorism statute to benefit Mr. Sullivan’s family doesn’t seem to have entered into this case.

It still seems to me that the U.S. government owes Ms. Sullivan a straight answer about her father’s activities and any U.S. government connection to them. Lots of information about Operation Mongoose and similar activites of that era are in the public domain.

This case is a good object lesson for anyone who thinks that normalizing relations with Cuba would be a simple act. This and similar judgments against the Cuban government are hanging out there and will need to be resolved in some fashion.

Here’s a more immediate problem. If U.S.-Cuba mail service is re-established through the talks that will begin this month, and if the two sides were to agree that flights will carry mail in both directions, how would the U.S. government ensure that Cuban planes are not subject to seizure on U.S. soil to satisfy the $21 million claim that Ms. Sullivan now holds against the Cuban government?

Update: A reader asks if Cuba could appeal this decision even though it didn’t contest the case in court. Maine attorney and blogger Alan Nye gives the following answer: “Typically, an appeal from a civil action in the Superior Court to the Maine Law Court must be filed within 21 days. However, I don’t know if filing an appeal would be the next step. Technically, on an appeal you argue that the trial court made a mistake of law in ruling on the facts presented at trial. There does not appear to have been a trial in this case so I'm not clear what an ‘appeal’ would present for issues. Since this appears to be a Default Judgment by the Court, it might be possible to file a Request for Relief From Judgment on the grounds of ‘mistake, inadverence, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence, fraud, mistrepresentation’ etc. The motion needs to be filed in a reasonable time, but for the reasons I just listed, not more than one year after the judgment.”


leftside said...

The judge simply took the plaintiff’s proposed “findings of fact and conclusions of law,” made a few edits by hand, and made the document his judgment in the case.

I thought you might be exagerrating here. But no. That is absolutely what the Judge did. Hand written edits of a plaintiff's complaint. The only thing the Judge changed in the actual text is that the daughter was trying to blame her "economic misfortune, sexual assualt and gang rape" on the Castro brothers. That seemed a hair too far I guess...

I'll note also that the basis of the charge is the assumption that Cuba was guilty of an "extrajudicial killing," despite the total lack of proof of Cuba's involvement. Isn't it reasonable to think that if Cuba actually did catch US mercenaries/terrorists dropping bombs on Cuba they would parade them before the entire world as an example of CIA action against Cuba? Why would they completely hide his existence?

The irony of using an anti-terrorism statute to benefit (the family of a terrorist) doesn’t seem to have entered into this case.

Welcome to the "looking glass world".

Anonymous said...

operation mongoose was a state sponsored terrorist operation. if sullivan was involved, he was a terrorist. but of course, not the kind the americans go after against, as long as it's our side killing innocents, that's ok.
american justice in this case and like the Cuban Five is an oxymoron; like army intelligence. actually, when it comes to legal matters concerning cuba, the US has an entirely different set of rules, mostly just made up or in complete opposition to sanity.
but as far as the right wingers are concerned cuba has never had any right to defend itself.

and why would the Cubans pass up the chance to parade an american caught in terrorist activities.

calling Opertaion Mongoose: 'activities' is like saying 9/11 was pilot error.

Anonymous said...

Is there an statute of limitations for filing appeals in cases like this?

Vecino de NF

Anonymous said...

"our side"?? Not sure what "side" you're talking about because you sure don't sound like you are on "our side" if you believe that we are the war criminals and terrorists. Is it "our side" that mutilates people trying to exercise their right to vote? Is it "our side" that beheads "non-believers" and then revels in the bloodlust on video? Is it "our side" that deliberately targets for murder innocent women and children??? You warped miscreant, you wouldn't last a day living under sharia or in a police state like Cuba before you'd be scurrying back to the US crying for your government to protect your pathetic wretched ass.


Phil Peters said...

see update for answer on the appeal issue

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the update!

Vecino de NF

Anonymous said...

chingon, you really don't have a clue do you? our side is torturing and killing innocents, keeping thousands in jail with no charges, all the while conducting an illegal war that has killed thousands in iraq. or are you still in support of that war to bring 'freedom' to iraq, when it fact all it has done is bring destruction and death. if that doesn't rise to the level of war criminals, nothing does.
our side had conducted thousands of terrorist acts against cuba for years. our side has as much blood on its hands as anyone.
and our side is worse because it claims the moral high ground. and then you get cheney etal defending torture, and the lackeys all doing their best to end any investigation.
if you really believe the drivel you write, then please explain what operation mongoose was? do your best to get a clue
it is your birther types that are the worst of our society, those who just can't open their eyes even a little bit to see our side is just as capable as the other for humanities worst aspects.
try living in the 21st century for a change.

Anonymous said...

What a miserable pathetic life you must lead if you can't see any difference between the U.S. spilling Nazi, Imperialist Japan, North Korean, Viet Cong and jihadist blood and the efforts of our enemies to spill American blood.


Anonymous said...

it's all from the side you are on, you moron. killing innocents in cuba is freedom fighting, killing innocents in America is terrorism.
ok, as long as we know exactly how your mind works. if your a communist you deserve to die, women, children old people. don't matter.
and if you torture and kill the innocent, no problem.
pathetic, yeah, that's exactly the right word for it.
i notice you didn't mention Iraq, did the innocents there, that had nothing to do with 9/11 and were NOT jihadists, deserve to die?
but then keep the historical fantasies you have about USA, I"m sure they comfort you in the deep darkness of your soul.

Anonymous said...

chingon, you would make a great Nazi, they also thought they never did any wrong.
seriously though, you're becoming the Glen Beck of this blog.

Anonymous said...

I'll say it again, you pathetic miscreant, I wish you could spend one day living under sharia or a secular police state to jog your warped brain into understanding who are the real enemies of freedom and human rights.


Anonymous said...

so then I assume you support the illegal invasion of Iraq, the death of thousands of american soldiers, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, the forced immigration of millions, torture and imprisonment of innocents -- all in the name of your warped concepts of freedom and human rights?
hey we got George Bush blogging here.
and how do you know where i have lived? please explain.
no matter how much you kick and scream, no matter how much you rant and rave, no one believes your extreme right wing attitudes towards cuba. but that's what scares you cubanologists so bad when talk of ending travel restrictions come up -- there is no way in hell you want americans to go to cuba and see the reality; you'd much prefer to keep telling everyone how to think about cuba, not let them see for themselves. Hmm, isn't that what a police state is all about. sounds like you have one in your own mind.

Anonymous said...

Have you not heard of the Pete Weininger case? He was a pilot who went down in the Bay of Pigs. Cuba didn't "parade" him around for the world to see. Instead, they kept his body preserved for years and would routinely pull the casket out to desecrate on it. The Sullivan covert missions were sanctioned and paid for by this government. It was a war. And, did you know that Castro sentenced Sullivan's partner, Alexander Rorke, to death in absentia? Have you ever heard of Geneva Convention.