Bar Exams in the Pandemic JURIST Digital Scholars
Federal court rules against North Korea for 1968 abuse of US soldiers
Federal court rules against North Korea for 1968 abuse of US soldiers

[JURIST] Judge Henry Kennedy [official profile] for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Wednesday ruled [decision, PDF] in favor of three former US soldiers suing North Korea [JURIST news archive] for alleged mistreatment they suffered after the country seized their ship in 1968. According to the ruling, William Massie, Donald McClarren, Dunnie Tuck and other crew members of the USS Pueblo [veteran advocacy website] were captured by North Korean forces while operating in international waters, then held in captivity for eleven months where they were regularly beaten, burned, forced to appear in propaganda photographs and subjected to mock executions. The judge ruled that a 1998 exception [28 USC § 1605 text] to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act [text] granted the court jurisdiction over the case because "money damages are [being] sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death that was caused by an act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, [or] hostage taking" and because North Korea has been designated as a "state sponsor of terrorism." Justifying the damages awarded to the men, Kennedy wrote:

The pain and suffering endured by Massie, Tuck, McClarren, and Cdr. Bucher, over the eleven months of their captivity was extensive and shocking. While there is no set formula for quantifying the damages for such pain and suffering, in some cases of prolonged and abusive captivity, plaintiffs are awarded approximately $10,000 per day for the pain and suffering they experienced while captive…

Massie, Tuck, [and] McClarren, suffered physical and mental harm that has endured for the past 39 years and likely will continue to endure throughout the rest of their lives… each, is entitled to $13,400,000 for their post release and future pain and suffering.

Kennedy wrote that North Korea was given proper notice of the lawsuit and a chance to arbitrate the matter, but did not respond. The three men, and the wife and estate of a fourth, were awarded a total of $65 million.

In June, US President George W. Bush announced plans [statement; JURIST report] to remove North Korea from the State Department list of terror sponsors [text] after the country's February 2007 agreement [JURIST report] to end its nuclear weapons program. Despite the military concessions, the country still faces criticism [JURIST report] for its human right record.