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Judge gives $65M to USS Pueblo Captives

•  National News     updated  2009/01/02 09:41


A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered North Korea to pay $65.85 million to two crew members of the USS Pueblo, the commander's widow and a civilian oceanographer for kidnapping and torturing the ship's crew in 1968.
    In a sordid 33-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy describes how the crew members were systematically beaten and tortured during 11 months in captivity.
    William Thomas Massie, Donald Raymond McClarren, Dunnie Richard Tuck and the estate of Lloyd Bucher, the ship's commander, sued North Korea for damages, alleging egregious violations of human rights.
    The USS Pueblo was captured in the Sea of Japan, about 25 miles off the coast of North Korea, while on an electronic surveillance mission on Jan. 23, 1968.
    The crew was dragged off the ship while bound and blindfolded, and led through a crowd of hostile and unruly North Koreans, who shouted insults and spat at them. The guards also kicked their legs and administered "karate chops," the ruling states.
    The captives were then transported to Pyongyang, where they were taken to a "prison" nicknamed the "Barn" on the outskirts of town. There, they were separated into rooms of four prisoners each. The conditions were cold and dark, and there was no running water. The prison was infested with rats and bed begs, one of which bit Massie, causing him to develop a severe infection that had to be lanced by a North Korean doctor without the use of an anesthetic. Bucher lost about 50 pounds, Massie lost 51 and Tucker lost 37.
    For almost a year, North Korean officers beat, starved, tortured and intimidated the men, in order to coerce them into confessing that they were spies for South Korea. The captors tried to get Bucher to sign a typed statement that he was a CIA spy trying to incite a war.
    Though Bucher initially refused to sign, he eventually capitulated after his captors threatened to shoot his crew, in his presence, one by one.
    While the men were being held hostage, the North Koreans tried to extract a public apology from the U.S. government. The hostages were forced to participate in staged press conferences and propaganda films, which they sabotaged by inserting corny, archaic language into the prepared statements and sticking up their middle fingers in pictures and videos. They told the North Koreans that the middle finger gesture was the "Hawaiian Good Luck Sign." When the captors discovered the true meaning of the obscene gesture, they ramped up the beatings, launching a campaign of torture dubbed "Hell Week."
    Judge Kennedy said countries that sponsor terrorism forfeit their sovereign immunity. And although the plaintiffs were released 25 years before Congress enacted the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty of 1996, Kennedy said Congress intended it to apply retroactively.
    Because North Korea never responded to the damage claim, Kennedy entered judgment for the plaintiffs. He awarded Massie, McClarren and Tuck $16.7 million each, while Bucher's estate recieved $14.3 million. Bucher's widow, Rose, won $1.25 million.
    "The effects of the outrageous conduct of North Korea will be felt by Massie, Tuck, McClarren and Rose Bucher for the rest of their lives," Kennedy concluded.



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