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Two American engineers who claimed they were thrown into a Libyan prison for 105 days and tortured as suspected spies have been awarded $17.8 million in their lawsuit against the Libyan government. The default judgment in favor of Roger Frey and Michael Price on Monday — an exception to sovereign immunity normally provided to foreign countries in U.S. courts — found that the Libyan government had sponsored their torture. Andrew C. Hall, partner at Hall David and Joseph in Miami, represented the plaintiffs before U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in the District of Columbia. It’s unclear how Hall might seek to collect the verdict. Hall did not return a call for comment before deadline. In other cases against foreign governments, lawyers have gone after a country’s assets in the U.S. Lamberth presided over the bench trial with only the plaintiffs presenting evidence. Arman Dabiri Abkenari, a Washington attorney who had represented Libya, withdrew in May. He declined to comment on the case. In his motion to withdraw, Abkenari claimed that Libya had failed to cooperate with him and had not fully reimbursed him for his work. Frey and Price sued Libya in 1997, alleging the Libyan government had tortured them for several months in 1980. The United States cut off diplomatic relations with Libya in 1981 for supporting terrorism and imposed economic sanctions. The two engineers were living in Tripoli and working for Oasis Oil Company of Libya Inc. when they were detained by police. Frey and Price were taking pictures of construction sites in Tripoli when plainclothes officers told them that the photography was illegal and took their passports. Frey and Price went to a police station to get back their passports and were detained on espionage allegations on March 19, 1980. They were accused of working for the CIA and were asked to sign Arabic documents admitting their guilt. Frey and Price refused and were imprisoned, according to court documents. The engineers became pawns in a game of international intrigue. Libyan officials told Frey and Price that they would be convicted of spying and held hostage until Libya could exchange them for Libyan agents in the United States who were expected to be arrested for assassinating Libyan dissidents. At the Gedeidah Prison for dissidents, the plaintiffs alleged, they were not fed and depended on the kindness of other prisoners. Shortly after their incarceration, Frey and Price refused to sign confessions and were punished by being forced to clean human excrement from the prison latrine using nothing but their hands and a coat hanger. Frey and Price testified that as they cleaned, guards would defecate and force the men to clean up after them. Price claimed that a prosecutor concocted the story that his mother had died and he would be freed for the funeral if he confessed to spying. When he didn’t go along, the pressure to confess escalated. Frey and Price claimed they were taken from their cells in the middle of the night, bound to chairs and forced to watch as other prisoners were beaten by police. The plaintiffs claimed they witnessed three beatings and that one inmate died after officers put a hammer through his skull. After the beatings, Frey and Price agreed to confess to being CIA spies, but the torture continued as police pressured them to name their Libyan helpers. The pair said they were moved to another prison, where they were beaten and subjected to mock executions. In July 1980, the engineers were taken before a Libyan judge who concluded there was no evidence of spying. Initially, officials told Frey and Price they would be held pending an appeal. But in late July, they were told that Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi had intervened and their case had been dropped. During trial, Frey and Price offered evidence that they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and are unable to maintain relationships. Price has difficulty working, and Frey’s anxiety became so bad after the 2001 terrorist attacks that he could no longer work at all. Price suffers hearing loss from the beatings and will likely develop diabetes because of a condition brought on by the beatings, according to the judge’s findings. Frey also has lost hearing. Before Libya dropped out of the case, it had challenged the veracity of the engineers’ stories, claiming they had changed over time. The plaintiffs’ expert psychiatrist, Norman Decker, testified that the two suffered from amnesia due to their traumatic imprisonment. The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act governs when U.S. citizens can sue foreign governments but bars punitive damages. Frey and Price filed under the state-sponsored terrorism exception, which allows a civil action in U.S. courts for hostage-taking, torture, killing or aircraft sabotage by a foreign government or its agents. To meet the exemption, plaintiffs must prove the defendant nation had been designated by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terror, the defendant country had an opportunity to arbitrate the claim and the plaintiff was a U.S. citizen at the time of the act. Lamberth ruled that U.S. courts had jurisdiction over Libya and awarded Frey $9.3 million and Price $8.5 million. Hall has been involved in other suits alleging foreign government torture. In 2001, he represented eight U.S. citizens who won an $18 million award after their 1995 capture by Iraq.

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