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Navy officer loses suit against Russians
Question of the Day
A federal jury in Seattle yesterday ruled against a Navy intelligence officer who sued a Russian shipping company over a 1997 surveillance mission that left his eyes damaged from a laser.
Larry Klayman, the lawyer for Lt. Cmdr. Jack Daly, said the case against the Russian Far Eastern Shipping Co., which owns the merchant ship Kapitan Man, was hampered by U.S. government resistance and unfavorable rulings by the judge.
"Ultimately, it was difficult overcoming the U.S. government, which exonerated the Kapitan Man and the Russians," Mr. Klayman, chairman of the watchdog group Judicial Watch, said in a telephone interview.
Cmdr. Daly sued the Russian Far Eastern Shipping Co. (FESCO) for battery and negligence stemming from the April 4, 1997, surveillance mission carried out from a Canadian helicopter in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Washington state's Puget Sound.
The intelligence officer was working with the Canadian military in monitoring the Russian ship as it was gathering intelligence on a U.S. ballistic-missile submarine moving outbound in the strait. Both Cmdr. Daly and the helicopter pilot, Capt. Pat Barnes, suffered permanent eye injuries that were later found to be caused by laser exposure after flying over the Kapitan Man.
After a day of deliberations, the jury ruled that the laser attack could not be linked to the shipping company, Mr. Klayman said.
Cmdr. Daly, 43, wore his Navy uniform during the two-week civil trial in federal court, even though the Navy warned him against wearing the uniform and other Navy witnesses were allowed to wear their uniforms.
The intelligence officer was seeking $25 million in damages from the Vladivostok-based shipping company, which is owned in part by the Russian government.
The Russian company based its case on a Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) investigation of the incident which stated in a report that a laser was fired at the helicopter but that its source could not be determined.
Lawyers for Cmdr. Daly argued that the laser incident was covered up by Clinton administration officials in the interest of avoiding a disruption of growing ties with the Russian government.
"Obviously, we're very disappointed," Mr. Klayman said of the ruling. "But we're going to appeal."
Mr. Klayman said he planned to pursue U.S. government officials involved in the ONI investigation and other elements of the incident "who were responsible for covering this up."
"We're not finished and we have strong grounds for appeal," he said. "We've just begun to fight."
The case experienced a setback Thursday when U.S. District Judge John Coughenour rejected Mr. Klayman's request to have Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican, testify for Cmdr. Daly.
Judge Coughenour stated that Mr. Smith's testimony would be unfair as a rebuttal witness because he had not testified earlier, and that his testimony would be "marginal" because it related to the investigation and not to the incident.
"There's no way I was given the information I should have had in this case," Mr. Smith, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters in Seattle.
Mr. Smith said he had planned to testify about photographs of the Kapitan Man which showed a red light that was believed to be a laser coming from the bridge of the ship.
"Mr. Daly was an active-duty military officer injured in the line of duty," Mr. Smith said. "Sometimes you get a Purple Heart for that. You can't expect to send men into battle if you're not going to support them when they come home. People won't go into battle anymore."
Earlier, the judge barred the testimony of a former director of naval intelligence at the time of the incident.
During the trial, former Pentagon laser expert Terrence Kessler told jurors that a magenta spot seen in one of the photographs taken during the 1997 surveillance mission was consistent with a laser.
FESCO lawyer Marc Warner denied during the trial that there was a laser on the ship or that the merchant ship was involved in spying. He said the Kapitan Man was a cargo ship on a routine commercial trip.
Mr. Warner said Cmdr. Daly had failed to produce any "positive evidence" of a laser on the Kapitan Man.
He said the intelligence officer's case was based on debunking the Navy's investigation.
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