Family of Slain Engineer Sues Contras for $50 Million
MIAMI (AP) _ The family of an American engineer slain by the Contras in Nicaragua filed a $50 million wrongful death suit Wednesday against rebel leaders and accused the Reagan administration of covering up the incident.
Benjamin Linder, 27, of Portland, Ore., was shot to death April 28, 1987, when Contra troops attacked the small hydroelectric project he was helping to build in northern Nicaragua.
″They wounded Ben and then shot him through the head at point-blank range,″ said Linder’s mother, Elisabeth Linder. ″This is an act of murder and those responsible should pay for their crimes.″
The autopsy showed Linder had up to 40 needle puncture marks on his face, suggesting he may have been tortured before his death, the family said.
Asked if the object of the federal suit was to close down the Contras, Mrs. Linder answered, ″damn right.″
Named as defendants in the suit are Nicaraguan Resistance directors Adolfo Calero and Aristides Sanchez, along with military leaders Enrique Bermudez and Indalecio Rodriguez. The resistance itself is also being sued. The suit was referred to U.S. District Judge Stanley Marcus, but no hearing has been set.
Contra spokesman Jorge Rosales said Wednesday that his group had no comment on the suit.
The Linders’ attorney, Michael Ratner of the New York-based Center for Consititutional Rights, said the Reagan administration, which strongly supports the Contras in their effort to oust the leftist Nicaraguan government, had tried to thwart the family’s investigation.
″The U.S. role is, we believe, very strong in the coverup,″ said Ratner. He said the U.S. government could be added to the suit - filed in Miami because the Contras have their headquarters here - or could be sued separately at a later time.
The State Department coached the Contra unit responsible for the attack on how to answer questions from people investigating the killing, and U.S. officials destroyed notes and sketches made during their own interviews with the rebels, the attorney said.
Department spokesman Bud Jacobs did not immediately return a telephone call Wednesday seeking comment.
The Contras have previously acknowledged Linder’s death, but said only that he was armed and died in a firefight between Contras and Sandinista troops. The New York Times last year reported that Contra leaders said privately that Linder had been mistaken for a Cuban adviser. But the Linder family said his son’s presence in the area was well-known.
The Linders agreed their son was armed at the time of the attack, saying that he carried a weapon because of Contra death threats against co-workers.
At the news conference, Ratner also displayed a June 1987 State Department memo showing that a department-hired consultant, Dr. Sam Zweifel, agreed with the family’s autopsy report showing Linder was shot at close range, rather than in a gunbattle.
″I would like to know more about the complicity of the (Reagan) administration,″ said Linder’s father, Dr. David Linder. ″I don’t see why they are so secretive if they have nothing to hide.″
He said whether or not U.S. government officials knew in advance of the attack, he held them responsible because they funded and directed the Contras.
″Ben’s death was no accident,″ said his father. ″He and his co-workers were targeted by the Contras because they were bringing electricity to poor Nicaraguans.′
Mrs. Linder said trial testimony would show the CIA helped the Contras chose what places to attack. The attack on the Cua-Bocay hydroeletric plant was part of a concerted effort by the Contras to stop rural development projects, they said.