A federal judge threw out a $24-million damage suit Thursday against former CIA officials, Contra leaders and cocaine traffickers accused of running an arms-for-drugs smuggling scheme.
Chief U.S. District Judge James Lawrence King dismissed the case against Iran-Contra figures Richard V. Secord and Albert A. Hakim; Theodore G. Shackley, former CIA deputy director of operations; former Maj. Gen. John K. Singlaub, and 25 other defendants, including leaders of Colombia's violent Medellin cartel.
The suit was filed two years ago by the liberal Washington-based Christic Institute on behalf of journalist Tony Avirgan, who was injured in the 1984 Nicaragua bombing aimed at maverick Contra leader Eden Pastora.
King said the plaintiffs failed to prove their basic contention that a wide-ranging conspiracy was responsible for the La Penca bombing that injured Avirgan and for later threats aimed at covering up their involvement.
'There Is No Basis'
"That's fantastic," Shackley said in Washington when told of the dismissal. "It's what I have been saying all along: There is no basis to the damn thing."
His sentiments were echoed by Thomas Spencer, the attorney for Singlaub.
"We're elated," Spencer said. "Now it's pay-back time. We're going to file some actions for malicious prosecution and defamation" against the Christic Institute and their attorney, Daniel Sheehan.
The Christic Institute in Washington issued a terse response to the judge's decision.
"We're going to appeal immediately," Director Sara Nelson said. Their spokesman, Peter Dykstra, said he believed that the decision was an effort to delay the case until after the November elections.
Sheehan said King wanted to keep the case from going to court because the information that would be revealed is "too explosive."
"The judge made this decision in order to stop this case from going to trial before the upcoming election," he said. "I think it is transparent. I think it is a judicial disgrace. . . . We are embarrassed for the court."
Although only 13 of the defendants had filed motions for summary judgment, King said the case was not strong enough for trial against the remainder.
"The plaintiffs have made no showing of existence of genuine issues of material fact with respect to either the bombing at La Penca, the threats made to their news sources or threats made to themselves," the judge wrote.
The damage and racketeering suit charged that the defendants were members of a right-wing terror network dating from 1959 and that they illegally participated in assassination plots, gunrunning and drug trafficking.
Other well-known defendants included Contra director Adolfo Calero, reputed Medellin cartel leaders Pablo Escobar Gaviria and Jorge Ochoa Vasquez, Iran-Contra case figure Robert W. Owen, Costa Rican rancher John Hull and former mercenary Sam N. Hall.
Many Named in Contra Case
The suit was filed in May, 1986, six months before the Iran-Contra affair became public, and many of the people it named have been indicted or have appeared before congressional committees investigating that case.
The suit accused the defendants of funding illegal Contra activities with drug runs in cooperation with the Medellin cartel, and of threatening, imprisoning and even killing anyone who threatened to uncover the ring.
Affidavits filed with the suit said the Contra involvement was simply the latest venture of what Sheehan called an "off-the-shelf, stand-alone, self-financing" operation dating from the botched Bay of Pigs invasion and the Vietnam War.
According to the suit, Shackley and others, using drug profits, assassinated officials in Vietnam, Iran, Nicaragua and other nations. By keeping the operation off the books, they could violate federal laws and avoid congressional oversight, it said.
The key event in the suit was the May, 1984, bombing of a news conference held by Pastora.
Three journalists and five Pastora supporters died in the explosion, although Pastora was only slightly injured. Avirgan was seriously hurt.
The suit said the bombing was arranged by Shackley, Contra leaders and others angered that Pastora refused to join anti-Sandinista groups he considered too close to deposed Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza.
All of the major figures in the suit have denied the charges.