Ship attacked by North Korea in 1968; crew held hostage, tortured, beaten for 11 months
CHICAGO, Oct. 2, 2017 – Three surviving USS Pueblo crewmembers and the family of a deceased Commander recovered $9 million after being attacked, kidnapped, and tortured by North Korea 49 years ago. Kevin J. Conway, of Cooney & Conway, represented the case pursuant to the Justice for Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act.
“It is an honor to represent the men and the families involved,” Conway said. “I am happy that they have received compensation. It is hard to imagine more deserving human beings.”
Daniel Gilbert, who represented the Commander and three crew members for over 14 years, sought Conway’s assistance in 2016. Nathaniel Wallace, a third year student at Loyola University School of Law, provided extensive assistance. “Nate did excellent work,” Gilbert said.
On January 23, 1968 Commander Lloyd Bucher, crewmembers William T. Massie, Donald R. McClarren, and Dunnie R. Tuck, Jr., were aboard the U.S.S. Pueblo. While drifting in International Waters, 13 miles off the coast of North Korea near Wonson, the Pueblo was attacked by a North Korean Subchaser and three Soviet-designed torpedo boats. The subchaser and torpedo boats were heavily armed.
When first attacked, the Pueblo made way further into International Waters. The four North Korean vessels fired cannon and machine guns while surrounding the Pueblo. Two North Korean snub-nosed Mig-21s circled above. When the torpedo boats prepared to fire torpedoes, Commander Bucher ordered the Pueblo to stop.
Crewman Duane Hodges was killed and Commander Bucher was wounded in the attack. North Korean officers and enlisted men quickly boarded the Pueblo with AK47 assault rifles taking control of the ship. The crew was held hostage.
During eleven months of captivity in North Korea the officers and crew members of the Pueblo were starved and tortured. They were interrogated and beaten while blindfolded. One location of the interrogations and torture was dubbed “the Barn.” In “the Barn” the captors demanded that Commander Bucher sign a typed confession that he was a spy, a member of the CIA, and was trying to start a war. He refused. As a result, he was forced to kneel on the floor while a North Korean officer drew a pistol and stood behind him. Another officer ordered the gunman to kill Bucher. The trigger was pulled, but the gun did not discharge.
Later, the captors threatened to kill crewmembers of the Pueblo in front of Bucher, if he did not sign the typed confession. When the first crewman was about to be shot, Commander Bucher agreed to sign the confession.
The captives were used for propaganda purposes by the North Korean Government. They were bathed, shaved and given clean clothing in preparation for staged press conferences to illustrate the humane treatment of their captors. The crewmen, however, played a trick on the North Koreans. The crew was photographed and filmed while raising their middle fingers. They told the North Koreans that the raised middle finger was known as the “Hawaiian Good Luck Sign.” Later, the captors learned of the significance of “the finger.” As a result, the crew received additional beatings.
After prolonged diplomatic negotiations, the captives from the U.S.S. Pueblo were freed. On December 24, 1968, they walked across the Bridge of No Return at Panmunjom into South Korea.
In 2006, a suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which provided an exception to the immunity of foreign states. A prove up followed and final judgment was entered on December 30, 2008 by Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr.
Conway argued for compensation under the Justice for Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act, an act largely designed to benefit the Iranian hostages. Conway argued that it be construed more broadly to include the four clients on the U.S.S. Pueblo. The Special Master, Kenneth Feinberg, and the Department of Justice agreed.
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Founded in 1958, Cooney & Conway is a plaintiffs-only law firm located in downtown Chicago, Illinois. A significant practice area of the firm is asbestos litigation, where experienced attorneys serve as advocates for victims of asbestos-related injuries and their families. Cooney & Conway has successfully handled large numbers of asbestos litigation cases in Illinois and throughout the United States. In northern Illinois alone, we handle approximately 90 percent of all mesothelioma cases.
Cooney & Conway also represents seriously injured personal injury plaintiffs in many types of actions, including transportation liability, medical malpractice, professional negligence, construction liability and workplace injuries, premises liability, product liability, negligence, and mass torts.
Among the many successes recorded on behalf of our clients, Cooney & Conway has numerous multi-million dollar settlements against Haliburton, Owens Corning Fiberglass, United States Gypsum, Armstrong, and many others.