Daughter of executed pilot wins big suit against Cuba
By Guy Taylor
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The daughter of an American pilot executed in Cuba after the 1961 Bay
of Pigs invasion won a settlement against the Cuban government for more
than $86 million Thursday in Florida.
A circuit court judge in Miami granted the compensation to Janet R. Weininger, who had sued Cuban President Fidel Castro under a federal anti-terrorism law allowing families of American victims to seek damages from state sponsors of terrorism.
Miss Weininger's father, Thomas W. Ray, was shot down while flying a CIA mission during the Bay of Pigs landing. Her lawyers said the settlement should be paid from Cuban assets frozen for the past 40 years by the United States.
As in other cases filed against Castro, the Cuban government did not attempt to defend itself.
Mr. Ray, who was serving as a member of the Alabama Air National Guard when he flew the Bay of Pigs mission, was captured alive after his B-26 bomber went down over Cuba, according to the ruling by Judge Ronald C. Dresnick.
He later was executed without trial, says the ruling, which cites witness descriptions of how Mr. Ray was taken to the headquarters of Fidel and Raul Castro and killed "when a firearm was firmly placed against [his] right temple and fired."
After the execution, Mr. Ray's body was kept in a freezer in Havana for 18 years. "High-ranking officials of the Cuban government would routinely remove [the body] to mock it and to place their feet on top of his face," the ruling says.
At times, the Cubans reportedly put the body on display in a glass case to prove U.S. involvement in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, during which 1,500 CIA-trained exiles attempted to overthrow Mr. Castro's communist regime in April 1961.
Miss Weininger, who called Thursday's ruling "justice for my father," said the Cubans had desecrated his body, treating it "like a sick trophy."
The 50-year-old woman said that since she was 6 years old, she had written hundreds of letters and telegrams to Mr. Castro, fighting for the release of her father's remains. In 1979, the Cubans released the remains, and Mr. Ray was buried with full military honors in Alabama.
Miss Weininger did not file suit seeking damages until last year, and it remains to be seen whether the settlement will ever by paid.
"The next phase will be the collection phase," said Leon Patricios, a Miami attorney who represented Miss Weininger.
He said the $86.5 million awarded her by Judge Dresnick could be paid from seized Cuban assets held in U.S. banks.
The U.S. government seized about $100 million in Cuban assets during the late 1950s and early 1960s, he said, adding the money has increased over the years.
Miss Weininger's suit was filed under the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which, according to news reports, has given rise to three other similar cases during the past eight years.
Specifically, it has allowed family members of pilots shot down while flying missions for Brothers to the Rescue Inc. -- a small nonprofit group that flies missions searching for rafters in the Florida Straits -- to sue Castro's government in U.S. state and federal courts.
While multiple legal victories have been granted by American judges, the Miami Herald reported Thursday that families of only three Brothers to the Rescue pilots have been successful in collecting money from the seized Cuban assets.
The families won a $187 million settlement in 1997 and it wasn't until the final weeks of President Clinton's second term that the government released some of the frozen assets, about $93 million, to cover a portion of the settlement.