at OCWeekly News
Who Killed Col. James Sabow?
Was Marine Corps Col. James Sabow the victim of a military cover-up?
By Nick Schou
Feb 17 2000
[excerpt from pages 4-7]
In April 1994, the Sabow family filed a claim against the military at the Orange County Federal Courthouse. Assigned to the case was U.S. District Judge Alicemarie Stotler, who promptly dismissed it because, she declared, families of servicemen have no right to sue the military.
At that point, the case looked lost. The Sabows' first attorney [name?] refused to appeal but mentioned in passing a case that eerily paralleled their own. Dr. Sabow would soon discover the lawyer was speaking about the now-defunct, Washington, D.C.-based Christic Institute and referring to Daniel Sheehan, the group's founder and former guiding light. Dr. Sabow was intrigued; he offered the case to Sheehan, who agreed to handle the appeal. A panel of federal judges in Sacramento heard Sheehan's appeal and upheld the lawsuit, sending the Sabow case back to Stotler for trial.
But the case was delayed for months when the Justice Department's U.S. Attorney's Office, which represented the Marine Corps, challenged Sheehan's request to practice law in California. Though Stotler ultimately allowed Sheehan to proceed, the government's protest is worth considering because it begins to address an important question: Who is Dan Sheehan?
Sheehan outside El Toro:
Still Chasing the CIA
In seeking to bar Sheehan from participating in the Sabow trial, the government's attorneys noted, "Mr. Sheehan's application materially misrepresents his status and omits information required to be submitted as part of this application." Sheehan had failed to report that the Christic Institute had been fined more than $1 million by a federal judge in Miami. According to the government's motion, the judge fined Sheehan after he submitted "an affidavit with unknown, nonexistent, deceased sources," using a "deceptive style used to mask its shortcomings, which ultimately resulted in two years of vexations and fruitless discovery in furtherance of a frivolous lawsuit."
The case in question, Avirgan v. Hull, is better known as the Christic Institute lawsuit. It concerned a still-unresolved May 30, 1984, assassination attempt against Nicaraguan contra leader Eden Pastora at a press conference in La Penca, Costa Rica. Tony Avirgan, one of the journalists injured in the bombing, and his wife, investigative reporter Martha Honey, began investigating the incident, convinced it was carried out by Cuban exiles working for the CIA in the Reagan administration's secret war against Nicaragua. Their hunch was based on a simple fact: just moments before the bombing, Pastora, a former Sandinista, had criticized the CIA's favored contra wing, the National Democratic Front, or FDN, which had been set up by former members of ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza's National Guard.
In 1985, Honey and Avirgan published a book linking the bombing to a group of Cuban exiles and American civilians operating on behalf of the contras, including John Hull, a right-wing, larger-than-life American expatriate who lived on a sprawling ranch along Costa Rica's northern border with Nicaragua. Hull's ranch doubled as a drop-off point for CIA-sponsored flights to and from, among other locations, El Salvador's Ilopango Airport, a key link in the contra-support operation. Hull didn't appreciate the publicity and sued the couple for defamation, demanding $1 million in damages.
Honey and Avirgan were clients desperately in need of a lawyer; Sheehan's Christic Institute was a crusading nonprofit law firm in need of a high-profile case. The most intriguing evidence came from Jack Terrell, an employee of Rob Owen, who reported directly to Oliver North at the White House National Security Council. Terrell, who later testified in congressional hearings, told Sheehan he witnessed Hull admitting responsibility for the bombing during a meeting in Costa Rica with FDN leader Adolfo Calero.
In Sheehan's mind, however, that testimony was just one small part of a much larger puzzle. Sheehan saw the La Penca incident as a perfect vehicle to expose a covert team he believed was operating on the fringes of the CIA and the White House, a crew that went all the way back to the Bay of Pigs and the CIA's war in Laos. In May 1986, Sheehan filed suit on behalf of Avirgan and Honey against Hull and several other Reagan administration officials, charging them with negligence in the bombing injuries suffered by Avirgan.
Named in the lawsuit were more than two dozen defendants, including several who later turned up as conspirators in the Iran-contra affair, Sheehan is proud to point out. But he also named a broad array of expatriates, terrorists and drug dealers.
In the midst of the La Penca lawsuit, a CIA cargo plane was shot down over Nicaragua in October 1986, quickly thrusting the Iran-contra scandal into living rooms—and courtrooms—around the world.
Despite the fact that Sheehan had named high-ranking Reagan officials, Judge James L. King granted Sheehan discovery power, and Sheehan furiously began collecting additional affidavits. But somewhere in all the excitement, it became unclear what Sheehan's lawsuit had to do with the La Penca bombing. After two years of increasingly wild-sounding allegations, King threw the case out of court. Sheehan appealed King's ruling, lost, and was ordered to pay the legal fees for the defendants: $1,034,381.35.
The Christic Institute declared bankruptcy, and Sheehan moved on to other causes. Avirgan, Honey and several other journalists later reinvestigated the La Penca bombing and came to the conclusion that the CIA most likely had nothing to do with it. Instead, they blamed the bombing on a newly discovered Argentinean who appeared to have ties to the Sandinistas. Honey, now the peace and security program director for the Institute for Policy Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, told the Weekly that Sheehan single-handedly ruined the La Penca case.
"Sheehan's a lousy, lousy lawyer," she said. "None of the good legal work was done by him." Honey stated that she has unsuccessfully tried to get Sheehan disbarred as an attorney and has even sued him to recover investigative material and other records from the unsuccessful lawsuit. "After we found out about the Sandinista connection, we realized we had wasted millions of dollars and a decade with Sheehan," Honey concluded.
Sheehan still defends the Christic Institute's lawsuit. In an interview the day after he lost the Sabow case, he argued that Honey and Avirgan were the ones who claimed that the CIA was responsible for the bombing, not him. "[Honey's] theory has never been proved one way or the other," said Sheehan. "The attorney general of Nicaragua said that he investigated the entire case and was completely convinced that the bomber was the same guy we had identified as being in the meeting with John Hull. Martha changed her mind about the bombing more than a year after the case lost in court. So how does this come out to my doing anything wrong?"
The Ronald Reagan Federal Building in downtown Santa Ana is one of Orange County's tallest, an ironic testament to a man who talked so often about limited government. And there is this historical irony: the Sabow case would pit Sheehan against the ghost of the Reagan administration. Call it La Penca II. That's not how Stotler saw it, of course. Though Stotler had thrown out the Sabows' claim in 1996, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sent it back to her, and on Jan. 18, 2000, the case began in Stotler's courtroom on the 10th floor of the Reagan Building.
By the time Stotler and U.S. Justice Department attorneys had finished their pretrial slicing and dicing, the Sabow case was limited to one rather innocuous-sounding question—not "Was Colonel Sabow murdered, and if so, by whom?" but a far less compelling one: Had Marine Corps officers intentionally caused severe emotional distress to the Sabow family in the March 9 meeting, three months after the death?
On that narrow question, Sheehan had impressive evidence—not just the Sabows' testimony that they felt threatened but a package of official Marine Corps documents mailed secretly to Dr. Sabow from someone at El Toro. The package included hand-written notes by Colonel Wayne Rich detailing how he and Adams—who had proposed the meeting to Dr. Sabow—planned to persuade the Sabows to abandon their interest in pursuing the investigation into Sabow's death. In that memo, Rich suggested that the pair would "try to convince Sabow's brother that his brother was a crook and so big a crook that he [committed suicide]."
The following images were taken from the notes alleged to have been handwritten by Colonel Wayne Rich, which were included in a package mailed secretly to Robert Sabow from someone on MCAS El Toro, indicating an attempt to dissuade Robert Sabow from pursuing any further investigation into the death of his brother Colonel James Sabow:
As in La Penca, Sheehan took a narrowly defined case and leveraged it into something grand; as in La Penca, he was ultimately blown out of court. He started out smoothly enough on the first day of the trial, casually expanding the narrow case into something a little bigger. In his opening remarks, Sheehan referred obliquely to "black box" evidence contained in the lawsuit—none of which the court would allow him to discuss. One of Sheehan's briefs shows that the "black box" contained numerous assertions from mostly anonymous sources that Sabow's death had something to do with midnight, covert flights into El Toro rumored to involve drug running —activities that had allegedly produced a federal drug investigation of the base, Operation Emerald Clipper.
Because Sally and Dr. Sabow had discussed their suspicions about Sabow's death in the March 9 meeting at issue, Sheehan used their time in the witness box to go through each of the accusations they made at the meeting. The trial's early high point: Dr. Sabow's assertion that he believed "Underwood had participated in the murder of Colonel Sabow" and that Adams was a "co-conspirator."
Sheehan was brilliant at crowbarring his little case into a big one, but then he got derailed—or, more accurately, he derailed himself. Witness Anthony Verducci—then a Marine Corps captain who performed the original JAGMAN investigation into Sabow's death—was supposed to tell the court that his investigation had no merit because it was based entirely on secondhand information already collected by the NCIS. Sheehan also would have liked Verducci to repeat what he had told the Long Beach Press-Telegram one year ago: that Sabow had been murdered. But this had nothing to do with the March 9 meeting; Stotler prevented Sheehan from asking either question. (Now a lieutenant colonel stationed at the Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, Verducci told reporters outside the courtroom only that he believes "there is a possibility it was a murder.")
Witness testimony that might have shown Marine Corps officers lied to the Sabows about their official investigation into the death was either excluded by the court as irrelevant or was obscured by Sheehan's habit of asking interminable, speculative and, in some cases, unintelligible questions. Indeed, toward the end of the six-day trial, the government's lawyers needed only to look as if they might object to Sheehan's questions—to lean forward, look annoyed or raise a hand—and Stotler would stop him. The increasingly testy Stotler occasionally challenged Sheehan's skills as a lawyer, at one point observing, "Counsel, that is literally the worst question I have ever heard in my life." When Sheehan repeatedly pressed NCIS agent Mike Barrett about the quality of the Navy's original death investigation, Stotler intervened again. "That has nothing to do with this case," she told Sheehan. "Do you have any other questions for this witness?"
On the fifth day, the Justice Department asked Stotler to end the trial; the plaintiffs had called all their witnesses and hadn't proved a thing, the government attorneys argued. Stotler said she would consider it; 24 hours later, on the afternoon of Jan. 27, it was clear that she had had enough. "I am prepared to grant the defense's motion. I don't need to hear any further testimony at this point," she announced with finality, just moments before Adams was supposed to take the stand. "It's pretty apparent that, looking only at the plaintiff's testimony, their allegations have not been met by the evidence."
Sheehan hadn't just failed to prove a vast conspiracy involving drug running, covert flights and murder. He had also failed to prove the government acted maliciously in a death investigation. Well before Stotler finished her concluding remarks, Dr. Sabow was outside the courtroom. In the hallway, he confronted Adams, who was leaving the witness room with his lawyer.
"General Adams, you killer!" he snarled.
Adams didn't even turn around, disappearing around the curve of the building.
"You fucking bastard! You killed him! You bunch of fucking fascists!"
Shaking with anger, Dr. Sabow hadn't quite finished. He let out one final roar.
"This is not over yet, you killer!"
After being convicted of misuse of government aircraft as a result of the investigation that preceded Sabow's death, Marine Corps General Wayne Adams, who spent a brief tour in Quantico after leaving El Toro, quickly retired, taking a job at a private military school—but not before he fired Colonel Joe Underwood. Underwood paid a $3,000 fine, pleaded guilty to the charges, and quickly left the Marine Corps and moved to Florida. Neither Underwood nor Adams was available to be interviewed for this story.
Both men have steadfastly maintained their innocence in the death of Sabow. In June 1996, the OIG reviewed the Navy's original investigation into Sabow's death, reaffirming its finding of suicide and officially rebutting the Sabow family's allegations that the Marine Corps covered up Sabow's murder after he threatened to expose covert operations at El Toro.
The OIG interviewed Adams and Underwood for its report. "Colonel Underwood denied any knowledge or involvement in covert activities of any kind," the report stated. "He also denied involvement in or knowledge of unannounced landings of C-130 aircraft at MCAS El Toro during his assignment there. . . . During our interview, we specifically asked Colonel Underwood if he had murdered Colonel Sabow or if he had any knowledge of foul play in the death of Colonel Sabow. Colonel Underwood denied all allegations that he had anything to do with the death of Colonel Sabow."
The OIG report also claimed to have found no credible evidence to support any allegations that Underwood or anyone else at El Toro was involved in covert operations. This claim was based on interviews with 21 Marine Corps personnel at El Toro, including Sergeant Randall Robinson. Robinson, a military policeman (MP), told OIG investigators that one day, he had gone to Underwood's office to brief him on an investigation, accompanied by another MP identified only by her last name, Harries. "During the conversation, the topic of aircraft landing late at night came up," the OIG report stated. According to Robinson, Underwood told them, "Keep your ass off the airstrip at night. Leave those airplanes alone. Don't go near them. Don't worry about them. Don't go near them."
Robinson also told OIG investigators that because of his often late-night schedule, "sometimes he would see an aircraft taking off at 4 a.m. He told us the aircraft were C-130s that were painted black with no markings on the tail, wings, fuselage, or anywhere else. He stated that, through binoculars, the crew appeared to have shoulder-length hair and that he assumed they were civilians. The flights began about four to six months prior to Colonel Sabow's death. Mr. Robinson stated that prior to that, he had worked regular daytime hours and may not have noticed the aircraft since they operated only at night. He told us that junior troops had told him they saw aircraft landing at night, parking at the end of the runway and taking off shortly after they arrived."
OIG investigators interviewed Robinson's eyewitness to Underwood's alleged tirade, Captain Harries. According to the report, Harries hadn't heard anything about "any strange aircraft using the airfield late at night under unusual circumstances" but "stated that Colonel Underwood had placed a number of unreasonable restrictions on her and the MPs. However," the report concluded, "she did not remember any incident in his office when she was ordered to keep MPs away from any aircraft."
While the OIG said it found no evidence to support the conclusion that Sabow was murdered, Sheehan's lawsuit contains what purports to be unassailable direct eyewitness testimony showing that Sabow was murdered. That allegation is based on the claims of "Mr. X," whom Dr. Sabow identified as an ex-Marine Corps official, now a law-enforcement officer somewhere in the southwestern United States. Sheehan refused to identify Mr. X or produce him for interviews either with military investigators or the media.
In his court brief, Sheehan listed Mr. X's assertions as Nos. 113-116 of 155 "factual contentions." According to that brief, Mr. X saw "three civilian-dressed employees of the defendant United States" enter Sabow's back yard. The trio "then altered the Sabow death crime scene" by "removing a blood-spattered wooden club" that lay in the grass. Sheehan alleged two of the three "then exited the back yard of the Sabow home through the front gate." The third man "exited the Sabow back yard with the blood-spattered wooden club, through the back yard of chief of staff Underwood."
To read the entire Who Killed James Sabow? article, please go to the OCNews Weekly web site.
This book review appeared
at Public Intelligence blog
Review: The People's Advocate – The Life and Legal History of America's Most Fearless Public Interest Lawyer [Danny Sheehan]
The People's Advocate
[People's advocate? What's wrong with the individual being his own or her own "advocate?"]
"I highly recommend Wikipedia's biography on Daniel Sheehan (attorney). This — or the timeline below — is what should have opened the book in the first place. I take the trouble to do this because the value of this book lies with the next generation, the generation now in college and graduate school (or unemployed and unOccupied), not in the generation that rose with Danny and failed to beat down New York money, Texas energy, and the Nazi hydra combined with elite embrace of drugs, money laundering, and pedophilia, among other high crimes against the Republic."
Major Case Timeline
In re Pappas (First Amendment)
Eisenstadt v. Baird (reproductive freedom)
1970 JD from Harvard Law School, Joined Cahill Gordon
Branzburg v. Hayes
U.S. v. Caldwell
Attica inmates, Committee of Observers
State v. Byrd (Black Panthers false accused of bombing conspiracy)
New York Times Co. v. U.S. (First Amendment, Pentagon Papers)
1972 McGovern campaign, helped strike down voter registration laws
Rockefeller Commission (Police Department corruption, Frank Serpico testimony)
Joined F. Lee Bailey
Defended F. Lee Bailey
Watergate (leading to Nixon's impeachment & resignation)
1973 Entered Harvard Divinity School focusing on Comparative Social Ethics
1974 Leave of absence to help ACLU
Associated Student Body v. University of Wyoming (First Amendment, Last Tango in Paris)
In re Slaughterhouse Five (First Amendment)
Morton v. Mancari (validated preferential hiring of Native Americans)
1973 Wounded Knee (all vindicated)
1974-1975 Returned to Divinity School
Potter Box model for ethical decision-making
Began synthesis on how world views make facts irrelevant in political discourse
1975 Became Chief Counsel for Jesuits USA
Daniel and Philip Berrigan
David Abernathy (Southern Christian Leadership Conference)
1977 Karen Silkwood (included CIA and Keen smuggling of nuclear materials to Israel)
1979 Founded Christic Institute (rooted in Teilhard de Chardin) [Teilhard was a French Jesuit priest]
Three Mile Island
Greensboro Massacre (KKK)
American Sanctuary Movement (Catholic sanctuary of Salvadoran refugees)
1986 Aviragan v. Hull (Iran-Contra) exposed CIA's "enterprise" for global unconstitutional activities
Christic Institute shut down by combination of corrupt executive, corrupt judiciary, and corrupt legislature
1990 Elected to lead Romero Institute
Col James A Sabow USMC murder by Marines for CIA at El Toro
1994 John E. Mack defense of academic freedom (extraterrestrial encounters by humans)
United States Library of Congress investigation into extraterrestrials (and probably to the Catholic Church also)
1999 Director New Paradigm Project State of the World Forum (Mikhail Gorbachev)
2001 Disclosure Project (those with direct knowledge of UFOs)
Developed talk on Philosophical and Theological Implications of the Human Discovery of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
2005 Lakota People's Law Project (rescue of 3,000 children seized)
"It's hard to sue 'The Shadow Government'"________
Continuation: Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Colonel James Sabow - Jockeying for Power Is a Ruthless Business - Oliver North Was a "Volatile and Dangerous Person" - GHWB's "Perfect Circle" - John Hull's Ranch in Costa Rica Ran Drugs and Weapons - Mobsters in Uniform - The Enterprise Takes Over - Dan Quayle Was GHWB's "Impeachment Insurance" - Flying In and Out With the Right Transponder Numbers
Continued: Monopoly on Weapons (Munitions), Drugs and Sex Trade - United States Government/Military Contracting Out Transshipment of Drugs - Two Americans Lose Their Lives: James Sabow and Gary Webb - The Secret Team: Enforces The "National Security State" - America Imports 50% of World-Wide Cocaine Production - Interfere With This Operation and Meet a Certain Death
Commodity Backing US$: Drugs - The "War on Drugs" Continues - USMC Cocaine Delivery Services via US Military Aircraft - The Fourth Reich Embedded Deeply in America's Military - The New Semper Fi Code: Marine Colonel James Sabow Ambushed In His Backyard by IRT Team - Estimated Global Trade in Cocaine: US$88 Billion - Need Help Defending That Trade? - Call the Marines