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The D.C. Circuit and Mr. Spinelli

Wednesday, May 17, 2006  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

I visit the D.C. Circuit’s website occasionally to torture myself over the Administration’s indifference to vacancies on the nation’s second most important court.

(There are three vacancies on the court. Brett Kavanaugh is nominated to fill one of the open seats and Majority Leader Frist has committed to getting Kavanaugh a vote by the Senate’s Memorial Day recess. Incredibly, the White House has not sent up a second or a third name though the vacancies have existed for a very long time.)

One of the cases decided in May caught my eye: Spinelli v. Goss. Here is the opening of the decision:

RANDOLPH, Circuit Judge: This is an interlocutory appeal
from a district court order denying a motion to dismiss portions
of a complaint. The complaint alleged as follows. While on an
overseas assignment for the Central Intelligence Agency in
1993, Gianpaolo Spinelli suffered multiple gunshot wounds. He
received treatment at an Army hospital abroad and further
treatment upon his return to the United States. He then began
working for the CIA at a different foreign location. Three years
later Spinelli returned to the United States. A psychologist
diagnosed him as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder
or ‘PTSD.’After a year of psychotherapy with a CIA-approved
private psychologist, Spinelli switched to a psychologist of his
own choosing, at whose urging he retired from the CIA in 1998.

Spinelli had filed a timely claim for his initial injuries with
the Department of Labor under the Federal Employees’
Compensation Act (FECA), 5 U.S.C. §§ 8101-8193, as a result
of which the federal government paid for his medical expenses
and awarded him $343,192.22 as compensation for his injuries.*
After he was diagnosed with PTSD, the government expanded
his FECA claim to include his treatment for this condition.
Spinelli filed an administrative claim under the Federal Tort
Claims Act, see 28 U.S.C. § 2672, seeking additional
compensation. The CIA denied the claim in December 1999.

Spinelli sued the CIA and its Director.

I wondered what Mr. Spinelli was doing when wounded, and found this account at Mr. Spinelli was in Mogadishu, Somalia –a city back on the front page of the WaPo this morning, with the paper cavalierly disclosing the U.S. effort to keep the city and country from becoming a new home to al Qaeda. (The Wide Awake Cafe has caught a mention of this effort in an earlier Reuters report.) The account of Mr. Spinelli’s wounding is a reminder that the CIA sends its people into harm’s way daily:

The following morning, a Sunday, Spinelli and four CIA bodyguards climbed into two Isuzu Troopers and left the U.N. compound a little after 8 o’clock. Spinelli started noticing debris and burned tires on the road that he hadn’t seen from the air the previous day, but the route was still clear ‘” until they made a 45-degree turn at Checkpoint Pasta.

As soon as they turned, their Trooper was engulfed by a crowd along the road. Looking ahead 200 yards, Spinelli could see burning tires, huge chunks of concrete obstructing the way, and a Blackhawk helicopter hovering overhead, looking as though it were preparing to fire.

Italian peacekeepers had turned Pasta over to a Nigerian contingent that morning ‘” without telling Spinelli, their official liaison to the CIA and the U.S. military. Aideed’s forces had immediately attacked the Nigerians. Spinelli was heading straight into somebody else’s ambush.

Sitting in the back seat of one of the Troopers, Spinelli told the driver to stop. ‘Let’s get the hell out of here,’he said. ‘We can’t make it.’

The driver kept going.

Within seconds, bullets ripped into the vehicle. Kevlar shields protected the two bodyguards in the front seat, but not Spinelli, in the back. A shot tore into his neck through a gap in his flak jacket.

Lying face down on the back seat, he started drifting into and out of consciousness as he watched his blood pooling on the floor. With that, the driver turned around, drove out of the mob and pulled over near an Italian armored personnel carrier. The bodyguards hadn’t gotten off a shot.

Jones was shaving in his trailer in the U.N. compound, his two-way radio by the sink. He heard muffled cries, followed by a frantic message from one of the bodyguards.

‘Leopard’s shot,’he said, using Spinelli’s code name.

When Jones got to the hospital after a short drive within the U.N. compound, Spinelli’s bloodied flak jacket was lying on the ground next to the Trooper. The vehicle had been hit 49 times. Gringo II was trying to break up a fight between the two frightened bodyguards and two U.S. military guards who had been manning a security gate outside the hospital. The CIA’s men had flattened it in their panic to get Spinelli inside.

Two vascular surgeons in the Army Reserve happened to be passing through on a busman’s holiday when medics burst through the doors carrying the wounded CIA officer. Spinelli was on the operating table, still conscious, when Jones came in minutes later. ‘Don’t tell my wife!’he cried out to Jones. ‘Don’t tell my wife!’

It took the doctors 25 pints of blood, an artery graft and 100 stitches to get him out of danger. Bundles of nerves in his left shoulder had been severed. He couldn’t feel his left arm. He needed more surgery.

Mr. Spinelli did not win his round in the D.C. Circuit, but I wish the court had paused a moment longer in its opinion to at least note his service to the country.

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