FBI sued for records on 1981 Seattle murders pinned on Marcos regime
SEATTLE — A Seattle lawyer and a documentary filmmaker sued the FBI on Friday, Nov. 9 for allegedly withholding documents to help cover up the sensational 1981 murders of Filipino American cannery-union leaders who were also militant critics of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle by attorney Michael Withey, author of newly published “Summary Execution: The Seattle Assassinations of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes” (WildBlue Press 2018), and Sharon Maeda, who is working on a film about the murders.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, asks for the release of more than a thousand pages of FBI documents, including ones previously requested through the Freedom of Information Act but denied, in relation to its role in the fatal shootings of Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes in the Pioneer Square headquarters of the ILWU Cannery Workers Local 37 on June 1, 1981.
Withey and Maeda specifically want to know why FBI informant LeVane Forsythe, now deceased, tried to derail the murder trial by testifying for the criminal defendants by saying he was present near the murder scene and saw someone else other than the defendants leaving the scene.
Lawyer-author Michael Withey and filmmaker Sharon Maeda sued the FBI on Nov. 9.
Withey said he later discovered through his own research of more than three decades and FBI records that Forsythe was an FBI informant with a specific identification number. He said one of the lingering questions is how Forsythe happened to be at the scene of the murders, whether it was tied to work for the FBI, and whether bureau operatives had prior knowledge of the planned assault.
The FBI in 1973-1982, the complaint said, was conducting a “foreign counter-intelligence operation” against the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), the anti-Marcos organization led by Domingo and Viernes in Seattle. Domingo’s name and activities are referred to at least eight times in this investigation.
The FBI refused to make a statement, telling the Seattle Times that it does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Domingo and Viernes, both 29, militant critics of the Marcos government, were pushing for reforms in the union, which sent Filipino workers to Alaska’s fish canneries. They also successfully lobbied for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s support for the then-largely underground trade union movement in the Philippines. Viernes had returned from a visit with labor activists in the Philippines shortly before his murder.
Two defendants, Jimmy Ramil and Ben Guloy, members of a Filipino gang that ran gambling operations in the canneries, were convicted of the murders. Later, the union local’s president Tony Baruso, a town mate of Ferdinand Marcos, was also convicted as principal conspirator, and died in prison.
During Ramil and Guloy’s trial, FBI informant Forsythe appeared as a surprise witness in their defense. However, Forsythe was discredited when his link to the notorious hoax “Mormon will” of billionaire Howard Hughes was exposed.
After the criminal trial, the celebrated Domingo v. Marcos civil suit went to trial in Nov. 1989, and a federal court jury found former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos liable for the murders and awarded $15.1 million in damages to the estates of the slain men.
Federal Court Judge Barbara Rothstein found two Marcos allies liable for the murders, stating that they participated in a civil conspiracy initiated by Marcos against the anti-Marcos forces in the U.S. by paying for and/or providing the murder weapon for the murders.
At the trial the plaintiffs proved that the murders were paid for out of an intelligence slush fund set up by Marcos with allies in San Francisco to pay for “special security projects.” It is the first and only time a foreign head of state has been held liable for the murders of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle on Oct. 30 wrote to the Department of Justice, in support of Withey and Maeda’s efforts: “Mr. Withey hopes to use these documents to further understand the FBI’s connection with the Domingo and Viernes case so that he might provide closure for the families of the victims.”
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