US court: Iran must pay $44.6m. to 1983 Beirut victims
Damages to be paid to two American servicemen wounded in the bombing, and to their family members.
1983 bombing of US Marine barracks in Beirut Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The US District Court in the District of Columbia on Wednesday awarded victims
of the 1983 US Marine barracks bombing in Beirut $44.6 million in damages from
Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth awarded the damages to plaintiffs
Jeffrey P. O’Brien and Daniel Lane Gaffney, two American servicemen wounded in
the bombing, and to their family members.
According to court documents,
the 1983 Beirut bombing was the deadliest terror attack against the US prior to
September 11, 2001, and the largest non-nuclear explosion that had ever been
detonated on the face of the Earth. It decimated the barracks building, killing
241 American servicemen and wounding many others.
Evidence later showed
that Hezbollah was responsible for the attack, which it perpetrated using
massive technological and material support from Tehran.
O’Brien v. Iran
is one of a string of ongoing civil actions that legal experts have said are
helping expose the links between Iran and Hezbollah, as well as the role
mainstream banks have played in helping finance terror.
For years, Israel
has accused Tehran of funding Hezbollah’s terror activities. In 2010, 85
Israelis wounded in the Second Lebanon War filed a claim for $1 billion in US
court against Iran’s Central Bank and Iranian commercial banks. Via their
lawyer, attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the plaintiffs argued that Tehran had
channeled over $50m. to Hezbollah before the war, enabling the terror group to
fire at Israeli and American targets.
Virginia-based attorney Joseph
Peter Drennan, representing the O’Brien v. Iran plaintiffs, told The Jerusalem
Post on Thursday that he hoped new legislation would soon allow Wednesday’s
judgment to be enforced against frozen Iranian assets in US banks.
lawsuit – the full name of which is O’Brien et al vs. the Islamic Republic of
Iran – is one of many civil suits that US victims of the 1983 attack have
brought against Tehran, using powerful US anti-terror legislation enacted to
allow private citizens to sue state sponsors of terror.
In 2007, a US
federal judge ruled in a separate lawsuit, known as Peterson v. Islamic Republic
of Iran, that Tehran must pay $2.65b. to families of the 241 servicemen killed
in the Beirut bombing. Since that judgement, the Peterson plaintiffs have
actively sought Iranian assets that could be seized to pay the damages the court
awarded, but so far they have not been successful.
clearing house and bank Clearstream is allegedly holding around $2b.
Iranian debt-securities in a Citibank account in New York.
the plaintiffs in Peterson v. Iran sued Clearstream over the assets. For months,
the court’s ruling was sealed, but in November, The Wall Street Journal reported
that the US District Court for the Southern District of New York had ordered
Citibank to freeze $2b. in assets. Clearstream denies holding funds for Iran,
and Citibank is fighting for the courts to unfreeze the $2b.
Drennan said that new legislation was being created that would allow the
plaintiffs to attach those assets from Citibank in New York. Last month, the
Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved an amendment to the Iran
Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act 2012, designed to allow the
victims of the 1983 bombing to attach the $2b.
According to Drennan, the
final legislation is expected to pass by early May. The measures, which Senator
Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) proposed, are part of an escalating campaign to
tighten sanctions against Iran. Significantly the amendments were approved at
the same time that President Barack Obama gave US banks new powers to freeze
assets linked to the Iranian government, a move intended to increase pressure on
Iran’s Central Bank.
Drennan also said that the plaintiffs had subpoenaed
the US Treasury Department to reveal any information the government had on
Iranian assets in US banks, and hoped that information would soon be
“We intend to pursue any and all Iranian assets in the US,”
If the plaintiffs are able to attach the $2b. assets in New
York, it would represent a major step forward in their fight for justice, the
Although it has long been known that the 1983 bombing was an
act of state-sponsored terror that Iran perpetrated, the Islamic Republic has
not been held accountable to date, and that is why there are so many efforts
under way both in the courts and in Congress, Drennan said.
significant, he added, that it is these private civil lawsuits against Iran that
have exposed the degree to which the Islamic Republic masterminded the bombing,
and its control over its proxy Hezbollah. Expert testimony in the Peterson v.
Iran case, on which the judgement in O’Brien vs. Iran is based, said that then-
Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and then-supreme leader Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini would have approved the attack. Evidence was also presented
that Iran’s Ambassador to Syria, Muhammad Khatami, contacted a member of the
Iranian Revolutionary Guards and instructed him to instigate the barracks
FBI experts testified that at the time of the attack, the PETN
explosives used in the bomb were only manufactured in bulk in Iran.
involved in the attack was Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s current defense minister and
former commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, which is
responsible for operations outside the country’s borders. Vahidi is also wanted
by Interpol for his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish
“The families of the servicemen killed and injured in
the attack are outraged that almost a quarter-century later, we have yet to see
the regime that perpetrated it held fully accountable,” Drennan added. “We hope
that at long last, Iran is going to be made to pay and that justice will finally
be done for the victims.”