The lawyer representing victims of Hezbollah’s 1983 Beirut barracks bombing said
on Wednesday that a recent court ruling ordering Iran to pay $167 million in
damages was another step toward making it accountable for state-sponsored
Virginia-based attorney Joseph Peter Drennan, representing the
families of eight US marines killed in the bombing, told The Jerusalem Post that
the judgment would teach Tehran that sponsoring terrorism was not only cowardly
but also expensive.
“Our mantra has always been that the best way of
fighting state-sponsored terrorism is to make the cost of that terrorism
unacceptably high,” Drennan said.
The ruling in the case, known as Amy
Battle Taylor et al v. Iran, is the latest in a series of courtroom victories
for victims of the Beirut barracks bombing, which killed 241 US servicemen and
wounded many others. Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the US District Court for
the District of Columbia first held Iran responsible for the bombing in 2007,
and since then has ordered it to pay a total of $9.5 billion to victims in
According to court documents, the 1983 Beirut bombing
was the deadliest terrorist attack against the US prior to September 11, 2001,
and the largest nonnuclear explosion that had ever been detonated. It destroyed
the barracks building.
Evidence later showed that Hezbollah was
responsible for the attack, which it perpetrated using massive technological and
material support from Iran and its Intelligence and Security
Under US law, victims of state-sponsored terrorism have a right
to bring federal suit against foreign states that sponsor terrorist acts, via an
exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
Ruling in the case,
the full name of which is Amy Battle Taylor et al v. the Islamic Republic of
Iran, Lamberth said that “sponsoring terrorism has become an expensive activity
for Iran and its associates.
“The court applauds the plaintiffs’
persistent efforts to hold Iran accountable for its cowardly support of
terrorism,” Lamberth continued.
“The court concludes that defendant Iran
must be punished to the fullest extent legally possible for the bombing in
Beirut on October 23, 1983. This horrific act impacted countless individuals and
their families, a number of whom receive awards in this lawsuit.”
March, the same court awarded $44.6m. in damages against Iran to plaintiffs
Jeffrey P. O’Brien and Daniel Lane Gaffney, two American servicemen wounded in
the bombing, and their family members.
One more case, Spencer
v. Iran, is still pending in the court, and according to Drennan more
claimants may be added.
In addition, another group of Beirut barracks
bombing victims may file a separate suit at a later date, Drennan
“With these judgments, we see a real prospect of full
accountability [against Iran] on the horizon,” he added.
described how he had taken many depositions in the suits against Iran including
from mothers who lost their sons in the Beirut bombing, said that the pain and
misery this and other terrorist attacks caused is “incalculable.”
is the reason that terror is employed by Iran as a political tool,” he said.
“But through these lawsuits we intend that the Beirut bombing will stand out in
history as being the terror act that sounded the death knell for state-sponsored
By ordering Iran to pay the victims not only compensation but
also punitive damages – effectively a fine a court imposes on a defendant to
deter similar acts – at a rate 3.44 times higher than the compensation awarded,
the court makes terrorism a costly tool for Iran, Drennan said.
are significant punitive damages, and they have the effect of making the cost of
state-sponsored terror unacceptable,” he added. “In the final reckoning, Iran
will find that the ultimate cost of the bombing will far exceed any benefits it
thought it got from this cowardly act.”
Although plaintiffs in the
lawsuits have not been successful in seizing Iranian assets that could be used
to pay the judgements, Drennan said this could soon change, noting that there is
an emerging political consensus in the US that Iran should be held accountable
for its terrorist acts.
The latest ruling against Tehran came shortly
after Congress passed the Iran Sanctions Bill, which contains provisions that
will make it easier for American victims of the Beirut barracks bombing to
collect their judgments against Iran.
The bill includes a provision that
will change part of federal law, allowing assets seized from the Iranian
government to be allocated to victims of both the Beirut bombing and the 1996
Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, which killed 14 US airmen.
and their families say they are hopeful that the bill will allow them to collect
on their judgments against Iran, including from an account in Citibank in New
York City, which they say holds almost $2b. in Iranian
Luxembourg-based clearing house and bank Clearstream is allegedly
holding around $2b. of Iranian debt-securities in that Citibank
Last August, the plaintiffs in one of the Beirut barracks
bombing lawsuits, Peterson v.
Iran, sued Clearstream over the assets. The
courts ordered the account to be frozen, a move that Clearstream, which denies
holding money for Iran, has opposed.
“We await a final decision on our
efforts to obtain turnover of the seized accounts, but we are cautiously
optimistic that we will prevail,” Drennan said.
On the issue of whether
the plaintiffs in the cases against Iran will find other sources of Iranian
funds to attach against the court rulings, Drennan pointed to the recent report
the New York State Department of Financial Services filed, which alleged that
the UK’s Standard Chartered bank schemed with the Iranian regime to conceal more
than $250b. in illegal transactions.
“The magnitude of the transactions
involved suggest the existence of huge sums of cash that are being moved around
the globe by Iran, that remain to be identified and secured to satisfy the
judgement,” Drennan said.
“We will be relentless in pursuing justice for
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