Victims’ attorney: ‘We will bring Iran to account’

After court victory for ’83 barracks bomb victims, lawyer says forcing Tehran to pay billions will make cost of terrorism too high.

US embassy in Beirut bombed in 1983 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer .)
US embassy in Beirut bombed in 1983 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer .)
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 terrorism.
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 several lawsuits.
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 Ministry.
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.”
In 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 said.
“With these judgments, we see a real prospect of full accountability [against Iran] on the horizon,” he added.
Drennan, who 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.”
“This 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 terror.”
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.
“These 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.
Victims 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 funds.
Luxembourg-based clearing house and bank Clearstream is allegedly holding around $2b. of Iranian debt-securities in that Citibank account.
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 our clients.”