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 370 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
1983 bombing of US Marine barracks in Beirut 370
(photo credit: 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 Iran.
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.
The 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.
Luxembourg-based clearing house and bank Clearstream is allegedly holding around $2b.
of Iranian debt-securities in a Citibank account in New York.
Last August, 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.
However, 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 forthcoming.
“We intend to pursue any and all Iranian assets in the US,” he added.
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 lawyer said.
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.
It is 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 bombing.
FBI experts testified that at the time of the attack, the PETN explosives used in the bomb were only manufactured in bulk in Iran.
Also 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 community center.
“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.”