Courts can make terror groups pay for their crimes - opinion

It has been a long and bloody history of lawsuits versus terrorism. Governments fostering terrorism need to be brought to justice.

President Isaac Herzog and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier lay wreaths in memory of the victims of the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics, on the anniversary last month. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier lay wreaths in memory of the victims of the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics, on the anniversary last month.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)

A United States court has recently ruled that the Lebanese/Iran-backed militant group, Hezbollah, must pay $111 million (NIS 397 m.) to a group of Americans who sued for damages caused by the group’s rockets, back in 2006. The case was brought under the US Anti-Terrorism Act, in 2009. The decision against Hezbollah did not require any terrorists to appear before the court. The message was clear and could be heard worldwide.

However, courts need to bring penalties to bear on the governments of those who send out terrorists. In the case of Hezbollah, that address is the regime in Tehran. The funding that paid for those rockets stretches from Beirut to Tehran. That is, from the Iranian government.

AP reported, “Such civil lawsuits brought against militant groups are difficult to enforce but Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said it was an important legal victory against the Iran-backed group.”

An international effort should make such lawsuits easier by fully tracing the main address of the terrorist act to those financially supporting that group and who are therefore responsible.

History of compensation for terrorism

In the largest judgment at the time, under a 1996 anti-terrorism law, a US court ordered the Government of Iran to pay $247.5 million (NIS 884 m.) in damages to the family of a 20-year-old New Jersey exchange student killed in a terrorist bombing in Israel. Attorney Stephen Flatow, the father of Alisa Flatow, the murdered student, pursued the matter. He took the government of Iran to court in 1998. The national budget of Iran, which was published in a newspaper at that time, contained a line item supporting Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which led to the settlement. However, the nuclear deal compensated Tehran for its losses.

A Hezbollah member carries his weapon on top of a building on May 25, 2016. (credit: HASSAN ABDALLAH / REUTERS)A Hezbollah member carries his weapon on top of a building on May 25, 2016. (credit: HASSAN ABDALLAH / REUTERS)

In October 1985, terrorists took cruise passengers hostage aboard the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, including the wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer and his wife, Marilyn. They then shot Mr. Klinghoffer and threw his body overboard. In 1997, the Palestine Liberation Organization agreed to settle – perhaps because of the “Mideast peace process” that was underway. The PLO had to answer for their actions, financially, for the first time. A broader net of all who supported these activities should have been on a higher level. That is, those who had a line item or supported terrorism in their budgets of government.

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. This bombing, which killed 259 people on board and 11 more on the ground, was, according to the US Department of Justice, planned by and executed by Libyan intelligence operatives. This points the responsibility to the government of Libya, who are and were responsible for their intelligence services. 

Attorneys Lee Kreindler and Steven Pounian were able to prove that Pan Am acted with willful misconduct in allowing a bomb on board and they obtained a recovery of over $500 million (NIS 1.8 b.) from the airline. They were able to exact further justice by also forcing Libya to pay $10 million (NIS 35.8 m.) to each family, for a total of $2.7 billion (NIS 9.7 b.).

That litigation spanned twenty years. The price paid by Pan Am caused airlines to put improved security in place. However, the buck stops with those in positions of power and governments who support terrorists. They should have paid dearly for killing innocents.

There have been congressional investigations and hearings regarding Iranian terror operations on American soil. In 2001, following the September 11 attacks, a US federal court ordered Iran to pay billions in compensation to victims’ families and insurance companies.

Americans now have a process in place for terrorist attacks on American soil and internationally. Americans harmed by international terrorists may sue “... in any appropriate district court of the United States and shall recover threefold the damages he or she sustains and the cost of the suit, including attorney’s fees” according to 18 U.S.C. Section 233, Civil remedies. Where should the remedies come from? The masters of the terrorists at the very top need to feel the pain and be discouraged from sending out their terror agents.

Recently, Germany paid a 28 million euro (NIS 98 m.) settlement – finally, after 50 years – awarded to the families of the 11 Israeli athletes tortured and murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. The German government spokesperson said he would appreciate an apology from the current PLO leadership. Of course, the German government back then had let some of the murderers go free, which is unconscionable. More than an apology is warranted from the highest echelons.

Turn off the financial faucets and disrupt the flow of money and save the lives of countless innocent would-be victims of terror. Make those in power pay, personally and from their government so that terrorism is no longer an option.

The writer has served in several capacities in building Israel-US trade relations, including that of trade commissioner/director of trade for the government of Israel to the United States. He currently lives in Jerusalem, and writes about things that make him angry.