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COLUMN: Demand Justice for American Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism

October 5, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse

While we have engaged in a national debate on the President’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran, seemingly forgotten has been Iran’s horrific attacks on our fellow citizens. No matter how much time may have passed, however, we must not forget that justice remains to be won on behalf of the hundreds of American victims of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism. Since the 1970s, Iran’s regime has actively provided support, including provision of weapons, training, and funds, for terrorist organizations. These groups include Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Hamas, and Iranian support for terrorist groups has had direct, deadly results for Americans. Despite court rulings awarding damages to victims, Iran has yet to pay for attacks on Americans.

This October 23 will mark 32 years since that Sunday morning in 1983, when a truck carrying 2,000 pounds of explosives, operated by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group, was detonated by a suicide bomber, killing 241 American Marines, sailors, soldiers, and personnel on peacekeeping duty in Beirut, Lebanon. In 2003, a U.S. judge ruled that Iran was culpable in the attack and allowed families of the victims to take legal action against Iran.

On June 25, 1996, Hezbollah committed another truck-bomb attack against Americans at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, resulting in 19 American servicemen’s deaths. Iran was again found to have supported the attack, and the victims’ families were allowed to sue Iran for damages.

Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, American victims of state-sponsored terrorism have the ability to bring suit in U.S. courts and collect damages. According to the Congressional Research Service, counting judgments for the attacks in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia as well as additional attacks, Iran has yet to pay more than $43 billion in damages through more than 80 cases over the last 15 years.

Under the terms of President Obama’s nuclear deal, Iran would be given access to tens of billions of dollars in assets that are currently frozen in foreign banks. And with the lifting of sanctions, Iran will be welcomed by the international community back into the global economy. But where is the justice for the victims of Iran’s support of terrorism?

One of the principal reasons I opposed President Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was that the lifting of sanctions on Iran—as well as the unfreezing of $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets—would take place before Iran demonstrates compliance with the terms of the agreement. Last week, the House of Representatives passed, H.R. 3457, Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act to hold Iran accountable by requiring them to pay court-ordered compensation to victims of its state-sponsored terrorism before the lifting of any sanctions.

Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act prohibits President Obama from providing Iran with sanctions relief—and it would block the nuclear deal with Iran—until the President certifies to Congress that Iran has paid compensation to American victims of its terrorism who have successfully obtained judgments in U.S. courts. Justice would mean Iran's does not receive a single cent while victims of its support for terror await billions in compensation.