Will Congress Help Families of Servicemen Killed By Iranian Terrorism

UPDATE: The committee approved the special language assisting the families by a unanimous voice vote on February 2. The language was changed last night to limit its application to Iran, and not to the other designated state sponsors, in order to more easily enact and implement the change in banking law.

In 1983, an Iranian suicide agent exploded a massive truck bomb, destroying a U.S military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The blast killed 241 American Marines, soldiers and sailors and injured hundreds more. The mass murder was a brutal, unprovoked attack on American servicemen. It also was a terrorist assault on the United States by the most active sponsor of State terrorism in the world, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Over 1000 family members of the victims exercised their constitutional right to hold Iran accountable and sued in U.S. courts for that vicious attack. In 2007, the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia found Iran liable for the Beirut bombing. He ordered it to pay $2.65 billion to the surviving victims and families. The families’ attorneys identified an account of Iranian funds, laundered through Europe into the U.S. and stashed in an account at a bank in New York City, and the judge froze that account in order to satisfy the judgment.

But central banks of countries are granted immunity from attachment, even if the central bank is of a state sponsor of terrorism. The Iranian central bank has already notified a federal court in NYC of its intent to file a motion to lift the attachment. Absent special legislation, the order freezing the account could be lifted, and Iran could regain the funds in the account for use in its nuclear proliferation and terrorism activities.

So the families have turned to Congress to ask for legislation that would
clarify that state central banks of terrorist states (Iran, Cuba, Sudan and North Korea) forfeit the immunity when their assets are surreptitiously laundered into the United States through money laundering jurisdictions. The bill language would affect only the central banks of the four state sponsors of terrorism, when they are caught surreptitiously laundering assets through the U.S. financial system.

On Thursday, the Senate Banking Committee will act on S. 1048, the Senate version of a bill designed to impose new sanctions on Iran. The House approved their version of this bill in December. The families are asking the Banking Committee to add the special language described above to the bill prior to action by the full Senate. I have been working with the families as a paid consultant as they seek justice through the enactment of this special legislation.

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is opposed to the families’ effort, apparently concerned that other countries might refuse to invest their funds in the U.S. or treat the Federal Reserve similarly. The families responded in a press release on Monday. Spokesperson Lynn Derbyshire, whose brother was killed in the attacks, said, “Everyone agrees that the most effective way to hold Iran accountable, short of war, is to deliver a blow to its government finances. The Obama Administration has been encouraging other nations to impose economic sanctions on Iran. Incredibly, however, it is opposing a clear and effective way to take $2.65 billion out of the Iranian financial system and directly punish Iran for a specific act of terrorism Iran would like America to forget.”

The families deserve some measure of justice and the Congress must act to prevent Iran from accessing the $2+ billion in frozen funds. Hopefully the Senate Banking Committee will ignore the Obama Administration and add the special language to the Iran sanctions bill.