View Full Version : Impasse on claims for Beirut survivors

09-05-04, 07:14 AM
Impasse on claims for Beirut survivors
September 05,2004

A U.S. District Court judge decided last year that Iran was responsible for the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed 241 U.S. servicemen, most Marines and sailors from Camp Lejeune.

But a loophole in a 1996 amendment to federal law, which provides victims of terrorists the ability to seek compensation from attackers, is keeping bombing survivors and family members of victims from collecting money through lawsuits filed against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

It's a loophole that some Onslow County residents along with the Onslow County Board of Commissioners are attempting to fix.

Commissioner Jack Bright recently was approached by John Selbe of Hubert. Selbe, a retired Marine master sergeant who survived the Oct. 23, 1983, bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, is trying to get as many public officials as possible to support new legislation that will clarify the Flatow Amendment so victims can collect the money to which they are entitled.

U.S. Reps. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., and Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J., are co-sponsoring the bill, and Bright asked the Board of Commissioners in August to approve a resolution supporting HR 4875.

"I was just supporting the veterans because the attack that happened in Beirut was a terrorist attack and the people have not been able to secure their civil winnings," Bright said. "The money is frozen and even though they won, they can't collect the money."

Before the Flatow Amendment was passed in 1996, victims of terrorists couldn't file lawsuits against any country that supported terrorism. The amendment changed that.

Since 1996, if a plaintiff proves that a country's government provided material aide and support to a terrorist organization or act and that country is included on a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, immunity is waived, said attorney Dan Gaskell of Washington, D.C., who is representing Selbe in the lawsuit. It includes about 200 families.

Many of the families are from the Jacksonville area and are represented by several different attorneys involved with the lawsuit.

It's possible that military people serving in a war might not be able to sue a country supporting terrorism. But the survivors and family of victims of the Beirut bombing were permitted to file a lawsuit because the Marines with the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit from Camp Lejeune and New River Air Station were sent to Beirut on a peacekeeping mission, Gaskell said.

After U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth heard the evidence against the Islamic Republic of Iran, he found it liable for the bombing. He made his ruling in March 2003.

Lamberth then appointed special masters to go through videotapes and court records to find proof that victims listed in the lawsuit were in fact victims, Gaskell said.

"After that is done, there will be a final order that will say what the government of Iran owes these families," Gaskell said. "We will take that order to the U.S. Treasury where Iranian money is held. We'll say here's our order. Iran owes us this money. They are going to say, 'We are not going to pay you that money.'"

Collectively the families could receive about $3 billion, which is roughly $15 million per family, Gaskell said.

The payments would come from Iranian assets already in this country that have been frozen because the U.S. no longer has diplomatic ties with Iran. But it is money that the country uses as a bargaining tool in diplomatic matters with Iran, Gaskell said.

"We can't sue the Treasury to open up the Iranian assets and give it to these families because the United States immunity is not waived," Gaskell said. "We can't sue them."

In a letter affirming congressional support for victims of terrorists, Saxton and Andrews said that the Flatow Amendment loopholes have been exploited and new legislation is necessary to enforce judgments handed down by U.S. courts.

"This legislation will prevent terrorist states from masking their financial holdings in the United States; clarify victims' legal cause of action against state-sponsors of terrorism; and stipulate that the U.S. governmental immunity does not apply merely because the U.S. regulates transactions between this country and the terrorist state," according to the letter.

Considering all the people in Jacksonville with ties to people affected by the Beirut bombing, a resolution supporting new legislation is important, said Bright, who served on the Beirut Memorial committee several years ago.

"I thought it was very worthy thing to support because of the terrorist attack," he said. "Some of those countries have money here in our banks, but we can't touch it. That's what this will allow. It will allow us to go after that money."

Gaskell said the reason terrorism is effective is because it's cheap. Legislation can change that.

"The law hurts terrorism because they have to pay," he said. "But no matter what the legislation says, the U.S. government is still going to try a new way to stop having to pay. There should be public outrage."

Contact Roselee Papandrea at rpapandrea@jdnews.com or 353-1171, Ext. 238.



09-12-04, 08:20 AM
Make Iran pay for aiding terror
September 12,2004

When the survivors and families of the men slain in the 1983 bombing of the Marine headquarters building in Beirut, Lebanon, went to court in connection with a lawsuit filed against Iran, they were collectively awarded about $3 billion.

The hard-fought judgment was assessed against the country that backed the terrorists directly responsible for the more than 240 deaths that took place when a truck loaded with explosives rammed into the building filled with sleeping men, most of whom were Marines and sailors stationed at Camp Lejeune.

After spending years wending its way through the complicated American jurisprudence system, the plaintiffs - wives, parents and children of those killed as well as some of the blast survivors - won their case against Iran based upon the fact that U.S. forces were there as peacekeepers, not aggressors.

But the judgment was mostly symbolic, since there currently is no way to legally attach Iranian capital held by this country. That's something that needs to change.

The United States government has expressed a desire to hold on to Iranian money in order to use it as leverage in the arena of world politics.

The funds, which have been frozen, are being used as a bargaining chip to force Iranian compliance in the U.S. war against terror.

While it's good to seek Iranian cooperation in this matter, it's patently wrong for that cooperation to come at the expense of innocent victims such as the families who buried their husbands and sons two decades ago. Nations that fund or support terrorism should be entitled to no rights under U.S. law and individual claims to reparations resulting from terrorist acts should not be dismissed as secondary to the government's interests.

America must adopt a zero-tolerance policy with nations that allow terrorists to operate from within their borders or mount operations using their resources, and that policy should extend to the assets of those nations.

Iran should be held both morally and financially accountable for its actions.

A nonpartisan bill introduced in the U.S. Congress is designed to right this wrong and provide relief for the families and survivors of Beirut bombing victims. (See letter to the editor from Stephen M. Flatow from West Orange, N.J., today.) The bill's a good idea and one worthy of the support of officials on every level of government.

Twenty-one years have passed since the bombing and still the families of the men killed by those terrorists await justice. Not a single one of those plaintiffs asked to be placed in that position. They should be compensated for their loss at the expense of the country that helped write the death warrant meted out to their sons, fathers, spouses, brothers and friends.