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Federal judge criticizes lack of remedies available to victims of Iran-sponsored terror

[JURIST] Judge Royce Lambeth of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] on Wednesday released a 191-page opinion [text, PDF] expressing frustration with the inability of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism to receive their court-ordered judgments. In the opinion, Lambeth discussed the more than 1,000 plaintiffs who have received awards totaling over $9 billion, and the lack of support of these awards by the executive branch, which signs into law bills authorizing suit against state sponsors of terror while it directs the Department of Justice to fight writs of attachment of Iranian assets. Much of Lambeth's opinion focused on the 2008 National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA) [text, PDF], which amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) [text] to provide additional remedies to plaintiffs, including the ability to claim punitive damages. Lambeth also addressed the applicability of the new State Sponsor of Terror exception to individuals who had filed suit under the previous iteration of the FSIA. In summarizing his position, Lambeth wrote:

the reforms implemented as part of § 1083 of the 2008 NDAA last year — which are just now being implemented in individual cases here today — will not, in this Court's humble opinion, lend much support to the cause of these victims or their long march toward justice. These most recent reforms, like others before them, are premised on the same failed private-litigation model that has, in effect, doomed these actions from the start. These terrorism cases ... are likely to face the same obstacles discussed in this opinion, such as the Algiers Accords, limited assets to satisfy judgments, conflicting laws and regulations, and the President’s foreign policy prerogative, among others.

These are intractable problems that are more often political, rather than jurisprudential, and so it seems that the new [FSIA amendment], although well intentioned, is destined to prolong and perhaps aggravate the ways in which the same intractable issues have continuously foiled plaintiffs in these cases time and again
Also Wednesday, Lambeth issued a ruling finding Iran liable for the deaths of 17 airmen [opinion, PDF] in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Lambeth awarded the families of the victims $340 million.

Victims of terrorism and their families often face significant hurdles to obtaining court-ordered awards, however there are sometimes successes. In April, relatives of 17 sailors killed in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 received $13 million after a federal judge ordered that Sudanese funds be unfrozen [JURIST report]. Those families are attempting to re-open their suit in order to obtain a more significant judgment [Boston Globe report]. The US District Court for Eastern District of Virginia originally found the government of Sudan liable [JURIST report] for the attack in 2007.

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