US Supreme Court: Iran should indemnify families of victims of 1983 Beirut bombings
Apr 21, 2016 02:38 AM EDT
In a decision rendered on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that almost $2 billion of frozen Iranian assets should be given to the families of Americans who perished during the bombing of U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983 as well as other attacks for which Iran is liable.
The court ruled in a 6-2 vote that the 2012 law passed by the U.S. Congress did not encroach on the authority of the judiciary. The law provided that Iran's frozen funds should be used to cover the $2.65 billion indemnification granted by the U.S. federal court to victimized families in 2007. According to the high court, the U.S. Constitution gives the president and the Congress broad powers to decide on matters regarding foreign policy.
The ruling would benefit over 1,000 families.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in a 24-page decision, said the ruling "provides a new standard clarifying that, if Iran owns certain assets, the victims of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks will be permitted to execute against those assets."
USA Today reported that Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented. Roberts opined that "narrowly crafted" statue is tantamount to a violation of the separation of powers since it already sought to dictate the result of the case.
"No less than if it had passed a law saying 'respondents win,' Congress has decided this case by enacting a bespoke statute tailored to this case that resolves the parties' specific legal disputes to guarantee respondents victory," Roberts said.
The decision stems from the original lawsuit filed by Deborah Peterson, whose brother Marine Lance Corporal James Knipple died in the Lebanese capital. The 2nd U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled in favor of Peterson in 2014, stating that the Iranian assets and bonds held in a trust account by former federal judge Stanley Sporkin should be distributed to over 1,000 American families.
The plaintiffs accused Iran of providing material support to Iran-backed Hezbollah, the Shiite Islamist political and military group held responsible for the 1983 attacks in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. servicemen, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
"The mission was for those responsible for the bombing to be held accountable and for the world to understand what happened in Beirut," Peterson stated, via Reuters.
Other than the 1983 Beirut bombing, compensation is also sought from Iran for their involvement in other terrorist attacks such as the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996, and the 2011 suicide bombing of a Sbarro brach in Jerusalem.
The decision comes at a critical point where the Congress and the White House are sparring over the passage of the 9/11 bill which would allow families of victims of the World Trade Center terrorist bombings to file a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia for any role it played in the attacks. Obama has stated he does not support the bill since it would also expose the United States to lawsuits filed by other countries.