Government of Iran Ordered to Pay Damages for Terrorist Acts Against U.S. Citizens

A US District Court has recommended more than $189 million in judgments against Iran. The case is for some 27 civilian or uniformed service employees of the United States injured or killed in a terrorist attack.

An interesting pair of decisions holding Iran liable for terrorist acts by Hamas and Hizbollah was just issued by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Each ordered Iran and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) to pay damages to United States citizens for injuries caused by terrorist acts that were backed by the Iranian government.

The American plaintiffs were or represent U.S. military or government employees at the time of these terrorist attacks for which the court is holding Iran and MOIS responsible in accordance with the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (28 U.S.C. § 1602 et seq.).

The first case (Dammarell v. The Islamic Republic of Iran, D.D.C. Civil Action No. 01-2224 (JDB/JMF)) stems from the car bombing of the United States Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, on April 18, 1983, carried out by the terrorist group Hizbollah. That terrorist attack resulted in 63 dead—including 17 American citizens–and more than 100 others injured. In a 316-page “Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law,” a U.S. magistrate assigned the unenviable job of sifting through the huge record in the case delineates findings and his recommendation as to the type and amount of liability that should be levied against Iran and MOIS for each plaintiff in the case. (The phase II plaintiffs).

Iran’s liability stems from the finding that “Iran, through its MOIS, materially supported Hizbollah by providing assistance such as money, military arms, training, and recruitment….Indeed, on January 19, 1984, President Reagan designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, a designation that has remained to this date.” (Opinion, p. 2)

The phase II plaintiffs are or represent some 27 individuals injured or killed in the terrorist attack. Each of the individuals was a federal civilian or uniformed service employee of the United States. In sifting through the case, the judge had to deal with the law of 11 different states and the testimony of those who were injured and those who lost family members in the bombing.

It was a massive job. The result is a decision that has captured several gut-wrenching eyewitness accounts of the bombing. The decision quotes extensively from these accounts to recapture the horror of the event as well as the devastation it caused for the survivors who suffered physical injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder that impacted their careers and their personal lives. The decision also details the grief and suffering of the survivors of many who died. The decision itself now becomes a significant historical record of this terrorist attack and just some of the tragedies it caused.

After sorting out the facts, the recommendation amounts to more than $189 million in judgments against Iran. The decision gives the various plaintiffs 20 days to respond to the recommended conclusions of law and findings of fact. Whether any of the plaintiffs will eventually recover a judgment against Iran remains to be seen.

Why did they join in this lawsuit against Iran? Each plaintiff explained his/her reasons and the decision meticulously records those reasons. One plaintiff, Dennis Foster, who was serving as the Department of State Protocol Officer when the embassy was attacked, perhaps best captured the common motivation of these plaintiffs:

“I do believe that countries such a Iran, such as Syria, that sponsor terrorism, that sponsor the nonobservance, the trampling down of basic international law, order, and morality, should somehow be called to account in every possible forum, including this one.” (Opinion p. 82)

The second case (decided on August 10 but published the same day as the Dammarell decision) ordered Iran and MOIS to pay almost $20 million in damages to the surviving spouse and parents of a young American woman killed in the August 9, 2001 suicide bombing of a restaurant in Jerusalem. The terrorist group Hamas was responsible for the bombing that killed Judith Greenbaum as well as 14 other people and injured more than 130. (Greenbaum v. Islamic Republic of Iran, D.D.C. Civil Action No. 02-2148 (RCL), 8/10/06)

Mrs. Greenbaum was in Israel for a 6-week study abroad program that was part of her graduate studies. She was a young married who had recently learned that she was expecting her first child. Her husband spent four weeks with her in Israel but returned to the states in early August. A few days later his wife and her unborn child were killed in the Hamas terrorist attack.

In concluding that Iran and MOIS were liable for Mrs. Greenbaum’s death under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the court stated “they provided material support and assistance to Hamas, the terrorist organization that orchestrated the bombing.” (Opinion p. 1)

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.