U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth’s ruling that the Iranian government is to blame for the killing of 19 members of the U.S. Air Force in a 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia highlights again the weak U.S. response to Islamist terror during the Clinton administration. In his opinion, which runs 209 pages long, Judge Lamberth held that the Iranian regime, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS) were liable for damages in connection with the June 25, 1996, attack on the Khobar Towers housing complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which was destroyed when a large gasoline tanker exploded alongside the perimeter wall. The ruling permits relatives of the slain U.S. servicemen to go forward with a lawsuit seeking $260 million in damages from the Iranian government in connection with the bombing.
In his ruling, which came in a lawsuit filed by families of 17 of the 19 U.S. military personnel killed in the attack, Judge Lamberth relied heavily upon the testimony of the man President Clinton appointed to head the FBI: its former director, Louis Freeh, who contends that Mr. Clinton and top aides like Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and disgraced former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger hindered his investigation for fear of plunging the United States and our Saudi “allies” nation into direct conflict with Tehran. By contrast, Judge Lamberth decided to look at the evidence and make a decision about Iranian involvement based on the facts rather than the requirements of diplomacy — which often requires that inconvenient facts be swept under the rug. His findings are a devastating indictment of the role of the Iranian government (and its junior partner in terror, the Ba’athist regime in Syria) in the killing of Americans. He found that the attack was approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, and that it had the support of Ali Fallahian, the Iranian minister of intelligence and security — whose representative in Damascus supported the operation.
Judge Lamberth said that the attack was carried out by people recruited primarily by a senior IRGC official, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Sharifi, who served as operational commander. The planning took place at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus, where Gen. Sharifi provided the passports, funding and paperwork for the perpetrators, and the truck bomb was assembled at a terrorist base jointly operated by Hezbollah and the IRGC in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. At the time, Lebanon was occupied by Syria. In 2001, a grand jury in Virginia issued an indictment of 13 members of Hezbollah in connection with the Khobar Towers plot and identified Iran as the sponsor. None of the 13 has ever been extradited here for trial.
Mr. Freeh said the FBI was able to interview six members of Hezbollah offshoot which called itself “Saudi Hezbollah” and carried out the Khobar Towers bombing. “According to Director Freeh, the FBI obtained specific information from the six about how each was recruited and trained by the Iranian government in Iran and Lebanon, and how weapons were smuggled into Saudi Arabia from Iran through Syria and Jordan. One individual described in detail a meeting about the attack at which senior Iranian officials, including members of the MOIS and IRGC, were present,” Judge Lamberth wrote. “Several stated that IRGC directed, assisted and oversaw the surveillance of the Khobar Towers site, and that these surveillance reports were sent to IRGC officials for their review. Another told the FBI that IRGC gave the six individuals a large amount of money for the specific purpose of planning and executing the Khobar Towers bombing.”
Mr. Freeh resigned as FBI director in June 2001; he has said he delayed his departure to prevent Mr. Clinton from choosing his successor, fearing he would have appointed someone who would have damaged the FBI. In his memoir, “MY FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton and Waging War on Terror,” and in subsequent interviews, Mr. Freeh has said that his attempts to probe the crime were undermined by the efforts of senior Clinton administration officials to improve relations with what they believed was a “reformist” Iranian regime. U.S. investigators were only able to interview Saudi suspects arrested in connection with the bombing because of the intervention of former President George H.W. Bush, who personally requested Saudi assistance. Mr. Freeh also maintains that instead of pressing then-Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for help with the Khobar Towers investigation, Mr. Clinton asked the Saudi royal for a donation to his presidential library. Judge Lamberth’s ruling strengthens the arguments of Mr. Freeh and others who suggest that Tehran was a big beneficiary of Mr. Clinton’s lethargic response to Islamofascism.