- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On Oct. 23, 1983, the government of Iran sent a truck bomb into the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, destroying the building like a child smashing play-doh. Two hundred and forty-one men were killed, and countless others were wounded. It was mass murder.

It took three weeks to dig through the rubble and identify all the dead. The families of these victims, U.S. Marines and servicemen who were sent to Lebanon as peacekeepers, sat in front of our television sets and wept, and waited, and prayed — and waited and prayed, and wept again, desperate for news of those we loved.

For 24 years, since that horrible day, that horrible moment, the government of Iran has literally been getting away with murder.

In May 2003, after a trial that weighed the evidence of Iran’s role in the bombing, the victims of Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism and their families saw the first step toward justice. A U.S. district court found the government of Iran liable for organizing and funding the Beirut attack. And just last month, after a four-year process of painstakingly reviewing the claims of the hundreds of victims, that same court awarded damages in excess of $2.6 billion to the victims and their families.

Does this decision mean that Iran will finally be held to a measure of accountability for its sponsorship of terrorism? Well, not exactly. That is because several court decisions have held that legislation which Congress passed in 1996, giving victims of terrorism a federal cause of action, does not allow victims to attach assets held indirectly by terrorist states, even if these assets can be proven to be controlled for the benefit of the terrorist states. Terrorist states have used these decisions to hide their assets from victims seeking damages.

This has prompted Sens. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, and Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, along with 25 other cosponsors, Democrats and Republicans, to introduce S. 1944, the Justice for Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism Act. And in recent days, despite continued opposition from the State Department, even as Iran’s leaders were thumbing their noses at the United States last week at the United Nations, members of Congress have rallied to this cause, with the Senate unanimously agreeing to include the Lautenberg-Specter bill as an amendment to the defense authorization. The measure is now in conference with the House and must be signed by the president.

This bill sends a strong and clear message to terrorist states such as Iran: You cannot murder Americans without consequences anymore. You can and will be held accountable. America and Americans now have one more tool in the world war on terror. The cost of state-sponsored terrorism is about to go up.

Will Iran be hurt by losing more than $2 billion of their investments abroad? Absolutely. The Iranian reaction to the court’s recent decision was very public and very critical. They don’t want to be held accountable for what they do. They don’t want our nation to have laws that can deter them from supporting terrorist acts. They don’t want to face the possibility that their government, currently under mounting domestic criticism for its mismanagement of its economy, may lose investments that generate significant income.

Maya Angelou said: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Governments such as Iran have been perpetrating acts of terrorism, and supporting terrorist organizations long enough. Today we say to them: no more.

None of us want the events of Oct. 23, 1983, to be repeated; they have been repeated far too many times already. The Achille Lauro, Robert Stethem of TWA Flight 847, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the U.S.S. Cole, September 11, Madrid, Bali, and on and on.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah says there is “Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.

“But God says to her, “Restrain your voice from weeping… because there is hope for the future.” Time does not heal wounds; only hope can heal wounds.

This legislation will hold Iran accountable for the murder of the men who were killed and wounded on October 23, 1983. And if we can accomplish that, then we believe that we will truly have hope for the future.

Lynn Smith Derbyshire lives in Oak Hill, Va. Her brother, Marine Capt. Vincent Smith was killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing. Judith C. Young lives in Moorestown, N.J. She is the mother of Marine Sgt. Jeffrey Young, who was killed in the 1983 Beirut bombing.

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