Justice has eluded the victims of the Oct. 23, 1983, Beirut Marine-barrack bombings and their families, but that could change with a measure under consideration in Congress. Thanks to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, New Jersey Democrat, and Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, the Justice for Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act has been appended to the defense-authorization bill currently in conference.
President Bush may well be forced to veto this bill thanks to Democratic provisions having nothing to do with defense, such as its hate-crimes provision, which Mr. Bush has vowed to veto. But if Congress comes to reason, the measure would give U.S. courts a better means of pursuing claims against the agents of terror-fomenting regimes. In the Beirut case, it’s Iran, which has so far eluded the consequences for the murder of 241 American service members by its Hezbollah proxies 24 years ago this month.
As Lynn Smith Derbyshire and Judith C. Young explain today on the opposite page — they are the sister and mother, respectively, of two of the Marines killed in the bombings — assets held indirectly by terrorist states have been off-limits to victims of state-terror violence as they pursue damages in U.S. courts. This has been true even when the assets in question are shown to benefit the terrorist state, such as an offshore bank account or other property held by a third party. It is a terrorist loophole which pays handsome dividends for states like Iran. The bill closes this loophole. Thus Iran would face a credible threat of revocation in the case of its overseas assets, which would be sold to pay the price for the horror its terror sponsorship has inflicted on Americans and others over the years.
The State Department does not much like this provision. Some diplomats fear retaliation by Iran or a third party against American companies and interests. Such scenarios will be handled as they emerge. The possibility of future disputes is no reason to deprive American families any longer. If the bill is vetoed, we call on Congress to pass this measure as stand-alone legislation. Lawmakers frequently talk the talk about victims of terrorism. It is 24 years past time to walk the walk.