Supreme Court Upholds Terror Victims Judgment Against Iran

Edwin Marian Johnston hold up a photo of her son US Marine CPL Edward Johnston who died in the bombing of his Lebanon barracks in 1983 outside Federal Court September 7, 2007 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty
Washington, D.C.

Families of the victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beirut and other terrorist attacks will be able to collect an estimated $2 billion in frozen Iranian funds, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

“The court on Wednesday ruled 6-2 in favor of more than 1,300 relatives of the 241 U.S. service members who died in the Beirut bombing and victims of other attacks that courts have linked to Iran,” reports the Associated Press (AP).

The majority opinion of the court against efforts by Iran’s central bank to reject court orders that would allow relatives to collect money for their losses was written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“Iran’s Bank Markazi complained that Congress was intruding into the business of federal courts when it passed a 2012 law that specifically directs that the bank’s’ assets in the United States be turned over to the families,” notes AP.  “President Barack Obama issued an executive order earlier in 2012 freezing the Iranian central bank’s assets in the United States.”

“(The law) 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,” wrote Ginsburg, according to CNN. “Applying laws implementing Congress’ policy judgments, with fidelity to those judgments, is commonplace for the Judiciary.”

“The authority of the political branches is sufficient; they have no need to seize ours,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts who dissented along with Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The Supreme Court decision comes as controversy surrounds pending legislation in Congress that would allow families of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia in U.S. court.

President Barack Obama does not support the bill. The U.S. president met with Saudi King Salman in Riyadh on Wednesday at the beginning of a brief trip to the country.

“Congress has repeatedly changed the law in the past 20 years to make it easier for victims to sue over state-sponsored terrorism; federal courts have awarded the victims billions of dollars,” reports AP. “But Iran has refused to comply with the judgments, leading lawyers to hunt for Iranian assets in the United States.”

“The Supreme Court case involved $1.75 billion in bonds, plus accumulating interest, owned by the Iranian bank and held by Citibank in New York,” it adds.

Relatives of the victims of the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the 1996 terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia which killed 19 service members, and other attacks that were carried out by groups linked to Iran were among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Deborah Peterson, whose brother, Lance Cpl. James C. Knipple, was killed in Beirut, was identified as the lead plaintiff.

“We are extremely pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision, which will bring long-overdue relief to more than 1,000 victims of Iranian terrorism and their families, many of whom have waited decades for redress,” reportedly said Theodore Olson, the former Bush administration Justice Department official who argued on behalf of the families at the Supreme Court.