A District of Columbia federal judge levied $8.4 billion in damages on the Iranian government Thursday, in a case brought by victims of Hizballah's Beirut attacks on the U.S. Embassy and its Annex. Sixty-three people were killed in the April 1983 embassy bombing, and many more injured. The September 1984 assault on the relocated embassy ("the Annex"), killed at least 11 people and injured more than 50 more.
The case, Estate of Doe, et al. v Republic of Iran, et al., was brought under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act ("FSIA"), after a 1996 amendment removed immunity protection for terror-sponsoring governments. Although the waiver of this immunity initially applied only to American victims or claimants, Congress amended the statute to expand jurisdiction to cases of foreign national victims who were employed by the U.S. government, killed or injured while acting within the scope of their employment.
The plaintiffs in this case are 58 foreign national employees and one American employee of the US government who were working at the embassy and were killed or injured as a result of the attacks, and 255 of their immediate family members.
Evidence showed "that the attacks were carried out by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, known most commonly as Hezbollah, operating with Iranian support and encouragement," the court found. In a previous decision, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates found that "Iran and its Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS") directed and facilitated the 1983 and 1984 attacks."
The court entered a final judgment of liability in favor of plaintiffs in 2011 and referred their claims to U.S. Magistrate John Facciola to determine damages. After receiving evidence, Facciola filed a 220-page Report & Recommendation in which he extensively analyzed the issues pertaining to each of the plaintiffs' claims.
In Thursday's opinion, Judge Bates adopted most of the Report & Recommendation with a few modifications, to award the plaintiffs a total judgment of over $8.4 billion.
"The record in this case is filled with horrors; the suffering of the plaintiffs and the shattered lives left in the wake of the attacks are apparent on every page," Bates wrote. "Cases like this vividly illustrate the faint approximation of full compensation the law offers where human lives, family relationships, and physical health have been destroyed. The Court hopes that, despite their inherent inadequacy, the compensatory damages awarded here will help alleviate plaintiffs' physical, emotional, and financial injuries. So, too, the Court hopes that the punitive damages award will help deter Iran and MOIS from again inflicting such suffering on innocent people."
Of course, as we have noted before, it remains to be seen whether the plaintiffs will be able to collect payment on this ruling, due to the usual objections by our State and Justice Departments to seizing foreign governments' assets.