How The U.S. Didn’t Enforce Its Own Court Rulings Against Iran

Donald J. Mihalek Vice President, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association Foundation
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Four million in mixed currency hits the hands of a foreign government via a nondescript plane in the dark of night. This has all the makings of a spy story if it weren’t true — and we know reality tends to be better than fiction.

Iran, a documented state sponsor of terrorism is holding several U.S.-Iranian citizens unlawfully. Conveniently four of these U.S. citizens are set free — around the same time the cash arrives.

Reports indicate that wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane. Reportedly the U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland. It gets better: the money allegedly represents the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement our government reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over — wait for it — a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Really? In the hit Broadway play Hamilton, when Thomas Jefferson wanted the fledgling U.S. to support France’s revolution, Alexander Hamilton’s response was, “why, we signed a deal with a King whose head is in a basket,” and that was for an ally.

We paid the Iranians — yet they have refused to pay their overdo debts to the U.S. Debts not owed for a deal, but for blood: American blood spilled by Iran and their terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas.

These U.S. victims of terrorism, including the families and responders of the 9/11 attacks, had received a ruling from no less than the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. Nearly $2 billion in frozen Iranian government funds must be turned over to injured survivors and families of Americans killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut and other attacks for which Iran was found liable by U.S. courts.

The two billion was a start — Iran owes U.S. families victimized by their terrorist actions close to $53 billion dollars in compensatory and punitive damages — damages awarded by U.S. federal courts.

According to Jennifer Elsea of the Congressional Research Service, U.S. federal courts have, over the last two decades, issued some 92 judgments finding the Iranian government and its officials liable for acts of terrorism that claimed American victims. These judgments have resulted in over $26 billion in compensatory damages and over $30 billion in punitive damages against Iranian government entities and officials including against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.

Iran has never willingly paid a penny — and why should they? They have continually showed no respect to the U.S., its courts, and terrorism victims. Why change now?

Terrorism victims and their families have received less than $100 million in compensation from Iranian government assets blocked by the U.S. Government, so the $400 Million would have helped. Except during the nuclear deal talks, the U.S. allowed Iran to keep terrorism and their support for it off the table. Why?

The list of judgments against Iranian government entities is long and nefarious:

A Hezbollah truck bomb that killed 63 people in April 1983 at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, including 17 Americans.

A second Hezbollah truck bomb that destroyed a U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983, killing 241 U.S. service members.

Hezbollah’s abduction and torture in Lebanon throughout the 1980s of U.S. citizens working in Beirut, including two journalists, a priest, and three administrators of educational institutions.

The April 1995 and February 1996 murders of five U.S. citizens in two terrorist bombings of Israeli buses. Judge Royce Lamberth, the U.S. District Court judge who decided these cases, found Khamenei personally responsible.

The June 1996 killing of 19 U.S. servicemen by a truck bombing at Khobar Towers, a residence on a U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia. Judge Lamberth singled out Khamenei for responsibility, stating that the attack was “approved by Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran at the time.”

The July 1997 Hamas bombing of an outdoor market in Jerusalem that killed a U.S. citizen. Judge Lamberth found the Iranian government, its Ministry of Information and Security, and Khamenei himself liable for the killing.

The August 1998 truck bombings that destroyed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 300 and wounding over 5,000.

The October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, which resulted in the deaths of 17 American sailors.

The September 11, 2001 attacks that killed some 3,000 people. In December 2011, a U.S. District Court found the Iranian government and Khamenei himself among those responsible. The court’s lengthy opinion included extensive evidence that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had provided “funding and/or training for terrorism operations targeting American citizens, including support for Hizballah and al Qaeda” and evidence that IRGC activities were controlled by Khamenei. The opinion also quoted from the 9/11 Commission report that “Iran furnished material and direct support” for travel for at least eight of the hijackers.

Let’s also not forget that in both Iraq and Afghanistan, it was widely reported that Iranian Agents were training, funding and equipping the insurgents that killed close to 5,000 U.S. service members and caused tens of thousands of permanent injuries to our troops.

Iran must have hired a good negotiator, because we forced Libyan Dictator Muammar Qaddafi to verifiably dismantle his nuclear program, halt sponsorship of terrorism, and compensate families of victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing and other acts of Libyan state-sponsored terrorism. As a result, Libya paid some $4 billion to U.S. victims of those attacks. We need those negotiators back.

What is inexplicable is how our government, which allegedly had $400 million of “Iranian money‎,” didn’t think to first use that cash to pay the Iranian U.S. court judgments or for the 9/11 Health Screening Program, also in existence due to Iranian culpability.

We all understand that the world of international diplomacy is not clean and sometimes things are done to achieve a goal, but these judgments and Iran’s culpability were well known.

As a nation, shouldn’t American victims’ interests come first? Dealing with Iran has only shown one thing — rules don’t really seem to matter.