Very soon, President Donald Trump must decide whether the United States will remain in the nuclear deal with Iran which the Obama administration negotiated. Indications are that the President is leaning toward pulling out of the agreement. Moreover, among Trump’s chief advisers on the matter is the new national security director, John Bolton, who has long argued that the deal is a bad one and that the United States should either withdraw from or substantially overhaul the accord.
Lost in the thunderclap of this debate, however, is the seemingly quiet struggle for justice that families like mine have waged for decades with only minimal results to show for our efforts.
You see, more than 20 years ago, Congress passed a law giving families like mine the explicit right to seek damages from the Iranian regime for acts of terrorism committed against U.S. citizens. The Congress also stipulated clearly that any judgments were to be paid from assets and funds seized by our government. It was one of those rare instances where Congress spoke loudly and unequivocally. Unfortunately, for years, no one at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue — Democrat or Republican — has been listening.
My father, Kenneth Welch, was murdered on September 20, 1984 by a suicide bomber who drove a bomb-laden truck into the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon where he was serving as an Army warrant officer. Another soldier was killed and scores of service personnel were also wounded.
The driver was a Hezbollah operative acting under orders from Tehran.
Years later, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. relied on the new law as passed by Congress and ruled favorably in my family’s wrongful death suit against the Iranian government and awarded damages for Iran’s role in planning and executing the attack that killed our father. It was a victory for our family after years of suffering. Little did we know that day that we were beginning the first chapter in what has become years of neglect and obstinacy from the same government that sent my father to Beirut to protect its embassy.
It is not just our family that has been mistreated. Hundreds of families have waited in the same line for our government to end its empty condolences and hollow promises. For far too long, our own government has failed to honor its commitments to honor and enforce the judgments ordered by U.S. courts. Aren’t great nations supposed to honor their commitments to those who made the ultimate sacrifice defending our liberties and freedoms?
In those rare instances when members of Congress have championed our cause, the feds routinely descended on Capitol Hill and pleaded with Members to “look at the big picture” and not let personal stories like ours influence the outcome of the larger issues at stake. So, years went by and nothing happened to compensate families who lost loved ones at the hands of the Iranian regime.
Things finally changed in 2015 when Congress established the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST Fund). The fund expires in 2025. Unfortunately, no funds have been appropriated. Money to pay these claims comes from the fines and penalties paid by Iran sanctions violators. While sufficient funds were held in a U.S. Treasury account, most (actually, hundreds of billions) were sent back to Iran by the Obama administration as part of the nuclear deal. Then-Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged at the time that it was likely some of these funds could enter terror financing activities once again. We were, after all, horse trading as part of brokering the nuclear deal.
After years of waiting, fighting for a law to be passed by Congress and courts to hear our cases, justice was within reach, only for our government to again slam the door on us. As a result, in 2017, over 1,000 claimants had to accept a partial payout that averaged about 13 cents on the dollar of the amount owed each victim or their relatives. However, there remains over $10 billion in unpaid judgments.
As the debate rages over the future of the nuclear agreement with Iran, families like mine are owed the respect and obligation by our government to keep our important issue within their sight. Our issue is in fact part of the big picture.
National Security Advisor John Bolton wrote last year an “open” memo to the president, in which he outlined a strategy for exiting the agreement. In the alternative, should the administration wish to remain in the agreement, he also laid out several conditions Iran should be required to meet as a prerequisite for not trashing the deal. Among his suggestions: “Demand payment with a set deadline on outstanding U.S. federal-court judgments against Iran for terrorism, including 9/11.”
I hope the president will heed Mr. Bolton’s good recommendation before making any decision with respect to the agreement.
The time has come for the federal government and President Trump to attend to all of us who may be relatively small in the scheme of the big thinkers but who are, nonetheless, an important part of the larger picture involving Iran and its past behavior involving Americans.
Please, Mr. President, listen to the victims and their families and demand that Iran pay up. Don’t deal us out.
Brian Welch lives in North Carolina with his wife and their two young children. He is a home builder for a large national company. His father, Kenneth Welch, died while serving the U.S. Army honorably when Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah bombed the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon in 1984.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.