By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 8, 2007
A federal judge yesterday ordered Iran to pay more than $2.6 billion to nearly 1,000 family members and a handful of survivors of a 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 soldiers. The ruling brought cheers and tears from survivors but faces long odds of being fulfilled.
"This court is sadly aware that there is little it can do to heal the physical wounds and emotional scars," wrote U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth in his order. But he expressed hope that "this extremely sizeable judgment will serve to aid in the healing process and simultaneously sound the alarm to the defendants that their unlawful attacks on our citizens will not be tolerated."
The militant group Hezbollah carried out the suicide bombing on Oct. 23, 1983, but in a ruling in 2003, Lamberth found that Iran was "legally responsible" for supporting Hezbollah with financial and logistical support to carry out the attack. Iran did not contest the charges.
Hundreds of survivors and families packed into the courtroom to hear Lamberth's ruling, and they erupted in applause when he left the bench.
Even if a victim of terrorism wins at trial, however, it is almost impossible to collect damages. Iran's assets in the United States, for instance, are worth only about $20 million, mainly in diplomatic property, according to State Department officials. Congress passed legislation in 2000 authorizing the payment of $380 million in U.S. Treasury funds to claimants in cases involving 14 victims who were held hostage or killed by Iranian-supported groups such as Hezbollah. Lawmakers ordered the State Department to try to get that money reimbursed by Iran.
Other victims of terrorism, however, have received nothing. The Bush administration proposed a plan in 2003 that would have given any victim of terrorism $262,000. But the idea has languished, largely because of complaints that the amount was too low.
"This is a sense of victory, of winning a battle," Paul Rivers, who was a 20-year-old enlisted Marine on the second floor of the barracks when it exploded, told the Associated Press. "When we win the war is when we collect, when we make them pay for what they did."
Lamberth issued a detailed accounting of what each person should receive, down to the dollar, to reach a total judgment of $2,656,944,877. Rivers, for instance, was awarded $7 million. The largest award, $12 million, was made to Larry Gerlach, whose injuries include a broken neck that resulted in permanent quadriplegia.