The Oct. 19 editorial "Tapping Foreign Assets" gave misguided support to efforts by President Clinton to prevent the federal courts from enforcing judgments entered pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

To be sure, there is reason for not hampering presidential flexibility when dealing with terrorist states. But this concern must be balanced against the rights of individuals to exercise their constitutional rights.

The Antiterrorism Act's drafters considered the administration's concerns and deferred to them by setting up an arrangement whereby the State Department, not the courts, would determine which states are terrorist states. Now American families of the victims of terrorism by Iran and Cuba have sought to exercise their rights pursuant to this legislation. They won default judgments.

Another group of families--those of the murdered passengers aboard Pan Am 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988--are pursuing their legal remedies in U.S. courts against the government of Libya. Libya has defended the action through its lawyers. But whether a civil judgment is entered as a result of default or after a trial, it is entitled to execution. Placing foreign assets off-limits can render meaningless a judgment, thus making a mockery of justice.

The American families of victims of terrorism deserve better. The president should respect the law.



The writer, a former deputy assistant attorney general for legal counsel, represents a number of families in their civil action against Libya.