Last week, Congress enacted H.R. 1905, a new Iran sanctions bill with a provision assisting American victims of Iran's terrorism and hopefully enabling the single biggest takeaway of money from a state sponsor of terrorism in 30 years. The survivors and families of the 1983 bombing of the Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, Lebanon; the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers apartment building in Saudi Arabia; and other families of victims of individual attacks have already obtained judgments against Iran in federal court and attached an account in a New York City bank with almost $2 billion in Iranian funds. Section 502 of the new law strips Iran's central bank of immunity over that account, which should allow the families to collect on their judgments.
(UPDATE: Pres. Obama signed H.R. 1905 into law on August 10.)
The campaign to enact the new law was arduous and has taken years of litigation and repeated trips to Capitol Hill to discuss the matter with Congress. Complex issues of international banking and commercial law and federal civil procedure made this a very difficult drafting and legislative effort. The leaders in each house of Congress and those who sponsored bills for the families in the House and Senate this term led the way in pushing for this new law. All deserve thanks from the families for their support.
I've represented American victims of terrorism on Capitol Hill for over 7 years, and I've been honored to serve the Beirut Marine families as a senior legislative strategist. I want to highlight some of the key Members who played a special role in its enactment.
Senators Robert Menendez (NJ) and Mark Kirk (IL) sponsored the first Senate version of the bill to assist the families. When Sen. Kirk suffered a stroke in January, Sen. Menendez worked for bipartisan support all the way to enactment. Sen. Menendez and the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Sen. Tim Johnson, included it in the first draft of the Iran sanctions bill in the Senate Banking Committee in February, and their staffs devoted an incredible number of hours to ensuring that the language would punish Iran and assist the families. Sen. Kirk's senior staff continued to express the Senator's strong support behind the scenes as the Senator recovers.
Rep. Bob Turner (NY) quickly agreed to sponsor a separate bill in the House, H.R. 4070, and he and his staff urged other Members to co-sponsor. I've included a YouTube video of Rep. Turner's speech about the bill on the House floor below. The families will always remember and honor Rep. Turner as their first champion in the House.
The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), always a champion for terrorism victims, was the first senior Republican to co-sponsor H.R. 4070. Her staff shepherded the bill through the House towards a conference with the Senate and provided invaluable guidance.
Rep. Brad Sherman (CA) was among the first co-sponsors of H.R. 4070, and worked with the families to gather other co-sponsors. Rep. Sherman's support is no surprise, as he has always pushed for legislation and oversight activities benefitting American victims of international terrorism. I cannot imagine what terrorism victims would do without Rep. Sherman in Congress. Rep. Rob Andrews (NJ), another longtime supporter for terrorism victims, also signed onto the House bill very early, and his staff recruited other co-sponsors.
Three House committee chairmen and one ranking Democrat agreed to co-sponsor H.R. 4070, providing an institutional imprimatur that is critical to enactment of any law. They include Rep. Spencer Bachus (AL) of the Financial Services Committee, Rep. Peter King (NY) of the Homeland Security Committee, and Rep. John Conyers, ranking Democrat of the Judiciary Committee. And the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Lamar Smith (TX), and his counsel provided the final impetus for the bill during the final stages of enactment through timely and detailed support for specific language, without which the bill might have failed.
The Iran sanctions law, now numbered H.R. 1905, heads to the President for his signature, and then a federal judge will hopefully see fit to apply the law in a way that results in the families taking almost $2 billion of Iran's money.
We should remember that this achievement for terrorism victims started with a group of Americans exercising their constitutional rights by filing a civil suit through their trial lawyers. The Founding Fathers built one civil justice system for all cases and causes, including for civil suits filed to punish terrorists and take their money.
I discussed the bill last Friday on the "What's Up" radio program, hosted by Terry Lowry and broadcast on 12 radio stations and on Sirius satellite radio, Channel 131. You can listen to the first segment here and to the second segment here.