Terror Victims Rights at Risk
in U.S. Courts
NEW YORK The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Stephen Flatow, father of terror victim Alisa Flatow, are deeply concerned about the Bush administrations new attempt to prevent victims of terrorism from suing governments that sponsor terrorism.
Officials of the State Department and Justice Department presented arguments to this effect before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on December 15 that would prevent victims of terror from suing governments that sponsor terror.
In 1996, Congress passed legislation known as the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Flatow Amendment allowing terror victims to sue terror-sponsoring regimes, and many such lawsuits have been filed. The law made it possible for the Flatow family to successfully sue the government of Iran, which financed the Islamic Jihad terrorist who murdered Alisa, age 20, in a bomb attack on a bus in Israel in 1995. Other Americans followed with similar suits and successfully used the law against state sponsors of terror, including Associated Press reporter Terry Anderson and the family of Father Lawrence Martin Jenco.
Last week, State and Justice Department representatives argued in court that the Flatow Amendment should be interpreted by the courts to allow the victims to sue only individual foreign government officials, not the governments themselves. If the court accepts this argument, it will severely limit the ability of terror victims to make terror-sponsors pay for their crimes. Morton A. Klein, National President of the Zionist Organization of America said, Given that U.S. citizens have been killed and injured by terrorism perpetrated in Israel and elsewhere, and the enormous terrorist threat that we continue to face on a daily basis, it is a sad commentary on the state of our government that it is now acting to limit the bases on which terror victims can obtain compensation. No lawsuit can possibly redress the losses that terrorism inflicts on a victim and the victims family. But our government should be sending a message to state sponsors of terrorism that they will be held accountable for sponsoring and supporting terrorist acts, and that there will be a steep price to pay a price that should serve to deter future terrorism. Instead, our government is sending a message that, in effect, will shield terrorist states from taking responsibility for their criminal conduct.
Susan Tuchman, Director of the ZOAs Center for Law & Justice, commented that the language and intent of the law is clear: to support as fully and broadly as possible terror victims efforts to obtain justice. The law specifically lifts the immunity of foreign governments to suits based on terrorist acts and specifically speaks of cases for money damages against foreign governments. The language of the law would be rendered meaningless if terror victims could not proceed against the foreign governments that sponsor and support the terrorist activity. The government is trying to undo numerous court decisions that have already held foreign governments liable.
Stephen Flatow, the father of terror victim Alisa Flatow and a member of the board of the ZOAs Center for Law & Justice had this to say: Using the provisions of the Act, our family was awarded damages against the Iranian government and others for their role as the sponsor of the terror group that killed my 20-year-old daughter Alisa in 1995. Other families followed in our footsteps. What kind of signal does the governments position in this case send? To the Iranian government, it signifies that Americas fight against terror is not as wholehearted as it is portrayed, for while the American military acts overseas, Americas civil authorities are trying to let a member of the Presidents declared Axis of Evil off the hook. To American victims of terror and their families, it signifies that their government does not take seriously their losses and their efforts to bring those accountable to the bar of justice.