Federal Judge Awards Beirut Bombing Victims $1.3 Billion

But judge frets that terror lawsuits may be 'a meaningless charade.'

ByABC News
April 1, 2010, 4:51 PM

April 3, 2010 — -- A federal court this week ordered Iran to pay $1.3 billion to the victims of the 1983 United States Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, the latest in a series of enormous verdicts against rogue nations that the judge said may be providing false hopes to those who seek justice.

"The Court seeks to send the strongest possible message that Iran's support of terrorism against citizens of the United States absolutely will not be tolerated by the courts of this nation," U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote in a searing, and at times poignant, opinion published Wednesday.

This is the second huge judgment for victims of the bombing – another group was awarded more than $2.6 billion in 2007. But for now, the money appears to be mirage, or, as Lamberth described it in an earlier opinion related to the latest case, "a meaningless charade."

Congress first changed the law in 1996 to allow American victims to sue foreign sponsors of terror attacks. Lawmakers have returned to the issue several times to try and make it easier for victims to find justice. And in some instances, victims have collected large payments. Plaintiffs in a series of cases brought against Libya, for example, eventually recovered money as part of the U.S. agreement to normalize relations with Libya.

But by Lamberth's estimate, cases against Iran alone had already piled up more than $9 billion in unpaid judgments before the latest opinion issued this week. In an unorthodox 191-page opinion late last year, he called on President Obama and Congress to find a new approach. Those trying to compel Iran to pay by bringing new lawsuits face a "long road ahead," he wrote.

"This meaningless charade … has gone on far too long," he wrote. "It is high time for our political leaders to consider the flaws of this private litigation experience and address the deeper political problems that this court has no authority to resolve."

But by Lamberth's estimate, cases against Iran alone had already piled up more than $9 billion in unpaid judgments before the latest opinion issued this week. In an unorthodox 191-page opinion late last year, he called on President Obama and Congress to find a new approach. Those trying to compel Iran to pay by bringing new lawsuits face a \"long road ahead,\" he wrote.

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