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Amitai Etzioni David Katz Harsh Pant - Middle East Forum

Amitai Etzioni David Katz Harsh Pant - Middle East Forum

non-accountability for

non-accountability for the lives it takes. Witha gross domestic product per capita of $7,000,it would take 30,000 years for the averageSyrian to earn the sum awarded for the deathof one American in this case. 26In short, the Assad regime argued that themammoth judgment leveled against Syria by theU.S. District Court with the expressed purpose ofnot letting “depraved lawlessness go unremarkedand without consequence” will only result in Arabshating Americans more. 27 Consistent with thelong-standing Damascus modus operandi, Syria’slawyers essentially threaten violence against theUnited States unless the initial verdict is reversed.PRECEDENTSPhoto will not display.In its effort to overturn the court ruling, the government ofSyria engaged Johnson administration attorney generalRamsey Clark as counsel. Clark has a prodigious record ofdefending publicly reviled individuals and causes. In the early1990s, Clark defended the Palestine Liberation Organizationin the suit brought by the family of the murdered AmericanLeon Klinghoffer. Here Clark (left) meets with Hamas’s IsmailHaneya (right) in Gaza City, January 5, 2011.Notwithstanding the seeming novelty of thedefense’s strategy—attacking the constitutionalityof the Foreign SovereignImmunity Act exception forstate sponsors of terrorism—Damascus and Clark are employingthis tack in othercases. During another recentcivil action, two Americanstaken hostage in 1988 by theSyrian-supported KurdistanWorkers Party (PKK) soughtdamages against Damascusfor its provision of materialsupport to the terrorist organization.28 In this case, too,the U.S. District Court for theDistrict of Columbia did notaccept Damascus’s argumentthat the terrorism exceptionwas unconstitutional.At the time of publication,the appeal verdict was pending,but judgments in severalprevious cases suggest thatthe Court of Appeals will affirmprecedent and deny Syria’s argument thatthe FSIA exception is unconstitutional, just as ithas previously found that the U.N. charter isnot self-executing and has no jurisdiction in U.S.courts.Syria is only the latest state to be held accountablein U.S. courts for its role in killingAmericans. Most famously, in 1998, the familyof Alisa Flatow, who was killed in a bus bombingperpetrated by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, wona $247 million award from the group’s Iraniansponsors. But significant judgments have alsobeen rendered against Tehran for kidnappings,tortures, and murders perpetrated in Lebanonby its client Hezbollah and in Israel by Hamas.In 1997 and 2010, nearly $4 billion in civil judgmentswere rendered against Iran in U.S. courtsby the victims of the 1983 Marine barracks bombingin Lebanon. Likewise, in 2007, U.S. courtsawarded $6 billion to six American families and26 Ibid.27 Francis Gates v. Syrian Arab Republic.28 See Mary Nell Wyatt, et al v. Syrian Arab Republic, et al,Civil Action No. 08-0502, U.S. District Court of Appeals forthe District of Columbia, Sept. 8, 2010.64 / MIDDLE EAST QUARTERLY SPRING 2011

UTA airlines after Libya was found responsiblefor downing Flight 772 by a bomb over Niger in1989. Ultimately, the UTA settlement was foldedinto the $1.5 billion fund established by Libya in2008 to compensate Lockerbie, La Belle, and allother pending terrorism claims against Libya. 29While these astronomical figures wouldoptimally constitute a deterrent for terrorist regimes,regrettably they have not proven effective.The problem, obviously, is that the judgmentsare exceedingly difficult to collect. After a$1.3 billion judgment was levied against Iran in2010, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C.Lamberth calculated that more than $9 billion inuncollected torts had been ordered againstTehran, a sum that made the money a “meaninglesscharade.” 30 Federal courts have frozen someIranian funds, including a $2 billion account atCitibank. 31 Still other victims of Iran havesought, thus far unsuccessfully, to attach ancientIranian artifacts in Chicago museums. 32As with Iran, wresting assets from Syria tosatisfy the awards to the Armstrong and Hensleyfamilies will also prove a challenge. Damascushas relatively few assets in the United States,and diplomatic property is inviolable. Still, attorneySteven Perles, who represented the families,remains optimistic. To date, according tohis assessment, he has recovered some $70-$75million in frozen Iranian assets for his clients. 33And should the verdict be upheld, he says heintends to focus on Syrian assets in Europe“where a number of countries recognize compensatory[if not punitive] damages from Americancourts.” While compensation remains a distantprospect, as long as these judgments arepending—if Iran is any example—it may becomeincreasingly difficult for Damascus to do businessin Europe.In any event, it is increasingly clear thatbecause the Assad regime has contributed to so29 CNN, Nov. 21, 2008.30 ABC News, The Blotter, Apr. 3, 2010.31 The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 12, 2009.32 See Daniel Pipes, “The University of Chicago vs. Victimsof Terror,” Lion’s Den Blog, June 28, 2006.33 Fulton County Daily Report (Atlanta), Oct. 13, 2008.many American deaths in Iraq and elsewhere inthe region, this lawsuit is sure to generate dozensmore. Indeed, Perles himself has pledged to“financially pound the Syrians until they do what[Libyan leader] Qaddafi did and compensate thefamilies for the deaths of their loved ones.” 34More suits against Damascus await.POLICY IMPLICATIONSAs long as theseU.S. judgmentsare pending, itmay be difficultfor Damascusto do businessin Europe.The $413 million civil judgment representsthe latest in a growing series of irritants in theU.S.-Syrian relationship. Since 1979, when Syriawas added as an inaugural member of the StateDepartment list of state sponsors of terrorism,U.S. relations with Damascus have never beengood. Nevertheless, despite the pariah moniker,over time, relations between Washington andthe terrorist state reached a condition of normalcy.This persisted until the Bush-era deteriorationtriggered by Syrianprovision of assistanceto insurgents inIraq and the subsequentassassination of formerLebanese premier RafiqHariri in 2005, a murderwidely believed to havea Syrian connection.Despite the Obamaadministration’s sincereefforts to reset the relationship,improve the ties via a more active programof diplomatic engagement, and split Syriafrom its 30-year strategic relationship with Iran,over the first two years of this presidency, thebilateral dynamic has only gotten worse. Since2010, Washington has watched Syrian supportfor terrorism and meddling in Lebanon increase.Meanwhile, Assad regime coordination withTehran appears to be on the upswing.An early item on President Obama’s agendawas the appointment of a new ambassador to34 Author interview with Steven Perles, Washington, D.C.,Jan. 10, 2011.Schenker: Syrian Terrorism / 65

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