Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Why Did the US Seize Iran's $2 Billion?
By Eric Walberg
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 23, 2016
|Iranian President Hassan
What looked to be a new window of detente between the US and Iran,
following the signing of the Joint Comprehensive plan of Action on
Iran's nuclear program has quickly turned opaque. A US decree was issued to
seize $2 billion in assets belonging to the Central Bank of Iran (CBI),
holding Iran financially responsible for the 1983 bombing that killed 241
Marines at their barracks in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. The funds in
question have been blocked since the civilian trial in the bombing began in
2011, but awaited the final legal touch to bless the blatant theft. This
came when the US Supreme Court recently upheld the Congress bill, with the
approval of President Barack Obama.
This is truly alarming. It
clearly is part of a tactic of goading Iran, pushing it in an attempt to
bring Iran to heel. Either that or to undermine the deal. Perhaps Obama has
had second thoughts about the deal.
Timeline long and
* In 2002, Judge Royce Lamberth entered default
against the defendant (Iran) in a civil suit lodged by victims. In 2003, he
ruled that Iran was legally responsible for providing Hezbollah with
financial and logistical support that helped the suicide bombers carry out
the attack, and thus was guilty. Lamberth concluded that the court had
personal jurisdiction over the defendants under the Foreign Sovereign
Immunities Act, that Hezbollah was formed under the auspices of the Iranian
government and was completely reliant on Iran in 1983, and that Hezbollah
carried out the attack in conjunction with Iran's Ministry of Information
and Security agents. Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria have continued to deny any
involvement in any of the bombings. An obscure group calling itself "Islamic
Jihad" claimed responsibility, and that the bombings were aimed to get the
multinational forces out of Lebanon.
* In 2007, Lamberth awarded $2.65 billion to the plaintiffs, an amount he
wrote at the time "may be the largest ever entered by a court of the United
States against a foreign nation." The judgment was divided up among the
victims; the largest award was $12 million to Larry Gerlach, who became a
quadriplegic as a result of a broken neck he suffered in the attack.
* In 2008, the $2 billion was secretly ordered frozen.
* In 2010, victims of the Beirut attack sued the Luxembourg-based
clearing house and bank Clearstream for allegedly assisting Iran to move
$250 million in frozen assets out of the United States, prompting the open
seizure of all Iranian assets at Citibank.
* In 2012, Lambeth ordered Iran to pay an additional $813m in damages and
interest. US Congress buttressed this decision with a special law that
specifically directed the American bank to turn over its Iranian assets to
* In 2014, Bank Markazi challenged the ruling.
* Now, in 2016 Judge Lamberth got the final word: the US Supreme Court
ruled that Congress did not usurp the authority of American courts by
passing the 2012 law concerning the 2007 ruling.
The situation is clear: the US 'justice' system is not objective. The
results of the long process show it serves US political interests over any
concern for justice.
Who dun 'Beirut 1983'?
The case revolves around Iran's supposed guilt by association with Hezbullah,
and Hezbullah's supposed perpetration of the 1983 bombing. Since the bombing
was never solved, there is no case here. It is the US that is guilty in
falling short in its security precautions.
Shortly after the 1983
bombing, President Ronald Reagan appointed a military fact-finding
committee. The commission's report found senior US military officials
responsible for security lapses and blamed the military chain of command for
the disaster. It suggested that there might have been many fewer deaths if
the barracks guards had carried loaded weapons and a barrier more
substantial than the barbed wire the bomber drove over easily. The
commission also noted that the "prevalent view" among U.S. commanders was
that there was a direct link between the navy shelling of the Muslims at Suq-al-Garb
and the truck bomb attack.
When you are so universally loathed and
occupying another country, you should be very, very careful. Israel knows
that well. Former Mossad agent Victor Ostrovsky, in his 1990 book By Way of
Deception, has accused the Mossad of knowing the specific time and location
of the 1983 bombing, but only gave general information to the Americans of
the attack, information which was worthless. According to Ostrovsky, then
Mossad head Nahum Admoni decided against giving the specific details to the
Americans on the grounds that the Mossad's responsibility was to protect
Israel's interests, not Americans. Ostrovsky further claimed that among the
high level officers of the Mossad there was a view that if the Americans
"wanted to stick their nose into this Lebanon thing, let them pay the
The perpetrators of the bombing are still unknown, but the US
insists it must be Hezbollah and thus, indirectly, Iran. Both have denied
responsibility. Seizing the funds, given the inconclusive evidence and the
security lapses of the occupiers, can only be described as theft. President
Rouhani referred to the US Supreme Court ruling on seizure of Iran’s blocked
assets as “a blatant robbery and a major legal scandal for the US”, saying
the move is indicative of Washington’s continued hostilities toward the
Iranian nation. “They (the Americans) should be aware that the rights of the
Iranian people cannot be violated and plundered,” he said, adding, “No thief
can take pride in his theft and think what he has stolen belongs to him.”
Canadian advice to Rouhani
Rouhani says Iran will soon lodge a complaint against Washington with The
Hague over a US court ruling that paves the way for the use of billions of
Tehran’s frozen assets. “The government will never allow for the money that
belongs to the Iranian nation be easily gobbled up by the Americans.”
Rouhani should ponder Canada's experience. Canadians know only too well
about US creative accounting. Our irritant is the billions the US has
charged as a tariff duty on Canadian softwood lumber, a problem which
started in 1982 and remains unresolved, despite Prime Minister Justin
Trudeau's predecessor, Stephen Harper, making a deal with his friend George
Bush back in 2006. In 2002, a WTO panel concluded that the US had imposed
improperly high duties on Canadian lumber, but the US ignored this, even
though it is a card-carrying member of the WTO.
Almost as if on
principle, the US refuses to take any responsibility for its actions, let
alone apologize, but, at least in this case, Uncle Sam gave back most of its
ill-gotten gains. That is unfortunately the relevant precedent here for
Iran. Let the theft stand, or try to get a European country to propose some
kind of mediation, or try to get the US to settle the matter in the
International Court of Justice, as President Rouhani is now doing, though
the US, unlike Iran, is not party to the international court.
Iran's Airline 655 experience
This is how Iran settled
the US downing in 1988 of Iran Air Flight 655, shot down by the US Navy,
while illegally in Iranian waters, killing all 290 civilians on board. The
perpetrator was clearly the US in 1988, though it did not formally apologize
to Iran. In 1996, the US and Iran reached a settlement at the International
Court of Justice which included the statement "the United States recognized
the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed
deep regret over the loss of lives caused by the incident."
of the settlement, the US did not admit legal liability but agreed to pay
$61.8 million, amounting to roughly $200,000 per passenger, in compensation
to the families of the Iranian victims. Even if there was a shred of truth
to the US claim concerning Iran and the Beirut bombing--there isn't--$2
billion divided 241 equals $11 million. Simple math means Iranian lives are
'worth' $200,000, but US and French marines $11 million.*
relatives of the Beirut bombing victims and US pride are assuaged. Israel
and Saudi Arabia are eager for continued strife between the US and Iran and
putting the nuclear deal at jeopardy. In the meantime, Iran can only
continue to work to renew its position in world affairs, proving its
anti-terrorist credentials in its actions.
What should happen
120 member states of the Non-Aligned Movement denounced the US ruling,
calling it a violation of Washington’s international and treaty obligations
concerning “the sovereign immunity of states,” echoing Iranian President
The Iranian president, under increasing criticism
for foolishly trusting the US, fired back, with the backing of parliament.
The Iranian parliament passed a bill last week calling for compensation for
past US actions against Iran, including
* US involvement in the 1953
coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and reinstalled
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as king of Iran;
* a coup attempt known as the
Nojeh coup in 1980 shortly after the Islamic Republic was established;
US support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War,
including the 223,000 victims and 600,000 injured during that war;
deaths of 17,000 Iranian citizens at the hands of US-backed terror groups;
spying against Iran; confiscating Iranian assets; and US support for Israel.
While there is little hope of the US government coughing up, the bill
highlights to anyone interested in US-Iranian relations why the road to
smoother relations will not be easy.
*In another 'blood money'
payoff, to assuage the US for the 1988 Lockerbie crash victims, in 2002
Gaddafi coughed up $2.7b, insisting to the end he wasn't responsible.
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