Iran TerrorismAnalysis: Court explores Iran liability

Analysis: Court explores Iran liability

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UPI: The Supreme Court is taking a close look at a case against Iran involving an assassination in Paris, inviting the Justice Department Monday to “express the views of the United States” before the justices decide what to do with the dispute. How the Supreme Court handles the case — whether it accepts or rejects the case for argument, and if it hands down a decision — could give the U.S. courts some guidance on … United Press International

By Michael Kirkland
UPI Legal Affairs Correspondent

Washington, DC – The Supreme Court is taking a close look at a case against Iran involving an assassination in Paris, inviting the Justice Department Monday to “express the views of the United States” before the justices decide what to do with the dispute.

How the Supreme Court handles the case — whether it accepts or rejects the case for argument, and if it hands down a decision — could give the U.S. courts some guidance on dealing with alleged terrorist acts against U.S. citizens by foreign governments.

Central to the case is the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

At issue is the FSIA’s provisions on jurisdictional immunity of foreign sovereigns in U.S. courts.

A petition filed on behalf of the Ministry of Defense and Support for the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran said “the risks of unsettling the United States’s foreign relations are enhanced when at issue is the actual seizure and distraint (distress) of property owned (or claimed by) a foreign sovereign.”

In other words, Iran warned that U.S. foreign policy should not be thrown off track by actions in the U.S. courts.

In the underlying case, Iran’s Ministry of Defense successfully asked a judge in Los Angeles to confirm a $2.8 million arbitration award by the International Chamber of Commerce against a military equipment supplier for breach of contract.

Shortly after the award was granted, however, the father of a U.S. student killed by a suicide bomber in the Gaza Strip in 1995 and the brother of an assassinated Iranian dissident moved to intervene in the case, attaching the award to pay in part for damages won in court cases against Iran.

A federal appeals court rejected intervention in the case of the young woman killed in Gaza, but allowed the intervention in the case of the assassinated dissident.

Dr. Cyrus Elahi was a naturalized U.S. citizen and a high official in an Iranian opposition group. His body was found in the lobby of his Paris residence in October 1990. He had been shot seven times — only the latest in a series of assassinations of Iranian opposition figures abroad.

French police arrested a number of Iranian nationals “and determined that the assassination had been orchestrated by the Iranian government through the (Ministry of Information and Security, or MOIS).”

Elahi’s brother, Dariush Elahi, filed suit in the United States against Iran and MOIS. Representatives of Iran did not show for trial, and a judge awarded $12 million in actual damages and $300 million in punitive damages.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld the judge, though it acknowledged its decision was in conflict with a federal appeals court in Washington.

Then came the litigation in the International Camber of Commerce award, the only practical way of collecting some of the damages.

The Supreme Court should hear the Elahi case, No. 04-1095, Ministry of Defense etc. vs. Dariush Elahi, sometime next fall.

In unrelated action Monday, the Supreme Court refused to review whether Iraq should be held accountable for torturing U.S. prisoners of war during the first Gulf War.

A group of 17 active and retired U.S. service members who were captured and abused by Iraqi forces during the first Gulf War filed suit against the Republic of Iraq in May 2002.

In May 2003, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the president issued a determination that Iraq would no longer suffer sanctions under U.S. law as a terrorist state. The determination affected the statute under which the POW suit was filed.

Two months later, a federal judge in Washington took jurisdiction in the suit and ruled against Iraq after that country’s representatives failed to show up for trial. Total judgment for the former POWs and their families was $959 million.

The Bush administration then filed to intervene, saying the presidential determination made the law — under which the suit was filed — inapplicable to Iraq.

A federal appeals court eventually struck down the judge’s verdict and dismissed the suit.

The appeals court said the judge abused his discretion in not allowing the United States to intervene, but that the president had in turn exceeded his authority when he made the relevant statute inapplicable to Iraq.

However, the appeals court also said the plaintiffs had failed to state “a cause of action” — a basis for filing the suit — under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976.

The justices rejected the case without comment in a one-line order. The case is No. 04-820, Acree et al vs. Iraq et al.

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