Commentary By Steve Forbes
The Washington Times – At a Feb. 15 briefing before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared Iran is "in open defiance" of the world community for violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran’s persistent and flagrant development of a uranium enrichment program, despite enormous international pressure, is just one more disquieting incident in Iran’s long history of troublemaking on the international stage.
Miss Rice suggested there are a "number of levers" that could be used for dealing with Iran, speaking generally of diplomatic and economic sanctions. But the question must be raised: How seriously will Iran take warnings of future retribution when we still hesitate to enforce punishments that are already on the books?
On Oct. 23, 1983, the barracks of the U.S. Marine Corps were bombed in Beirut, Lebanon: 241 Marines were killed. In October 2001, the families of these fallen soldiers sued the government of Iran in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Ultimately, the Islamic Republic of Iran was found guilty for organizing, funding and managing the attacks. As punishment, the judge ruled Iran is financially liable and is now gathering evidence that will lay the foundation for the enormous damages figure Iran must pay in compensation for this heinous crime.
Since the 1983 bombing and the court ruling in 2003, Iran has not curbed its terrorist activities nor paid for its crimes. A memorial in Tehran actually celebrates the bombers who killed those 241 Marines, and declares Iran’s intentions to continue its violent behavior, reading, "Memorial for two Lebanese Muslim youth who at dawn on Sunday, October 23, 1983,… killed 241 U.S. Marines … [w]e don’t know their names but we shall continue in their path."
This monument is a tangible display of Iran’s continued "open defiance. Miss Rice has acknowledged Iran’s recent actions are unacceptable, and now it is time that action is taken. Holding Iran accountable to its legal obligations is a nonviolent option that will prevent Iran from funding its activities with money made in the United States.
The government of Iran retains commercial investments in the U.S. and is using profits made on American soil to finance more terrorism. For example, Bank Saderat and Bank Melli are both owned and controlled under the Iranian government with offices in New York City and Los Angeles. In the 1990s, Bank Saderat owned the California Land Holdings Co., which invested Iranian funds in U.S. property, for investment purposes. When dividends are paid on these investments to the shareholders, the government of Iran profits. Iran is capitalizing on our free market economy to fund actions that kill our countrymen and flout international treaties. That must stop.
The Justice for Marine Corps Families Victims of Terrorism Act (S. 1257; H.R. 865) clarifies language in existing laws that prohibits the families and victims of the Beirut bombing and from collecting on court-ordered damages. This legislation makes changes that will allow the victims and their families to collect damages from state sponsors of terrorism convicted of directing and financing attacks.
The Iranian assets collected when these bills pass will be distributed to the family members of the victims. No amount of money will ease their suffering, but knowing Iran has been brought to justice and preventative action has been taken will assure them they have not suffered in vain. This bill will also make a statement to Iran that we have not forgotten the events of the dawn of Sunday, October 23, 1983.
Passing the Justice for Marine Corps Families Victims of Terrorism Act into law will "pull" one of the "levers" of which Miss Rice spoke without physically endangering any American soldier or civilian. These bills will enable America to keep Iran from using our economic system to attacks against our citizens and the international community.
The State Department has made efforts to block this legislation, not because of an ideological debate about its implications for foreign policy, but because of an old-fashioned, bureaucratic turf war. In 1996, Congress passed a law allowing lawsuits against state sponsors of terrorism without the State Department’s prior consent. State has since been trying to reassert itself in the process, and blocking this bill is one way to do so.
Miss Rice, on the other hand, is setting a new tone at the State Department and, with her leadership the department can prevent Iran from continuing down its violent path.
The United States has had sanctions against Iran for years, and it is clear more action may be on the horizon. By passing the Justice for Marine Corps Families Victims of Terrorism Act and clearing the way to force Iran to pay a damage award carefully measured by a U.S. federal court, we can remember the ultimate sacrifice paid by those 241 U.S. personnel on that fateful Sunday morning in October 1983 and acknowledge the gravity of Iran’s continuing defiance and maintain our commitment to holding Iran accountable.
Steve Forbes is president and chief executive officer of Forbes Inc. and editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine. He was a Republican candidate for president in 1996 and 2000.