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PETERSON v. ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN

May 30, 2003

DEBORAH D. PETERSON, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF JAMES C. KNIPPLE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. JOSEPH AND MARIE BOULOS, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVES OF THE ESTATE OF JEFFREY JOSEPH BOULOS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS V. THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC OF IRAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Royce Lamberth, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On March 17-18, 2003, this Court conducted a bench trial to determine the liability of the defendants for this inhuman act. Having reviewed the extensive evidence presented during that trial by both lay and expert witnesses, the Court has determined that the plaintiffs have established their right to obtain judicial relief against the defendants. The Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are set forth below.

I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs in these two actions are family members of the 241 deceased servicemen (hereafter, "the servicemen") and the injured survivors of the attack. Plaintiffs have brought these actions in their own right, as administrators of the estates of the servicemen, and on behalf of the servicemen's heirs-at-law. All decedents and injured survivors of the attack were serving in the U.S. armed forces at the time of their injuries or death. All plaintiffs are nationals of the United States.*fn1

On October 3 and December 28, 2001, plaintiffs filed separate complaints with this Court. The complaints included statutory claims for wrongful death and common-law claims for battery, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, all resulting from an act of state-sponsored terrorism. Plaintiffs sought relief in the form of compensatory and punitive damages. Although defendants were served with the two complaints on May 6 and July 17, 2002, defendants failed to file any response to either complaint, and on December 18, 2002, this Court entered defaults against defendants in both cases.

However, despite the entries of default, this Court is required to make a further inquiry prior to entering any judgment against defendants. FSIA mandates that a default judgment against a foreign state be entered only after a plaintiff "establishes his claim or right to relief by evidence that is satisfactory to the Court." 28 U.S.C. § 1608(e); see also Flatow v. The Islamic Republic of Iran, 999 F. Supp. 1, 6 (D.D.C. 1998). As in Flatow, the Court will require plaintiffs to establish their right to relief by clear and convincing evidence. The "clear and convincing" standard of proof is the standard required in the District of Columbia to support a claim for punitive damages, and is sufficient to establish a prima facie case in a contested proceeding.

II. FINDINGS OF FACT

A. Historical Background*fn2

The Republic of Lebanon is a mountainous country of approximately 3,800,000 people bordered by Israel, Syria, and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Although it contains some of the oldest human settlements in the world, including the Phoenician port cities of Tyre and Sidon, it did not become an independent nation until 1944.

Lebanon did not participate militarily in the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars. However, by 1973, approximately one out of every ten person living in Lebanon was a Palestinian refugee, many of whom supported the efforts of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) against Israel. Some of these refugees engaged in guerilla warfare and terrorist activity against Israel from bases established in southern Lebanon. Beginning in 1968, Israel engaged in reprisals against these Palestinian strongholds in southern Lebanon. In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon between its Muslim inhabitants and Palestinian refugees, who supported the PLO, and its Christian inhabitants, who opposed the PLO's actions. The war would not come to a complete end for another fifteen years, during which approximately twenty thousand Lebanese were killed, and approximately the same number of Lebanese were wounded.

B. The Arrival of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit

In late 1982, with the concurrence of the United Nations, a multinational peacekeeping coalition consisting of American, British, French, and Italian soldiers arrived in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. In May of 1983, the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit of the U.S. Marines ("the 24th MAU") joined this coalition.*fn3 The rules of engagement issued to the servicemen of the 24th MAU made clear that the servicemen possessed neither combatant nor police powers. In fact, under the rules, the servicemen were ordered not to carry weapons with live rounds in their chambers, and were not authorized to chamber the rounds in their weapons unless (1) they were directly ordered to do so by a commissioned officer or (2) they found themselves in a situation requiring the immediate use of deadly force in self-defense.*fn4 As pointed out during trial, the members of the 24th MAU were more restricted in their use of force than an ordinary U.S. citizen walking down a street in Washington, D.C.

The restrictive rules of engagement are consistent with the testimony of Col. Timothy Geraghty, the commander of the 24th MAU, about the mission of the multinational peacekeeping force:

[E]ssentially what it was, it was primarily a peacekeeping mission and it was to show [our] presence, and when I say ours, and this is throughout all the forces, is that we were out showing a presence, [primarily] to provide stability to the area. And I might add that there's no doubt in just about anyone involved at the time, we saved a lot of lives by our presence there for awhile. And that was part of, I might add, in my judgment, the success of that, our presence mission there, and [that] it was working is the primary reason why we were targeted. . . .
The rules — these were geared primarily again with the peacekeeping mission [in mind] and the sensitivities of killing or maiming someone accidentally. That could be a tinderbox. That could start a whole chain of events.

Col. Geraghty further testified that the location and security of the 24th MAU's position was not tactical in nature, and was only acceptable to the commanding officer in the context of the unit's mission to "provide a presence."

Based on the testimony of Col. Geraghty and other witnesses, the Court finds that on October 23, 1983, the members of the 24th MAU, and the service members supporting the unit, were clearly non-combatants operating under peacetime rules of engagement.*fn5

C. The Iranian Government and the October 23 Attack*fn6

Following the 1979 revolution spearheaded by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the nation of Iran was transformed into an Islamic theocracy. The new government promptly drafted a constitution, which is still in effect today. The preamble to the 1979 constitution sets forth the mission of the post-revolutionary Iranian state:

The mission of the Constitution is to realize the ideological objectives of the movement and to create conditions conducive to the development of man in accordance with the noble and universal values of Islam.
With due attention to the Islamic content of the Iranian Revolution, the Constitution provides the necessary basis for ensuring the continuation of the Revolution at home and abroad. In particular, in the development of international relations, the Constitution will strive with other Islamic and popular movements to prepare the way for the formation of a single world community . . . to assure the continuation of the struggle for the liberation of all deprived and oppressed peoples in the world.

The post-revolutionary government in Iran thus declared its commitment to spread the goals of the 1979 revolution to other nations. Towards that end, between 1983 and 1988, the government of Iran spent approximately $50 to $150 million financing terrorist organizations in the Near East.*fn7 One of the nations to which the Iranian government directed its attention was the war-torn republic of Lebanon.

"Hezbollah" is an Arabic word meaning "the party of God." It is also the name of a group of Shi'ite Muslims in Lebanon that was formed under the auspices of the government of Iran. Hezbollah began its existence as a faction within a group of moderate Lebanese Shi'ites known as Amal. Following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the Iranian government sought to radicalize the Lebanese Shi'ite community, and encouraged Hezbollah to split from Amal. Having established the existence of Hezbollah as a separate entity, the government of Iran framed the primary objective of Hezbollah: to engage in terrorist activities in furtherance of the transformation of Lebanon into an Islamic theocracy modeled after Iran.

During the March trial in these cases, Dr. Patrick Clawson, a widely-renowned expert on Iranian affairs over the past 25 years, testified that in 1983, Hezbollah was a creature of the Iranian government:

Both from the accounts of Hezbollah members and from the accounts of the Iranians and of every academic study that I'm aware of, certainly at this time, Hezbollah is largely under Iranian orders. It's almost entirely acting at the — under the order of the Iranians and being financed almost entirely by the Iranians. It comes to be an organization with Lebanese roots and Lebanese activities and more independence from Iran, but that's years past this time frame.
THE COURT: In the '83 time frame, it was essentially a tool of Iran.
THE WITNESS: Correct, sir. Indeed, both Iranian and Lebanese observers have described it as being established at Iran's orders and as being a creature of Iran when it began. Hezbollah leaders today will sometimes describe that as the roots of their party and say that it has evolved away from being that.
Q: Was there any other major means of support for Hezbollah other than the Islamic Republic of Iran?

A: Not at this time, no, sir.*fn8

Dr. Clawson's testimony was corroborated by Dr. Reuven Paz,*fn9 who has researched Islamist terrorist groups for the last 25 years:
Q: Now, as of the time of this attack, in October 1983, to what extent was Hezbollah, at that precise moment, dependent upon the support of Iran, and particularly the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who had been brought in in order to carry out any type of major [military] operation?
A: Well, I would say that they were, at that time, totally relied upon, the Iranian support. We are talking about composing a new group, of Hezbollah, out of people who had very little military experience. They were members, before '82, in groups that actually did not deal with military issues or terrorism. And most of the members during this process of unification that created Hezbollah started to be trained in training camps in the Bekaa Valley, where the main Iranian forces were located.
Q: Do you have an opinion, within a reasonable degree of certainty, as an expert on Islamist terrorism, whether this attack was carried out by Hezbollah, in response to the order which was the subject of the communications intercept in late September 1983?
A: Yes, especially at that time — even today, but especially at that time, when Hezbollah was not yet formed as a strong group, it was totally controlled by Iran and actually served mainly the Iranian interest in Lebanon and [against] Israel.
Q: Do you have an opinion, again within a reasonable degree of certainty, as an expert in Islamist terrorist groups, as to whether Hezbollah, at that time, the fall of 1983, would have had the capacity to carry out an attack of the dimension of the attack around the Marine barracks, in the absence of Iranian scientific, financial, and material assistance?
A: No, I don't think they could have carried out such an attack without Iranian training, without Iranian — Iranian supply of the explosives even, and without directions from the Iranian forces in Lebanon itself.*fn10
Q: Dr. Paz, can you describe the — the source of — of this technique of suicide bombing, which was used in the attack on the Marine barracks and since, unfortunately, many other incidents?
A: Yes, this — this modus operandi actually was initiated in Iran and it was — it was not, at that time, used in anywhere in — in the Sunni Muslim world. It was at that time a Shi'ite ideology of self-sacrifice by suicide bombing. It started during the Iran-Iraq war in the '80s, and then under Iranian training and influence and instructions, it started as a modus operandi of terrorist groups — first in Lebanon, by Hezbollah, and then later on it moved to the Palestinian arena, mainly during the '90s.

It is clear that the formation and emergence of Hezbollah as a major terrorist organization is due to the government of Iran. Hezbollah presently receives extensive financial and military technical support from Iran, which funds and supports terrorist activities. The primary agency through which the Iranian government both established and exercised operational control over Hezbollah was the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security ("MOIS"). MOIS had formerly served as the secret police of the Shah of Iran prior to his overthrow in 1979. Despite the revolutionary government's complete break with the old regime, it did not disband MOIS, but instead allowed it to continue its operations as the intelligence organization of the new government. Based on the evidence presented at trial, the Court finds that MOIS acted as a conduit for the Islamic Republic of Iran's provision of funds to Hezbollah, provided explosives to Hezbollah and, at all times relevant to these proceedings, exercised operational control over Hezbollah.

It is clear that MOIS was no rogue agency acting outside of the control and authority of the Iranian government. Indeed, as Dr. Clawson testified at trial, the October 23 attack would have been impossible without the express ...


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