Barletta Backs Ability of Victims to Sue Terror Sponsors

Sep 9, 2016
Press Release
Bill Clarifies Law Permitting Suits against States and Individuals

WASHINGTON – Congressman Lou Barletta (PA-11) today supported legislation that clarifies that victims of terrorist attacks may bring civil lawsuits against foreign states and individuals who sponsor, aid, or abet acts of terrorism on American soil.  The bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terror Act (S.2040), narrows the scope of foreign sovereign immunity of states in terrorism-related cases.  It also allows U.S. courts to assign liability to individuals who conspire or knowingly provide substantial assistance in terrorist acts.  The bill passed the House of Representatives by a voice vote and now heads to the president’s desk for his consideration.

“As we prepare to observe the fifteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, this is a fitting time to state once and for all that foreign nations and individuals who actively and knowingly engage in terrorism will be held accountable by their victims,” Barletta said.  “There is too much gray area in the law, and it should not be used to allow rogue, terror-sponsoring states to hide behind national sovereign immunity.  This legislation makes that clear.”

The legislation clarifies that foreign states would not be immune from the jurisdiction of American courts in cases where damages are sought by people who suffered harm, either physical or to property, caused by an act of terrorism in the United States committed by a foreign nation, agent, or employee of that nation.  Additionally, the bill allows U.S. courts to assign liability to individuals who aid and abet terrorist acts, or who conspire to commit terrorist acts.

“Too often in recent years, it has appeared that the policy of this country is to go easy on terror-sponsoring nations in the hopes that they will improve their behavior on their own,” Barletta said.  “Clearly, the strategy of coddling rogue states is not working.”

The legislation clarifies existing law, which has not been sufficient to permit victims of terrorism to seek justice in court.  Under the Anti-Terrorism Act and Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, victims of terror attacks ought to be able bring suit against foreign sponsors of terrorism, even when those sponsors are foreign governments.  Because of conflicting interpretations of the statutes, the rights of American citizens too often have been thwarted, contrary to the clear intent of Congress in passing the two laws.  For example, the new legislation makes clear that victims of attacks on U.S. soil may bring suit, even if the tangible support for the terrorist attack occurred outside the country.

“Terrorists use all sorts of tactics to evade discovery and to conceal their plans,” Barletta said.  “They shouldn’t be able to use technicalities in court to hide from their responsibilities as well.” 

Barletta co-signed a letter to House leaders in July, asking that S.2040 be brought to the House floor for a vote, arguing that the tortured reading of existing law was restricting the rights of Americans who had been harmed by terrorism.

“When we talk about victims of terrorism, we mean those who were directly targeted by the attackers, but we’re also talking about first responders – firefighters, police, and EMTs – who run towards the danger,” Barletta said.  “Our victims and heroes deserve their days in court.”