Will Obama Side With the Victims or With Cuba/Iran in Terrorism Restitution Cases?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015
Two recent articles highlight some important issues regarding the outstanding U.S. court judgments from lawsuits against the regimes of Cuba and Iran.

Sadly, both authors seem to think that it's more important for President Obama to embrace these ruthless regimes, rather than side by their American victims.

(Both authors should thank God they have never been tormented, imprisoned, tortured, or their loved ones murdered, by the Castros or Ayatollahs. Otherwise, they'd surely feel different.)

But as these victims proceed to collect judgments, the question remains -- will Obama have the Department of Justice side with Castro and the Ayatollah's -- or with their victims?

Ultimately, the courts will decide, but it would be a grave injustice -- and send an even greater message of impunity -- if the Obama Administration sided with the aggressors.

Here's Julius Taranto arguing in Foreign Policy ("How Terrorism Restitution Cases Limit U.S. Foreign Policy"):

"[T]hese restitution cases could harm U.S.-Iranian business relations. Even after the nuclear deal is fully implemented, only narrow categories of U.S. business with Iran will be permitted, but it seems unlikely that state-owned Iranian enterprises will strike even small deals with U.S. companies if much of their revenues will go toward satisfying terrorism claims. And this isn’t just an Iranian problem. From a business perspective, these terrorism judgments present a far larger hurdle for U.S.-Cuban relations, which are in the process of defrosting along much broader economic terms. Entire industries within Cuba, such as oil, mining, shipping, and tobacco, are state-owned and will likely want to trade with the United States. But with Cuba owing judgments totaling at least $4 billion—more than twice the Cuban government’s annual budget—to victims of Cuban torture, imprisonment, and execution, such trade may not be possible."

And some recent examples:

"Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest decided that under the so-called terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (which determines how foreign governments can be sued in U.S. courts), three corporate entities that owned U.S. property were effectively fronts for the Iranian government and that their assets could thus be forfeited to pay terrorism victims. This order enabled the U.S. Marshals Service to seize and auction off 650 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a 36-story office building next to Rockefeller Center that was built by the shah of Iran in the late 1970s. A large portion of the proceeds will go to families of the Beirut bombings.

Similarly, Gustavo Villoldo, a former CIA officer who won a large judgment over his father’s imprisonment by (then) Cuban President Fidel Castro, has slowly made headway in seizing the Cuban government’s New York bank accounts—HSBC turned over the contents of a blocked Cuban account just last week."

Meanwhile, Jeremy Kryt writes in The Daily Beast (while trying to rewrite history regarding the 1976 murder of anti-Castro activists Aldo Vera in Puerto Rico):

"[A] series of lawsuits—including one related to the Vera murder—could put the kibosh on the president’s plan to normalize relations with the Pearl of the Caribbean while he’s still in office.

Turns out Havana owes Uncle Sam for outstanding legal fees—to the tune of about $3.5 billion, and growing as interest accrues.

During the decades that Cuba was included on the State Terror list the protection traditionally afforded nations by the legal concept of sovereign immunity failed to apply. That meant American citizens could sue La Republica de Cuba in U.S. civil court.

Until the court debts are paid off, or forgiven, however, Cuban planes would be unable to touch down at U.S. airports, and export products made on the island couldn’t be sold in American markets. Cuban ships and cargo could be liable to seizure by plaintiffs as part of damages owed. And all this is in addition to the trade embargo still imposed by the U.S. Congress.

De-listing Cuba from state terrorist status, which officially happened last May, was supposed to solve this very problem. Many experts believed that after the State Department’s official granting of clemency this justice system would follow suit—waiving the damages and retroactively restoring the sovereign immunity that would have ordinarily have shielded Cuba from liability. Only that didn’t happen.

On Sept. 8, in the first judicial ruling related to an exiled Cubano family suing the Castros, the Second Circuit ruled in favor of the Vera estate—striking down an attempt by a Spanish bank, Banco Bilbao, to appeal a subpoena for Cuban assets the bank allegedly holds.

The court upheld the original ruling in favor of Vera, suggesting “compliance with the challenged subpoena,” as one justice wrote, ending any hope that the State Department’s restoration of Havana’s immunity might quash the ongoing legal conflict.

Because the judges’ decision is the first to be made since the State Department struck Cuba from the terror list—and because the court refused to even allow Banco Bilbao’s appeal, let alone dismiss the damage charges—it’s likely to set a precedent that could stand indefinitely."