Monday, August 20, 2007

Marine leads lawsuit against Iran

Slickville Marine leads lawsuit against Iran
By Richard Gazarik
Monday, August 20, 2007

It was Oct. 23, 1983, when the largest non-nuclear explosion ever detonated sent Marine Lance Cpl. Terry Valore, of Slickville in Westmoreland County, flying into a wall as his barracks disintegrated around him in Beirut, Lebanon.
Valore was a member of the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit, which was part of a multinational United Nations peacekeeping force assigned to Lebanon when Hezbollah terrorists, backed by Iran, drove a truck filled with explosives past a Marine checkpoint. They crashed the truck into the barracks, killing 241 Marines, soldiers and airmen.

Nearly 24 years later, Volare could be on the verge of payback.

He is lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic of Iran. In March, a U.S. District Court judge in Washington entered a judgment against Iran that could allow Valore and relatives of Marines killed in the attack to recover damages.

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Now they have to collect.
A bill proposed Aug. 2 in the U.S. Senate -- Senate Bill 1944, the Justice for Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act -- would allow the plaintiffs to recover damages from Iranian assets frozen by the United States. The bill is before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"We're trying to put pressure on Congress to get it to a vote," said Valore, 45.

The former Marine, who was burned over 90 percent of his body, said, "it's been a long, tough road" to get to this point.

He said terrorists have been "exploiting loopholes" in the law by hiding behind sovereign immunity, which shields foreign governments from lawsuits.

"I've had my ups and downs every day," he said. "I lost a lot of good friends and would love to see their families get some monetary gain from it."

His attorney, Daniel Gaskill, of Rockville, Md., said the Senate bill would make exceptions to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which bars lawsuits against other nations. The exceptions include state-sponsored terrorism, kidnapping, extrajudicial killings, torture, hostage-taking and aircraft sabotage.

In entering the judgment, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth wrote that Valore and the other 44 defendants "have established by clear and convincing evidence" that Iran was responsible for the attack. He added that the "elements of civil conspiracy are established between the defendants in this case and the actual perpetrators of the attack."

Lamberth said the evidence linked Iran through its Ministry of Information and Security to Hezbollah, which U.S. military officials say is now being backed by Iran in attacks on American forces in Iraq. The judge ruled that Iran provided money and support for the terrorists who planned and carried out the Beirut attack.

Lamberth will decide on the amount of damages at a hearing Sept. 7, Gaskill said. A court-appointed special master would determine individual amounts for Valore and the other plaintiffs.

"We don't know what the judge will decide," Gaskill said. "My guess is he will go about $3.3 billion. Whatever number he gives us, it's like one less roadside bomb that the Iranians will have money to spend on."

Gaskill, himself a former Marine, said the legislation is needed so his clients can recover damages from the Iranian assets held by the United States. He said an act of Congress is needed to gain access to the frozen funds since he is barred by law from suing the U.S. government to force their release.

According to court records, Hezbollah packed a 19-ton truck with explosives and disguised it as a water delivery vehicle that routinely arrived at Beirut International Airport, where Valore's unit was stationed. Hezbollah hijacked the real water truck and sent in the fake. The truck crashed through sandbags and concertina wire surrounding the barracks and detonated about 6:25 a.m., when many of the Marines were sleeping. The blast left an 8-foot-deep crater and leveled the four-story barracks.

"What resulted was the largest non-nuclear explosion ever detonated up to that time," Lamberth wrote.

Valore was on guard duty when the explosion occurred. The blast slammed him into a pillar, which kept him from being blown outside and buried when the building collapsed.

In his ruling, Lamberth said the physical and psychological toll on the survivors and families is incalcuable.

"This court acknowledges that there is little it can say to effectively convey to the (families) of these brave servicemen how deeply sorry it is for their losses." He said the attack "remains a tragedy that will never be forgotten."

"Parents and children alike were lost that day. Families were torn apart, never to become whole again. The physical and emotion and psychological scars suffered by these victims will undoubtedly endure long after the issuance of a judgment in this case."

In 2003, the families of the 270 victims of Pan Am Flight 103 settled their lawsuit against Libya for $2.7 billion after Libya admitted responsibility for the 1988 bombing as the plane flew over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Other lawsuits are pending in New York involving the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Somerset County.

Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism in 2003 filed a $116 trillion lawsuit against a company run by the family of Osama bin Laden, Sudan and a number of Saudi princes, alleging they helped finance the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. The case is pending.

Valore said he plans to see the case through to the end.

"I got one shot at this," he said. "We all got one shot. I plan on changing history with this law. I almost lost my life over there. I can't let them win."

Richard Gazarik can be reached at or (724) 830-6292.

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