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Bipartisan Bill Improves Protections for American Victims of International Terrorism

Washington, DC, May 24, 2018

 House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) today introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to protect American victims of international terrorism and ensure access to compensation for those impacted by acts of terror. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (H.R. 5954) makes needed improvements to the Antiterrorism Act of 1992 to better ensure that American victims of international terrorism can obtain justice in U.S. courts by holding accountable those who commit, or aid and abet, terrorist activity abroad. 

Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Nadler, Chairman Grassley, and Ranking Member Nelson issued the following statements on the introduction of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act.

Chairman Goodlatte: “Every provision in the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act is designed to tighten accountability measures for those who commit acts of terrorism and to provide victims with compensation and added access to justice through our courts. With the dangers U.S. citizens face at home and abroad, this clarification bill is more necessary than ever.  I thank my colleagues in the House and the Senate for their dedication to ensuring justice for victims of terrorism.”

Ranking Member Nadler: “This legislation will make it easier for Americans who are victims of international terrorism to have their day in court and to hold terrorists accountable for their heinous acts. I have long championed efforts to help victims of terrorism obtain some measure of justice and compensation for their injuries, including by helping to lead bipartisan efforts to enact the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act and to reauthorize the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, and I am proud to be the lead Democratic House sponsor of this new legislation.”

Chairman Grassley: “Over twenty-five years ago, I led the Senate’s effort to pass the Antiterrorism Act to improve justice for Americans victimized by acts of terrorism abroad.  Congress’ intent was clear:  U.S. victims of international terrorism should be able to seek justice in U.S. courts against those responsible, no matter where the attacks occurred. But recent flawed court decisions have undermined the law’s purpose. Our bill is a carefully balanced approach to better ensure victims’ access to compensation and to hold supporters of terrorism accountable.”

Ranking Member Nelson: “The FARC murdered Tom Janis and held Keith Stansell, Marc Gonsalves and Tom Howes captive for five years, after their plane went down in a Colombian jungle while on a mission for the U.S. Government. These brave Americans and their families, like all victims of terrorism, deserve a measure of justice. That’s what this bill is all about.”

Key Components of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act:
 
Ending “Acts of War” Exemption Abuse
The Antiterrorism Act of 1992 exempted lawful “acts of war” from the scope of its civil liability provisions. However, some defendants accused of aiding and abetting acts of international terrorism have successfully claimed in court that the law’s “act of war” defense shields them from civil liability, even when the act of terrorism was perpetrated by a designated terrorist group. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 clarifies that the “act of war” defense does not apply to acts carried out by entities designated as foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government or any person that has been determined by the court to not be a military force. This simple amendment will help ensure that American victims of terrorism—including soldiers and other personnel serving abroad—can have their rightful day in court.

Expanding Access to Remedies for Victims of Narco-Terrorism
Under current law, American victims of terrorism may use the assets of a perpetrating terrorist entity that are frozen by the U.S. government to satisfy court-awarded judgments. Assets frozen under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (“Kingpin Act”), however, currently remain unavailable to victims of terrorism. This leaves victims of narco-terrorism or other drug-related terrorist activity without a meaningful method of satisfying their Antiterrorism Act judgements. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act clarifies that assets blocked under the Kingpin Act are available to victims.
 
Clarifies U.S. Court Jurisdiction in Foreign Terrorism Cases
Recent flawed court decisions have called into question the Antiterrorism Act’s continued ability to hold terrorists or their supporters accountable in U.S. courts. For example, the Supreme Court’s recent decision to deny certiorari in Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization leaves in place a flawed circuit court decision gutting the extraterritorial scope of the 1992 law. Carrying out or assisting an act of international terrorism that injures or kills Americans abroad should provide sufficient justification to subject defendants to U.S. legal sanctions. Moreover, no one benefiting from a U.S. program, such as foreign assistance, or maintaining a presence in the United States should be able to simultaneously dodge responsibility in U.S. courts for involvement in terrorist attacks that harm Americans. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act clarifies that defendants who take advantage of benefits under certain U.S. laws shall be deemed to have consented to jurisdiction in U.S. courts for any Antiterrorism Act lawsuit.
 
In addition to Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Nadler, original cosponsors of H.R. 5954 include Representatives Bill Posey (R-Fla.), Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.), and Chris Smith (R-N.J.).

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