|Just not fair
Why were their lives so devalued in comparison with lives of U.S. citizens?
By Nahal Rose Lalefar
March 21, 2002
Note: This article is not meant to be political in nature. My intention is not
to support or denounce any government. The article's only purpose is to show that
there is an imbalance when it comes to the value of an American's life as compared
to that of an Iranian's.
To anyone who is willing to look closely enough, it would seem that there is a double
standard when it comes to who gets the upper hand in relations between Iran and the
United States. This double standard, not surprisingly, often seems to favor the United
The recent announcement that victims of the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut,
Lebanon, had filed an amended class action lawsuit against the government of Iran,
is a prime example of the U.S.'s double standard in its policies with Iran.
The lawsuit, which seeks over $5 billion in compensatory and punitive damages for
victims and their families, should come as no surprise. It is permitted under the
Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 (amended 1996), allows U.S. citizens who
are victims of state-sponsored terrorism, to sue the foreign state who "sponsored"
or provided material support for the liable terrorist group.
The victims or their families may present their cases to a U.S. federal court, and
sue for money damages for either personal injury or death caused by a terrorist act.
So, the victims of the embassy bombing in Beirut have seized the opportunity to take
legal action against the government of Iran for quite a hefty sum. Why? Because Iran
allegedly provided material support and resources for Hezbollah, the terrorist
group who allegedly claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time a lawsuit against the government of
Iran has been filed in a U.S. federal court, and it most certainly will not be the
last time. For years, Iran has been firmly seated on the U.S.'s list as a state sponsor
of terrorism, and President Bush's poorly worded "Axis of Evil" remarks
have further cemented Iran's place on that list.
In 1995, Alisa Flatow, an American foreign exchange student in Israel, was killed
when a suicide bomber drove a van into her bus as it was driving on the Palestinian-controlled
Gaza Strip. Three years later, a U.S. District Court judge, Royce Lamberth, ordered
Iran to pay $247 million in damages to the Flatow family based upon the U.S. Anti-terrorism
Statute passed by Congress and signed into law by former President Clinton in 1996.
The Flatow family claimed that Iran allegedly supported the Islamic terrorist
group Jihad, who allegedly claimed responsibility for the bombing. So they
sued Iran. And, surprise! They won.
The government of Iran vehemently denied involvement with these terrorist groups,
and barely had representation in the court proceedings. However, when the decision
was ruled in the Flatow family's favor, the family's lawyers considered going after
Iran's frozen assets here in the U.S., assets that technically belong to the people
If U.S. citizens, who are victims of violent acts allegedly sponsored by Iran, are
allowed to sue Iran for large sums of money, then shouldn't Iranian citizens, who
are victims of violent acts knowingly sponsored by the U.S., be able to do the same?
Sadly, the answer is no. Because in the eyes of the United States government, Iranians
are second-rate to Americans (even though the Iranian community in the U.S. alone,
contributes an estimated $400 billion to the economy).
In 1988, the USS Vincennes, a U.S. warship in the Persian Gulf, shot down an Iranian
A300 airbus carrying 290 people. The ship's crew claimed that they had mistaken the
wide, bulky civilian airplane for a sleek F-14 fighter plane. But such a claim was
absurd, given the fact that the ship was equipped with the most sophisticated radar
and electronic battle gear and shot down the plane when it was just six miles away.
Even more absurd was the fact that the officers of the ship got medals when they
U.S. officials never gave straight answers as to what happened either. They vacillated
between the incident being an unfortunate accident and a calculated action of self-defense.
Officials never claimed negligence nor culpability (see Iran Air Compensation
Press Guidance) for the naval personnel's actions, and in fact, the commanding
officer believed that the airbus was "hostile and posing a threat" to his
ship and crew.
Furthermore, U.S. officials blamed Iran for the accident, stating that Iran should
not have let its civilian airliners fly in hostile areas. (Can it not be said that
the U.S. warship's presence was what made that area hostile in the first place?)
When all was said and done, a press release in 1996 stated that the U.S. would give
"humanitarian" compensation to the victims' families (meaning the government
didn't feel they had to do anything but wanted to play the role of the nice guy).
The compensation would be disbursed in the form of a meager $250,000 per wage-earner
victim and $100,000 per non-wage-earners.
Basically, if all 290 victims were considered "wage-earners", the total
compensatory damage would have been no more than $72.5 million, less than 30% of
what the U.S. said Iran should pay to Alisa Flatow's family for something with which
Iran had no direct involvement (possibly no involvement whatsoever).
Furthermore, a victim is a victim. None of the 290 passengers and crew of the Iran
A300 airbus deserved to die, just as the Alisa Flatow and the victims of the Beirut
bombing did not deserve to die. So why then must there be a hierarchy in how much
compensatory damages the airbus victims' families received? Why were their lives
so devalued in comparison with lives of U.S. citizens? It just isn't fair.
To say the U.S. has a double standard is an understatement. All of the claims against
Iran, stating that it sponsors terrorism, have been incredulous. Yet, the Iranian
government, which is continually changing and evolving, is repeatedly told it has
to pay. On the other hand, the U.S.'s hands can be stained with the blood of its
victims from cases of "mistakes" and "self-defense," but yet,
it remains unyielding and unforgiving.
Where is the UN in all this? Shouldn't these lawsuits be resolved in the less biased
International Court of Justice instead of a U.S. federal court? Where is the calibrating
force that says it is ridiculous to have Iran $5 billion for a handful of people
being injured or killed in a 20-year-old accident, especially when Iran was only
allegedly indirectly involved? It is all dubious at best.
If the U.S. tries working with Iran instead of continuously working against
it and antagonizing it, progress can actually be made in the forward direction. And
the double standard will be a thing of the past.