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Bipartisan Bill Improves Protections for American Victims of International Terrorism

Bill clarifies & restores Congressional intent of 1992 Law

May 24, 2018

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AUSTIN, Texas – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today joined Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in introducing 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 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. The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas.).

“The history of Palestinian and Iranian terrorism against Americans is extensive, going decades and ranging from hijackings to suicide bombings and assassinations,” Sen. Cruz said. “For too long American citizens have been disgracefully denied justice. This bill will ensure that American victims of terrorism are empowered to secure accountability from terrorists and their supporters.”

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 designated terrorist groups. 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 a 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 remedies. 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 — a case in which Chairman Grassley led a bipartisan amicus brief — 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 the U.S. legal regime. 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 certain 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 the House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler, introduced companion legislation. 

Text of the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 is available here.

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