Academic journal article Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law

Fighting Fire with ... Mire? Civil Remedies and the New War on State-Sponsored Terrorism

Academic journal article Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law

Fighting Fire with ... Mire? Civil Remedies and the New War on State-Sponsored Terrorism

Article excerpt


On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, hijackers flew passenger jetliners into each of New York City's World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon in Virginia, in the worst terror attack in U.S. history. (1) Nearly 4, 500 people perished in the well-coordinated attack, which U.S. officials believe was orchestrated by Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born millionaire tied to the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in Africa and the bombing of a U.S. warship in Yemen in 2000. (2) The devastating events of September 11th galvanized the United States and led President George W. Bush to declare, "We will not only deal with those who dare attack America, we will deal with those who harbor them and feed them and house them." (3) President Bush was clearly referring to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, (4) which allegedly gave bin Laden refuge for more than five years prior to the attacks. (5) President Bush vowed that the United States would make no distinction between those who carried out the hijackings and those who supported them. (6)

By October 7, 2001, less than one month after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, U.S. and British war planes had bombed targets in Afghanistan and a comprehensive "War on Terrorism" had begun. The campaign focused not only on the terrorists, but also on the states that financed, trained, and supported them. Bank accounts believed to contain money used to fund terrorist organizations around the world were frozen,(7) and a broad-based coalition of more than forty states was formed. This development led the United States, the United Nations, and others, to address with new urgency the issue of how to effectively combat state-sponsored terrorism. With uncharacteristic speed, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution requiring all 189 U.N. member states to deny money, support, and sanctuary to terrorists. (8)

Undoubtedly, few acts, if any, are more egregious or shocking to the conscience than states utilizing their vast sovereign powers and resources to finance and sponsor acts of terrorism, such as hijackings, kidnappings, bombings, extrajudicial killings, or military attacks directed at innocent civilians. This is especially true since terrorist acts by definition are designed to intimidate a population or compel desired action or inaction by another government or international organization. (9) The victims of terrorist acts are rarely the primary target or concern of the state sponsor or terrorist organization. Tragically, they are often simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

During the past several decades, and especially in recent years, the number of terrorist acts directed at citizens living and traveling abroad has been on the rise, especially with respect to attacks against U.S. citizens. Many of these acts have been perpetrated by individuals or groups who are sponsored, directed, supported, or funded, in whole or in part, by states. For example, in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, terrorists supported by the Khomeni government in Iran seized the United States embassy in Tehran and held fifty-two Americans hostage for 444 days. (10)

In the subsequent two decades, newspapers and magazines around the world have been filled with stories of state-sponsored terrorist acts involving gross violations of human rights, such as kidnappings, extrajudicial murders, torture, hijackings, and suicide bombings in which American citizens have been injured or killed. In addition to the recent World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, specific examples include the following:

* Beginning on January 8, 1985, U.S. citizens with no connection to the U.S. government, David Jacobsen, Joseph Cicippio, Frank Reed, and Rev. Lawrence M. Jenco were independently assaulted and abducted in Lebanon and held as prisoners (11) by members of Hezbollah, a politico-paramilitary organization "funded and controlled by the Iranian government and the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security. …

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