The use of Predator drones and covert Special Forces teams is bound to be satisfying for many victims of terrorism. But there is another fight on the home front that has proved effective, and it was launched here in Rhode Island.
Providence lawyer David J. Strachman, who has been fighting terrorists in US courts, has won damage judgments against the PLO and Hamas and their state sponsors. He will be giving a talk on the subject, "Suing Terrorists: Obtaining Justice for Terrorism Victims," on Monday, January 26 at 7 pm at the Rochambeau Branch Library (708 Hope Street, Providence).
Although the Antiterrorism Act permanently became a statute in 1991, it wasn't until 2000 that the first lawsuit was filed under it, brought by Strachman in US District Court in Providence. He was surprised to be the first, discovering that when he initially looked up the act. Typically, laws in statute books are followed by cases that interpret or utilize the statutes.
"This one was blank, and we said, 'Maybe this was repealed, maybe we are doing something wrong.' There were just no cases," Strachman says. "And that's basically 53 jurisdictions, federal jurisdictions."
He was arguing on behalf of the Ungar orphans, whose American parents had been shot by fundamentalist terrorists in Israel while driving home from a wedding, probably because the wife was at the wheel. The successful 2005 judgment resulted in significant assets of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority being attached in the United States and abroad.
What does he say to any who suggests that suing terrorists, in what might be called money for lives, is a half measure and not an adequate recourse?
"Well, I don't think suing terrorists is a substitute for states prosecuting and pursuing terrorists," Strachman says. "But when Congress created the antiterrorism act," one of the proponents said terrorist victims should "be able to join the fight against terrorism."
These civil charges are sometimes difficult to bring to final judgment and to collect. Strachman, a partner at McIntyre, Tate & Lynch, has brought 10 suits against terrorists, has won two and the rest are in pretrial stages. But money isn't the only reward.
"We've proven the connection between and the support that Iran has provided to Hamas for doing terrorist acts," Strachman says. "In the cases against states, one of the cases, the Rubin case [Rubin v. Iran], we had a four-day trial in Washington, and the details of the relationship between Hamas and Iran came out in court through the testimony of experts and by evidence."
These are civil suits, but they are not bloodless contract disputes between aggrieved business partners. To the lawyer involved, they can be upsetting.
"One of our clients made a suicide attempt," Strachman recalls. "He felt guilty for not trying to stop the terrorist attack. Many marriages have been ruined as a result of this. So it's very tough — a very tough, emotionally draining situation."