Holding terrorist nations accountable

On September 11, 2001, our nation was attacked. Our sister Sharon Ann Carver—an accountant for the Army as well as a beloved sister, aunt and daughter—was at work in her office in the Pentagon when American Airlines flight 77 hit the building.   

We know the murderers who took our sister from us that day did not act alone. They were funded by Al Qaeda, and they were aided by state sponsors of terror. Sudan, in particular, provided safe harbor for Osama bin Laden and a base of operations for Al Qaeda. Sudan has been designated a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1993, and it provided support to the 9/11 hijackers.

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More than 6,000 of us who lost loved ones on 9/11 have become part of a larger community of American victims of terrorism, bound by the tragic loss of family members and friends at the hands of groups funded by rogue nations and state sponsors of terror. And each of us has been frustrated in our attempts to hold these nations accountable for the irreparable harm caused by their malicious acts.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Republic of Argentina vs. NML Capital, Ltd., a case that could help us finally achieve some measure of justice. It’s not a case about terrorism, but rather about our ability as Americans to hold other nations accountable for their actions.

The actual question before the court is whether we, as Americans, can seek “discovery” from third parties, such as banks, that operate in the United States yet do business with lawless nations.  Discovery is an important tool to hold these nations accountable—not just for terrorism, but also for theft and other harmful acts. Discovery allows us to find out where countries that sponsor terrorism—like Sudan—are hiding their assets so we can pursue the restitution that numerous court have ruled we deserve.

At the center of the case is a law called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which sets the rules for Americans who sue foreign countries. Over the past 28 years, Congress has updated the FSIA on a number of occasions to help guarantee victims of terrorism our day in court. Because of those changes, over time some families have been able to secure monetary judgments from the courts.

But winning in court is only the first step toward justice, restitution and accountability. State sponsors of terrorism maintain complicated and secret financial structures to keep their assets hidden, and they are generally prohibited from keeping any assets in the United States. That’s one reason that post-judgment discovery to locate assets overseas is vital to our efforts.

Nothing in the plain language of the FSIA exempts foreign nations from post-judgment discovery, but Argentina is asking the Supreme Court to invent a new exemption where none exists.

We have joined with other victims’ families to file a friend-of-the-court brief, pointing to Congress’s clear intent in acting to remove any and all exemptions from the FSIA that would make it more difficult for families like ours to enforce judgments against state sponsors of terrorism. The fact that post-judgment discovery was not among the exemptions that Congress acted to remove clearly indicates that no such immunity exists.

Without our right to post-judgment discovery, our attempts to seek restitution will be made even more difficult. That’s not what Congress intended, and after more than 12 years of fighting for justice for Sharon, that is the last thing we need.

Given all this, one would think that the executive branch would also be on our side in this matter. But, sadly and shockingly, that’s not the case. The U.S. government has actually filed a brief in support of Argentina, taking sides against Americans who hold valid judgments against Argentina that it has refused to pay or settle.

In a few weeks our government will file yet another brief with the Supreme Court in Linde v. Arab Bank, a case that will decide whether a Jordanian bank can get away with hiding evidence that its customers are terrorists. Hopefully, our government will do the right thing—at least in that case.

Sharon was the second youngest of our parents’ seven children. She was pursuing her Masters degree while helping our youngest sister go to school as well.  She became a victim of terrorism because she showed up to work on a clear September morning, proud to support the men and women of the United States Army—and our government—in their efforts to keep us safe.

Even though she did not wear a uniform, Sharon gave her life in service to our country. She deserves nothing less than to have her country take every step to ensure that those responsible for her murder are held to account for their actions.

The Carver sisters live in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  Both have worked for the federal government for more than 30 years.

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