Iran’s US victims need more than just applause
Last night, as President Trump’s guest in the House gallery, I had the singular honor of representing more than a thousand families of fallen and wounded service members for a portion of the State of the Union that briefly bridged our deep political divide.
I watched Republicans and Democrats recognize the sacrifice of the many Americans whose lives were forever changed by the evil work of Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian master-terrorist ultimately responsible for the death of my husband, Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Hake, and the killing or maiming of many other Americans. President Trump brought accountability to Soleimani and now Congress and the Department of Justice both need to act to ensure accountability for Soleimani’s many accomplices.
Almost 12 years ago, on March 23, 2008, Chris was on a night patrol in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Baghdad when it was hit by an Iranian-supplied weapon called an explosively formed penetrator (EFP), which cut all the way through his armored vehicle, ripped through its gas tank and set the entire Bradley on fire. Chris and his fellow soldiers, including Sgt. Steve McCoy, PFC Andrew J. Habsieger and Pvt. George Delgado, and Spec. Jose A. Rubio Hernandez, died as a result of the explosion. We had been married less than four years and had a 1-year-old son at the time.
The attack on Chris’s vehicle was part of a terrorist campaign waged against American troops by Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign terror arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) led by Soleimani. Soleimani’s Quds Force supplied funding, components and training to its local proxies to use EFPs against U.S. and allied forces, resulting in 1,526 EFP attacks between November 2005 and December 2011, according to U.S. Central Command.
I subsequently learned that more than a dozen foreign banks had used the U.S. financial system to launder money for Iran, which was used, in part, to fund the IRGC, the organization the U.S. government found responsible for the attack that killed Chris and killed or wounded a thousand other Americans. In my mind, the people who helped Soleimani finance his terror networks are just as responsible for Chris’s death as the person who emplaced the EFP that killed him.
It turns out that assigning those banks responsibility wasn’t just my opinion; it was Congress’s intent. In 2016, Congress passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act to expand civil liability under the Anti-Terrorism Act by empowering American citizens injured by terrorist organizations to sue anyone who helped those organizations by providing them assistance.
My family decided to use the Anti-Terrorism Act to pursue justice for Chris by suing Bank Saderat, an Iranian-British Bank that the U.S. government designated a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2007 and seven other banks that had pleaded guilty to laundering billions of dollars for Iran and Iranian banks. It seemed like we’d have a strong chance to hold some of Iran’s financial enablers accountable.
We have learned the hard way that, despite the clear aims of the Anti-Terrorism Act and its 2016 amendment, federal courts have been interpreting it much more narrowly than Congress and the executive branch intended. Our case was dismissed by a federal district court judge last year. We are appealing that decision before the Second Circuit, and numerous other cases involving hundreds of other Gold Star families will be affected by the outcome of that appeal.
In dismissing our claims last year, the district judge noted: “Unsatisfying as the court’s decision today may be from a moral or policy perspective, it is up to Congress, and not the judiciary, to authorize terrorism victims to recover damages for their injuries from financial institutions that conspire with state sponsors of terrorism like Iran to evade U.S. sanctions.”
Surviving family members and victims of Iran’s terrorist attacks now need both Congress and the Justice Department to weigh in on how courts should interpret the Anti-Terrorism Act, to ensure that the people who helped Soleimani and the IRGC kill and maim thousands of Americans face some accountability for what they’ve done.
I know our political system is deeply divided right now. However, the brief display of unity I saw on Tuesday night gives me hope that our elected leaders can, even now, set aside their differences and come together in the name of those who have sacrificed their lives for our country. I hope they will.
Kelli Hake is the widow of Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Hake and was a guest of President Trump’s at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
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