In our current state of world affairs, not a day passes that we are not aware of terrorism. This awareness can come from a recent act of terror in our own country or abroad, a reminder of a past act or threat, or just a general unease about what could happen. Last week, we discussed some of our efforts at Milestone to aid Americans who have been impacted by terrorism around the world. For those who have lost family members in terroristic acts, we use our skills and expertise to help victims cope. This work is far from over.
If you live in a country where you are not a naturalized citizen, you already deal with a multitude of challenges and discomforts that come with residing in a country that isn’t technically your own. An act of terrorism in a foreign place can be even more unsettling and traumatizing. Americans have experienced this firsthand in Iran, Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen, Beirut, and others.
Over the past few years, we have seen a new effort to help American victims of terrorism seek justice both in the U.S. and abroad. Though it has not been widely publicized, in 2015, the Department of Justice (DOJ) took a critical step toward holding foreign terrorists accountable. They established the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST), which compensates U.S. victims of international acts of terrorism. These individuals and their families include the hostages held in Iran from 1979 to 1981, victims of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, victims of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and several other international terrorist incidents.
This fund is supported by proceeds, penalties, and fines from civil and criminal matters involving prohibited transactions with state sponsors of terrorism. For example, if a foreign bank is found guilty of laundering money that supports terrorist groups, the fees they must pay as retribution go into this pool. The fund is managed by the DOJ’s Criminal Division, which “… aggressively prosecutes terrorist financiers and others who abuse the U.S. financial system to commit crimes, and uses all available tools, including civil and criminal forfeiture, to seize their assets and illicit funds.” These funds are changing hands in an extremely meaningful way.
So far, over $2.1 billion in payments has been paid or allocated to victims and their family members. Of course, no amount of money can replace the staggering losses that result from terrorism, but the fact that the U.S. is working to be an advocate for victims and their families is certainly worth noting.
In 2017, Milestone founder John Bair had the honor of traveling to Tanzania to give (and explain) USVSST awards to victims of the 1998 United States embassy bombing in Dar Es Salaam. In this terrorist attack for which al Qaeda claimed responsibility, 11 individuals were killed and 85 were wounded. Just recently, another round of money was allocated to the victims and their families in Tanzania. If you think you might be an applicable candidate and are interested in applying, the USVSST Fund is still accepting applicants and can be found here: http://www.usvsst.com/.
In a time when the news can often seem bleak, these small moments of justice must also be included in the conversation. The efforts of the U.S DOJ remind us of the merits of our justice system, and allows us hope for a brighter future.
A West Point graduate where he served as captain and military aviator, John Bair continues his commitment to our country through his efforts within the settlement planning industry. He has represented families of victims lost in the Flight 3407 crash, offered pro bono services to the families of 9/11 victims and drafted the first consumer protection bill for plaintiffs (H.R. 3699).