Originally posted on LinkedIn
In our current state of world affairs, not a day passes that we are not aware of terrorism. This awareness can come from the latest act of terror in our own country or in another region, a reminder of a past act or a previous threat, or just a general unease about what could happen at any moment, to any of us, in the future.
But this threat doesn’t stop many of us from traveling around the globe, be it for work, for fun, or for personal matters. Nor should it.
If you’re a foreign national – someone who lives 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. When the threat of terrorism becomes an act and you’re in a foreign place, it can be even more unsettling and traumatizing. Americans have experienced this firsthand in Iran, Kenya, Tanzania, Yemen and Beirut, to name a few.
Over the past two 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 took a critical step toward holding foreign terrorists accountable. The DOJ established the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST), which compensates thousands of U.S. victims of international acts of terrorism. These individuals include the Iran hostages held from 1979 to 1981 and their families, 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, more than $800 million in payments has been issued to victims and their family members. The fund plans to give out a total of over $1.1 billion. 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.
This past March I had the honor of traveling to Tanzania to give 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. I went in conjunction with the Fay Law Group, a D.C. firm who persevered for almost 20 years since the day of the bombing in order to bring these victims and their families justice. This trip was an experience I will never forget.
In a time when the news can often seem bleak, these small moments of justice must also be included in the conversation. The effort of the U.S DOJ to provide compensation to foreign nationals who have been subject to random acts of terrorism reminds 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).