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Via America’s Lawyer: Farron Cousins, Trial Magazine Executive Editor, fills in for Mike Papantonio and is joined by Attorney Chris Paulos to discuss a recent $10 billion dollar lawsuit brought against Iran over State sponsor of terrorism and just how difficult it is in proving terrorism lawsuits cases and success stories in recent years, as State sponsors of terrorism are finally being held accountable in U.S courts.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Farron Cousins: While the average American has a statistically insignificant chance of being injured in a terrorist attack, for Americans serving in the military or working as independent contractors in active combat zones, the threat of terrorist attacks are very real. There are countless stories from the last few years of American soldiers being injured or killed in attacks, and while most people may write these off as just the dangers of war, the truth is far more complicated. When it comes to acts of terrorism, what we’re finding out is that there are lots of behind the scenes actions that help make these possible.
Whether it’s money laundering on behalf of major banks or direct financial support from governments, terrorist are rarely able to act without others helping them out, and it is the behind the scenes players that are being taken on in courtrooms today. And I have attorney Chris Paulos with me to explain what’s happening. So Chris, let’s start. There was a big case last week against Iran, the government of Iran for sponsoring, funding, providing material support to terrorists. Give us a quick background on what that case was about.
Chris Paulos: Of course, and again, thanks for having me here Farron, to discuss these issues. So last week as you mentioned, there was a case that went forward, it was called Karcher v. Iran, and it was one of the first cases involving US military members and civilian contractors. US nationals bringing a lawsuit against a foreign sovereign country for its involvement and sponsorship of terrorist attacks in Iraq during the United States and coalition forces’ time in that country. The plaintiffs in that case are family members of folks who were killed in Iraq or military and contractors who were injured in those types of attacks.
Now that’s not every attack in Iraq is going to be a terrorist attack. It’s certainly, a significant portion of casualties suffered in Iraq by coalition forces can be attributed to forces or to groups that were receiving funding, weapons, training, other material support from Iran and terrorist groups that are well known.
Farron Cousins: So right now also we have the government, they’re talking about possibly putting some new sanctions on Iran. Is that related to any of this or is that just kind of a separate animal at this point?
Chris Paulos: Absolutely. Those sanctions are essentially a bread and butter and part and parcel to the actions of Iran in Iraq. It is now confirmed that Iran is personally responsible for hundreds of deaths of Americans in that country, if not thousands of other injuries in terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians as well as US nationals. Now, the terrorism sanctions that is counter terrorism financing sanctions and other sanctions that are being proposed and that are presently implemented against Iran are specifically designed to cripple Iran’s ability to export terrorism beyond its own borders, including in areas like Iraq or Syria and other areas in the Middle East where Iran has some influence.
Farron Cousins: So with this case that was heard last week, this is not like a typical trial, you know, you don’t have your plaintiffs, your defense attorneys, your jury. This is not like that. Iran was not there in the courtroom, there was no jury. So, how does this work in that regard?
Chris Paulos: Well, and that’s correct. And that is actually a, a purposeful litigation strategy that Iran takes in cases that it is accused of terrorism. Iran is served with these complaints, they know these cases are going forward and they elect to not show up and to be tried in absentia essentially in front of a federal district judge who does have jurisdiction to enter orders and to enforce judgments against Iran. Iran is more than happy to show up in patent court or other civil litigation in the United States to defendant’s interest or to appear when it has a motive to do so or an interest in doing so.
But when it comes to terrorism, they have purposely, I call it gas lighting our clients and the plaintiffs in these cases. They refuse to acknowledge them and they perpetuate the effects of their terroristic acts by simply remaining silent and not being there to defend them. I more than anything, we’d love the opportunity to cross examine the people from Iran and the people from the groups that we know committed these attacks. We would want our full and fair day in court and Iran by not showing up has essentially prevented us from having that, but we’re going to proceed whether or not they show up and we will continue to seek justice for our clients through these, through these means.
Farron Cousins: There are a lot of hurdles that have to be overcome in these terrorism cases. I mean, they are very complex, a lot more so than just your average, you know, oh, we’ve got your documents.
We saw, you knew this was a bad product. This is so intricate and you have to connect so many dots along the way to be able to prove any of these. So explain how the process itself, whether it’s Iran, whether it’s a bank, what are those hurdles and how do we get past those?
Chris Paulos: Okay. Well, not surprisingly because we’re trying to create, or present a case that has taken place thousands of miles away, sometimes in what some folks may consider the fog of war and an intense situation where there’s not good record keeping or perhaps not a full invested criminal investigation on the ground. We are constrained by access to classified information or non access to classified information or access to certain witnesses. Nevertheless, the government has a sufficient publicly available information about many of these attacks. We now are, sadly, almost two decades since we’ve entered into Iraq and have been involved in that area.
And there has been a lot of investigation studies, discussions. Historians have gone through the troves and troves of paperwork. CIA has released many documents related to bin Laden, to Iran and to other terrorist groups that we know are on the ground and operating in Iraq. So we now, just now, are getting a good idea of what was truly going on at the time, 2003 to 2011. And we are able to piece together the elements of these claims and prove to the satisfaction of federal courts in the United States that each and every element of our claim to hold Iran and these groups responsible.
Farron Cousins: And you know, you’ve actually been on this program in the past talking about the litigation against the banks. Because we know that some of the largest banks, not just here in the United States, but in the world, they have been, you know, actively helping to launder money for a lot of these organizations.
How does that work? You know, how do they, you know, does a terrorist walk into a bank with a sack full of money and say, okay, make this go, you know, it is a bit confusing, but it’s something that does happen.
Chris Paulos: Well, it depends on the bank. There are certainly banks were terrorists can walk in with a big sack of money and do that. But, we have a global financial system and terrorism particularly on the scale in which Iran and groups like Hezbollah and al Qaeda wage terrorism in multiple areas around the globe, using multiple proxies and agents and various means and methods over a long extended period of time and avoid capture and detection. That takes enormous amounts of money. That money needs to move and it needs to move freely through the global economic system.
And sadly, banks here in the United States, banks in Europe, global and transnational banks have assisted known proxies, known agents, and even state sponsors of, like Iran, to circumvent the counterterrorism financial sanctions that not just the United States has put in place, but the EU and the UN. And these banks have taught and essentially trained terrorist organizations on how to circumvent those sanctions and get access to the currencies they need, the dollars essentially that they need and other financial tools that they can use to promote terrorism and avoid being detected for promoting it.
Farron Cousins: And one of the hurdles, you know, as we mentioned earlier with the cases against the banks, those are almost even more difficult to prove because you have to prove that, you know, terrorist A or proxy A went in there, put this money in. The bank laundered it. That laundered money then was used for that attack and the materials that that money purchased are what caused the injury to that person. Hey, those are a lot of steps. But, but there’s a lot of success with these cases as well. It’s not as hard to connect those dots in some instances, you know, as it would seem on paper.
Chris Paulos: Well, and in fact, that’s really not our burden in these cases. What we have in particularly in the cases that I’m handling is that we’ve had these banks have admitted to criminal liability, and have signed deferred prosecution and paid billion dollar fines.
They’ve admitted to laundering hundreds of billions of dollars for Iran and other state sponsors of terror. They’ve admitted to providing financial services to foreign terrorist organizations. That has been admitted. And all we essentially need to prove is that these banks should have known that what they were doing was going to provide a substantial likelihood that terrorism would be committed. Not the terrorism against our clients specifically.
But terrorism in general. Money is fungible. If I put $10 in that pocket, I free up a few dollars in your other pocket that you can use maybe for some nefarious means. And that’s how money works. And when you give money to certain people, it’s just like giving a loaded gun to a toddler. It’s a very dangerous thing to do and these banks under our laws can be held liable for that.
Farron Cousins: Well, and so, we’ve got a lot of different moving parts.
We’ve got the banks, we’ve got the government’s, we’ve got the people actually involved. Tell us a little bit, you know, we don’t have much time, but are there, we’ve talked a lot about Iran, we’ve talked about the bank. What other countries out there are perhaps in the cross hairs that we suspect of doing this or, or have been found to be doing this?
Chris Paulos: Well, I mean there’s obviously the countries that have already been designated as state sponsors of terror, but there are also other countries that can commit terrorism that don’t necessarily need to be stamped with the state sponsor of terror brand by our treasury department. You know, there’s a, Saudi Arabia is in the news a lot. A lot of other Middle Eastern countries or groups or even governments or sub governments or proxy governments in areas around the world, commit atrocities that would meet the definition of terrorism. Using violence as a way to affect the policies of another government, or another population.
And so new laws like the law that was just passed over Obama’s veto in 2016, JASTA permits US nationals to bring cases against other governments and other state sponsors of terror or I should say other states that haven’t been labeled a sponsor of terror but commit terroristic acts. And so, that law is, is rather new. We’re seeing it make its way through the courts now. And it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves over time because terrorism is a peripatetic and constantly evolving problem and our law unfortunately is always a little bit behind the ball.
Farron Cousins: Well, Chris, it’s very important work that you’re doing. Thank you for telling us this today.
Chris Paulos: Thank you. Thank you very much.