Until recently Libya has long been a active in terrorism. It was involved the Berlin discotheque terrorist bombing that killed two American servicemen the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 and the bombing of UTA Flight 772. The country has since claimed that it has reformed and the US has renewed diplomatic relations. Now, it seems that Congress wants to take that even further. Congress is considering a bill to protect Libya from lawsuits filed by victims of its state sponsored terrorism. Somebody Pelosi and Reid that when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Life Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” he wasn’t taking about rights of terrorists, but protecting the victims:

Libya Should Remain Accountable to the Victims of Terrorism

By Victor Comras
A rumor is circulating through the blogging community that Congress is poised to take up legislation that would effectively eliminate victims of terrorism lawsuits against Libya. The legislation would relieve Libya from any direct responsibility to the victims for its state support of terrorism. Instead, the Secretary of State would designate an entity to serve in the capacity of a “claims commission,” to evaluate such claims and then negotiate a blanket deal with Libya for their settlement. This proposed legislation would, in effect, gut key provisions of the Anti Terrorism Act of 1996 and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 2001. That legislation allows for the victims of terrorism to seek treble damages for providing material support to designated terrorist entities, and would also allow such civil lawsuits to be brought against countries that have been designated as state sponsors of terrorism. Libya used to be on that list, and would now, post facto, be immune from lawsuits relating to such acts of terrorism. This would weaken, not strengthen our measures against terrorists. The current Anti Terrorism Act provides for triple damages in terrorism support cases as a way to discourage material support from being made available to terrorists and to demonstrate our overall approbation for such actions. The methodology to be used by a claims tribunal may relate only to demonstration of actual economic losses, overlooking these punitive considerations. And it’s not clear that any award would take into account actual pain and suffering. This process would likely make it even more difficult for victims of terrorism to enlist legal help and support for their cause from outside the government.

I also believe this proposed legislation would be a great mistake as it would politicize such claims arrangements, and would make the granting or removal of immunity from lawsuits a matter of contention in our bilateral relations, since sole discretion would reside with the Secretary of State. This would make the State Department a vulnerable pressure point, vulnerable to leverage on other bilateral issues. It makes so much more sense to leave such issues beyond the control of the State Department — and with the legislature and courts.

Let’s hope that appropriate time is taken to consider the merits and demerits of this legislation, through the normal hearing process.