Washington, D.C. — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the Committee’s markup of the bipartisan Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act (H.R. 5954).
Chairman Goodlatte: Congress enacted the Antiterrorism Act of 1992 in order to help combat international terrorism and to provide some level of financial justice to American victims of terrorism. The 1992 act added a civil remedy to the ATA’s existing criminal regime, removing jurisdictional hurdles that that often confounded terrorism victims’ ability to get their day in court. And, the act has been largely successful.
However, from time to time, the 1992 Act has also needed modifications to ensure that it is fully serving its purposes. For instance, just last Congress, in the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, I helped lead the charge in the House to amend the civil liability provision to make sure that those who aid and abet or conspire with foreign terrorist organizations are liable under the ATA. In addition, in 2012, the Judiciary Committee worked to lengthen the statute of limitations on civil ATA claims to provide victims with the time they need to file these often complex lawsuits.
The bill we are considering today, the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, builds on these previous technical amendments to the ATA. It makes three needed improvements in order to better ensure that victims of international terrorism can obtain justice in U.S. courts against terrorists and their supporters.
First, the bill clarifies the ATA’s act of war exception. Defendants accused of aiding and abetting acts of international terrorism have been attempting to use this exception as a means of avoiding civil liability, even in cases in which the plaintiffs’ injuries were caused by the actions of designated terrorist groups. For example, in Kaplan v. Central Bank of Iran, the defendant financial institutions successfully argued that rocket attacks against civilians carried out by Hezbollah—a designated foreign terrorist organization—were acts of war and thus outside the scope of the ATA’s civil liability provisions. The act of war exception should not be a liability shield for those who aid or abet attacks carried out by designated terrorist organizations.
This legislation amends the definition of “act of war” in the ATA to clarify that the exception does not apply to U.S. government designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations or Specially Designated Global Terrorists.
Second, at the urging of Representative Posey, the author of the CAPTIVE Act, we included language in the bill to strengthen the ATA’s civil enforcement regime by permitting victims of narco-terrorism to satisfy their court-awarded judgments with the assets of Foreign Narcotics Drug Kingpins. Assets blocked by the federal government under the Kingpin Designation Act are not currently available to victims, leaving victims of the FARC and other narco-terrorists without a meaningful method of getting compensation for their injuries.
Finally, this legislation addresses recent federal court decisions that have called into question the continued ability of victims to bring terrorists and their supporters to justice under the ATA’s civil liability regime. The ATA was specifically designed to provide extraterritorial jurisdiction over terrorists who attack U.S. nationals overseas. However, these recent cases have severely limited the extraterritorial scope of the ATA.
The Antiterrorism Clarification Act amends the jurisdiction and venue section of the ATA to make clear that defendants who take advantage of certain benefits provided by the U.S. government shall be deemed to have consented to personal jurisdiction in U.S. courts in ATA civil actions. No defendant should be able to accept U.S. foreign assistance while simultaneously dodging responsibility in U.S. courts for aiding or carrying out terrorist attacks that harm Americans.
I want to thank Ranking Member Nadler along with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley and Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Nelson for joining me in introducing this bicameral and bipartisan bill. I urge my colleagues to support us in passing this legislation to clarify ambiguities in the ATA that terrorist sponsors have exploited to evade liability so that we can help ensure that Americans are able to hold terrorists and their supporters accountable.