Court Awards $12.9 Million to Marla’s Family

by Brian on September 20, 2007

in In the News,Living Through Terror

How much is a human life worth? According to a Washington D.C. federal judge, $12.9 million. That’s the amount that Judge Royce Lamberth awarded to the parents of our cousin Marla Bennett who was killed in the July 31, 2002 bombing attack on the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria at Hebrew University.

Lamberth found that Hamas, which claimed credit soon after the attack, “is an organization supported by the Islamic Republic of Iran, dedicated to the waging of Jihad, or a holy war employing terrorism” and was responsible for the “willful and deliberate killing of Marla Bennett.” Lamberth ordered Iran to pay the $12.9 million to Marla’s mother, father and sister for their suffering and Marla’s lost income.

Specifically, the judge calculated the loss of income to be generated by Marla’s estate as $404,548.00. The judge also awarded Marla’s parents $5 million each and Marla’s sister Lisa $2.5 million. The amounts awarded took into account a fact that was previously unknown to me – that Marla’s death was not instantaneous. A resuscitation tube was found on her body at the scene, which indicates there was some sign of life when the emergency medical team arrived.

The court ruling provided further details on Marla’s assailant, Mohammed Uda, a maintenance worker at Hebrew University, who was a member of the Silwan Gang, a Hamas sub-group named after the Jerusalem suburb where Uda lived, and who meticulously planned the attack using a bomb hidden in a backpack placed on a table adjacent to Marla in the cafeteria. The Silwan Gang also planned a previous attack at the Moment Café in Jerusalem earlier that year.

Judge Lamberth acknowledged that money will never bring Marla back. Lamberth’s opinion states that “though it is impossible for this court to make the plaintiffs completely whole again, the court hopes that this award helps begin the healing process and that one day the plaintiffs’ hearts and minds will be mended by the fact that some measure of justice, no matter how incalculable, was done on their behalf.”

Collecting the damages from Iran won’t be easy. Previous victims of terror attacks who have successfully sued Iran have sought money from frozen Iranian assets in America, but those resources are limited.

Marla’s family will also be competing to a certain extent with another award granted by Lamberth last week which stipulates some $2.65 billion to be paid by Iran to the families of the 241 U.S. service members killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut. Hezballah, which carried out that attack, is trained, supported by and ideologically aligned with Iran.

Nevertheless, plaintiffs in such cases have been encouraged lately by Libya’s eventual decision to accept responsibility for its role in the bombing of a Pan Am flight over Scotland.

Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters in Washington that Iran considers Lamberths’ rulings “baseless. Some U.S. court issued a verdict without any investigation or listening to opinions from the other sides. The verdict is not legally defensible and we can see the political pressure from the decision to grab Iranian assets in America.” Nevertheless, no one from Iran or its intelligence ministry which were co-defendants in the 2003 case, appeared in court to defend the lawsuit.

Freelance journalist Karmel Melamed wrote on his blog last week that Lamberth’s decision deserves “high praise” and “gives hope to victims of Iran’s reign of international terror that while justice may not be immediate it does arrive in due time.” Melamed also points out that Iranian Jewish victims of Iran’s terror have followed a similar path. Last September the families of 12 Iranian Jewish victims imprisoned in Iran filed a federal suit seeking to collect damages from former Iranian President Mohhamad Khatami. The suit holds Khatami responsible for the kidnapping, imprisonment and disappearance of Jews imprisoned by Iran between 1994 and 1997.

Shurat HaDin, an Israeli organization that gives legal aid to terror victims and that has been at the forefront of bringing more than two dozen lawsuits over the past several years against terrorist organizations and states sponsoring terrorism, has successfully collected on judgments from suits brought against U.S. banks holding funds used by Palestinian terror groups.

In March of this year, B’nai Brith Canada filed suit against Iran’s current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejhad for incitement of genocide against the Jewish people in a federal Canadian court. The suit also calls on the Canadian government to ban Ahmadinejhad’s entry into Canada.

Marla’s mother Linda said she did not intend to use the money, if she’s able to collect, for the family’s own personal gain “If only it would bring her back, that would be ideal,” said Bennett who still lives in the San Diego home where Marla grew up. “But we know that’s not going to happen.” Linda who traveled with her husband to Washington in March to testify in the case said she was “gratified by the ruling” and expressed the hope that she could “do some good for other people with this judgement. That’s what Marla would have wanted.”

The Bennetts set up several programs after Marla’s death. One is a charity run by the local San Diego Jewish Federation that helps Jews and non-Jews in distress; the other is a fund to help young people who want to study in Israel. Marla was a student at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and had been studying in a Hebrew ulpan at Hebrew University when she was killed along with eight others.

The Bennett’s family lawyer Edward Carnot stressed that he would “make every effort to collect upon the judgement. It’s not going to be an easy task, but we have some avenues we want to pursue.”

Following Lamberth’s ruling, the Hebrew University issued a statement saying that it “pays tribute to the memory of Marla Bennett and all of the other victims of the terrorist attack and expresses satisfaction at the decision of the court, which perhaps will ease, if only slightly, the sorrow of the family.”

Lamberth praised the Bennett family for “their courage and steadfast pursuit of justice through legal means. This noble effort is made even more so when contrasted with the heinous and brutishly unlawful acts undertaken by the defendants and the individuals they support.” Lamberth called Marla “a shining light in the lives of so many.”

The full court judgment can be found here.

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