The case "Gates v. the Syrian Arab Republic" was filed on August 25th in 2008 at the United States District Court of Columbia by the plaintiffs, who included Francis Gates and Jan Smith. The case was filed against Defendants, who incorporated the Syrian Arab Republic or Syria, the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad; the military of Syria referred to as al-Mukhabarat al-Askariya; and the Director of Military Intelligence, called General Asif Shawkat. In this case, a group of men, who belonged to the terrorist group known as Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad beheaded US civilian contractors, Jack Amstrong and Jack Hensley. They later videotaped the whole incident and played it via the internet for everyone in the world to view, and ultimately, the United States District Court of Columbia to see as well. In this case, the plaintiffs stated that the Syrian government equipped and supported the terrorist group, Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad and its leader, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, with resources to perpetrate the criminal acts to the American citizens. As a result, the plaintiffs asserted courses of actions under the FSIA Act as well as under the state law. This case is significant because it elaborated the treatment of claims brought under state law and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) against a sovereign and its principals for monetary damages for terrorist actions committed by an organization supported by a sovereign state.
In this case, several facts are taken into considerations before arriving at the issues that lead to the ruling. For instance, it is essential to note the fact that Jack Armstrong and Jack Hensley were U.S. civilians and non-combatants who were working for a private construction company in Iraq. These individuals did not offer any armed security or bodyguard security services but offered technical and operational assistance services for the military in non-combat regions in Iraq. Besides, Armstrong had a history of working in foreign countries as a civil construction engineer. Similarly, Jack Hensley had a degree in mathematics and computer science and also worked for an international construction and engineering firm in a foreign land. Further, after the brutal murder, the terrorist group glorified its acts on the internet, which was followed by condemnation by the Muslim world.
The families (Plaintiff) of the beheaded U.S. civilian contractors, Armstrong and Hensley, alleged that the Syrian Arab Republic (Syria) (Defendant), its president (Defendant), and its intelligence minister (Defendant), were liable under the FSIA, for money damages for the beheadings because Syria actively and knowingly supported al-Qaeda in Iraq. Al-Tawhid wal-Jihad also known as "al-Qaeda in Iraq" beheaded U.S. civilian contractors Armstrong and Hensley, and their families brought suit against Syria, its president, and its intelligence minister, seeking damages under the FSIA and asserting state-law claims for battery, assault, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, wrongful death; survival damages, conspiracy, and aiding and abetting.
The plaintiffs also claimed that Syria, acting through· the principals of the defendants, offered material assistance and resources to al-Qaeda in Iraq and its leader. Because none of the defendants filed an answer or otherwise appeared, the Court proceeded to a default setting, which under the FSIA requires the entry of a default judgment against a non-responding foreign state where the claimant proves its case to the Court's satisfaction. After reviewing the evidence presented, the Court concluded that support for Zarqawi and his al-Qaeda network from Syrian territory or Syrian government actors could not have been accomplished without the authorization of the Syrian government and its military intelligence. The Court then addressed the issue of whether Syria could be held liable for money damages under the FSIA for the beheadings of Armstrong and Hensley.
There are several issues involved in this case. For instance, the first issue consists of the question, which tends to inquire whether state-law claims can be dismissed where plaintiffs assert that they are victims of state-sponsored terrorism. The other issue is whether a sovereign state may be held liable under the FSIA's state-sponsored terrorism exception, where it is shown that terrorist acts against U.S. citizens were committed by terrorists knowingly supported by the sovereign state to advance the sovereign's policy objectives. Further, another issue involves whether money damages for economic damages, solatium, pain, and suffering, and punitive damages may be awarded under the FSIA against a state sponsor of terrorism for outrageous acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens committed by terrorists supported by the state sponsor. Once these issues are wholly considered, the Court can then proceed to offer the verdict of the case. The decision will be based on the fact and matters of the case at hand.
In this case, the Court ruled that state law claims must be dismissed where plaintiffs assert that they are victims of state-sponsored terrorism. Similarly, the Court ruled that a sovereign state may be held liable under the FISA’s state-sponsored terrorism exception, where it is shown that terrorist acts against US citizens were committed by terrorists knowingly supported by the sovereign to advance the sovereign’s policy objectives. Further, the Court ruled that monetary damages for economic damages, solatium, pain, and suffering, and punitive damages may be awarded under the FSIA against a state sponsor of terrorism for outrageous acts of terrorism against US citizens committed by terrorists supported by the state sponsor.
Reasoning on the Decision
In this case, the damages provision used by the court to award various money damages in this case was enacted in 2008 in an effort by Congress to assist victims in satisfying their judgments against state sponsors of terrorism as well as for the clarification that the cause of acts provided in the terrorist state exception applies not only to agents, employees, or officials of the state sponsorship but also to the state itself. As a result, the state-law claims must be dismissed where plaintiffs assert that they are victims of state-sponsored terrorism. Under the FSIA Act, U.S. citizens who are victims of state-sponsored terrorist acts can sue a responsible foreign state directly. As a result, the Congress offered the "specific source of law" for recovering and thus eliminated the inconsistencies that arose under state law in such cases. In this case, the families, who are the Plaintiffs effectively brought suit only against Syria, the defendant, because they claimed that all the named defendants should be treated as the foreign state itself. The only cause of action permissible against Syria was the federal cause of action under the FSIA Act, and the state-law claims must be dismissed.
Besides, from the ruling, a sovereign may be held liable under the FSIA's state-sponsored terrorism Act except in cases where it is proven that terrorist actions against U.S. citizens were committed by terrorists knowingly supported by the sovereign state to advance the sovereign's policy objectives. In this case, it has been illustrated to the court's satisfaction that it was Syria’s foreign policy to support al-Qaeda in Iraq to topple the nascent Iraqi democratic government and thwart the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Syria's aid to the terrorist group's leader for at least three years was not unknowing, and, given prior actions of terrorism against civilians by al-Qaeda in Iraq, it was foreseeable that Zarqawi and his terrorist organization would again repeat similar actions. Thus, the murders of Armstrong and Hensley were a foreseeable consequence of Syria's aid and support to Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq, and there is jurisdiction over Syria to support damages under the FSIA.
Further, from the ruling, money damages for economic damages, solatium, pain, and suffering, and punitive damages may be awarded under the FSIA Act against a state sponsor of terrorism for outrageous acts of terrorism against U.S. citizens committed by terrorists supported by the state sponsor. Damages for a private action for proven acts of terrorism by foreign states under the FSIA Act may include economic losses, solatium, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. The amount of punitive damages awarded for personal injury or death resulting from an act of state-sponsored terrorism depends on the nature of the injury, the character of the terrorist act, the need for deterrence, and the wealth of the state sponsor. As with other punitive damages, the goal is to punish those who engage in outrageous conduct and to deter others from engaging in similar behavior. Besides, if various significant punitive damages awards issued against foreign state sponsorship of terrorism, the state's financial capacity to provide funding will be curtailed. Therefore, a default judgment is entered against Syria in the following amounts as decided by the Court.
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