Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has found North Korea liable in the case of Kaplan v. Central Bank of Iran for supporting Hezbollah rocket attacks that injured Israeli civilians like Michael Fuchs. According to the Complaint:
34. On July 13, 2006, at approximately 14:30, plaintiff Michael Fuchs was driving his car in Safed when a rocket filed by Hezbollah at Safed struck nearby. Massive amounts of shrapnel penetrated Fuchs’ car and caused him severe injuries. Fuchs lost large quantities of blood, lost consciousness and was rushed to the intensive care unit of Rebecca Ziv Hospital. Fuchs’ throat was slashed as a result of the explosion and his right hand remains completely paralyzed. Fuchs has been permanently disabled. He is unable to work and relies on intensive and expensive medical treatments on an on-going basis.
The court’s decision finds North Korea responsible for supporting Hezbollah’s attacks:
The Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Hezbollah carried out the rocket attacks that caused plaintiffs’ injuries and that North Korea provided material support. Prior to July 12, 2006, North Korea provided Hezbollah with a wide variety of material support and resources, within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1605A. This material support included professional military and intelligence training and assistance in building a massive network of underground military installations, tunnels, bunkers, depots and storage facilities in southern Lebanon. Moreover, North Korea worked in concert with Iran and the Syria to provide rocket and missile components to Hezbollah. North Korea sent these rocket and missile components to Iran where they were assembled and shipped to Hezbollah in Lebanon via Syria. These rocket and missile components were intended by North Korea and Hezbollah to be used and were in fact used by Hezbollah to carry out rocket and missile attacks against Israeli civilian targets. Between July 12, 2006 and August 14, 2006, Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets and missiles at civilians in northern Israel. As a result of North Korea’s provision of material support and resources, Hezbollah was able to implement and further goals shared by Hezbollah and North Korea. [Memorandum Opinion, July 23, 2014]
More on this story at The Miami Herald, and Yonhap, which makes the silly observation that, “Even if damages are awarded, however, there is no chance that North Korea will agree to pay.” Hey, I’m no lawyer — oh, wait, I am a lawyer; I’ve been handling criminal or civil litigation in the federal courts for almost 20 years — but isn’t “judgment” that thing where someone gets to take your money away from you even if you don’t want them to? Assuming they can find your money, anyway? It is, as I sometimes tell my children, mandatory, not optional.
As in other civil litigation against North Korea in U.S. courts, North Korea did not appear to defend itself.
The decision’s detailed findings of fact about North Korea’s recent and extensive sponsorship of terrorism will be another humiliation for the State Department, which takes the obtuse and factually risible position that North Korea is not known to have sponsored any acts of terrorism since 1987.
President Bush removed North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism on October 11, 2008. Discuss among yourselves.
The fact that Royce Lamberth made these findings will make them harder to ignore. Lamberth is one of the most experienced, respected, and feared judges on the federal bench. I’ve seen some of the Justice Department’s best litigators stricken with panic upon hearing of the assignment of a weak (for us) case to Judge Lamberth. And for good reason.
The Kaplan Complaint contains detailed allegations about North Korea’s long history of material support for Hezbollah (start at para. 22). The Congressional Research Service has documented North Korea’s support for Hezbollah both before and after the 2006 attacks (page 17, page 22). The degree of that support accelerated substantially after that. On December 15, 2009 — three days after the Kaplan Complaint was filed — a chartered Il-76 transport aircraft was intercepted at Bangkok and found to be filled with weapons on their way from North Korea to Iran, including man-portable surface-to-air missiles (see figure XVIII). It was the year’s third seizure of North Korean weapons believed to be on their way to Middle Eastern terrorists, including Hamas and Hezbollah. Previous incidents included the seizure of a container from the ANL Australia, and the Israeli Navy’s interception of the M/V Francop, which was carrying weapons (including 122-millimeter rockets) to Syria (see para. 108).
Obviously, none of the weapons in those latter shipments were used in any of the 2006 attacks that injured the Kaplan plaintiffs, but they are part of a long-standing pattern of North Korean support for terrorism. Given Hezbollah’s deep involvement in the Syrian Civil War, North Korea’s weapons are probably killing Syrian civilians now, rather than their intended Israeli targets.
The decision is the second decision by a federal judge finding North Korea liable for the sponsorship of terrorism. In 2010, the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico found North Korea liable for sponsoring the Japanese Red Army’s 1970 attack against Puerto Rican religious pilgrims at Lod Airport, Israel. Since then, the plaintiffs have been in litigation, trying to collect their $370 million judgment from U.S.-based accounts that may contain North Korean assets.
Ordinarily, foreign governments are immune from suit, but after the September 11, 2001 attacks, Congress created an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for states that were, at the time of the acts complained of, listed as sponsors of terrorism (or that were later listed for the same acts complained of in the suit). Prior to October 11, 2008, both Iran and North Korea were listed.
The next step in this case will be the appointment of a special master to apportion damages to the various plaintiffs.
Update: This post was edited after publication, for extra sarcasm.
Update 2: Some background on Judge Lamberth, explaining his reputation for having a “low tolerance for incompetence.”