Thursday, June 30, 2005

Can Former Hostages Sue Iran's New Leader?

Just to follow up on Chris' post on Iran's new leader. Ordinarily, the former hostages might have been able to sue the new Iranian prez in U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Statute. But they would face innumerable obstacles including a 10-year statute of limitations. But most importantly, it appears that the 1981 Algiers Accords, which resulted in the release of the hostages in the first place, bars any such claim. Here is the key language:

11. ... the United States will promptly withdraw all claims now pending against Iran before the International Court of Justice and will thereafter bar and preclude the prosecution against Iran of any pending or future claim of the United States or a United States national arising out of events occurring before the date of this declaration related to (A) the seizure of the 52 United States nationals on November 4, 1979, (B) their subsequent detention, (C) injury to United States property or property of the United States nationals within the United States Embassy compound in Tehran after November 3, 1979, and (D) injury to the United States nationals or their property as a result of popular movements in the course of the Islamic Revolution in Iran which were not an act of the Government of Iran. ...

Moreover, former hostages can't even go to the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal because that tribunal's jurisdiction is limited to claims that : "arise out of debts, contracts (including transactions which are the subject of letters of credit or bank guarantees), expropriations or other measures affecting property rights, excluding claims described in Paragraph 11 (see above)."

This language looks pretty airtight to me. Moreover, even though the Algiers Accords are merely an executive agreement, and not a treaty, the Supreme Court has ruled that they do have domestic legal effect.

So, sadly, the former hostages are out of luck here.


Anonymous Paul Stephan said...

I am not sure that Dames & Moore held that the Algiers Accords have direct effect in U.S. law. Rather, the combination of the International Economic Emergency Powers Act and inherent Presidential authority to settle claims with foreign sovereigns provided the legal basis for Treasury regulations that have the effect of terminating lawsuits against Iran. The lower courts, when presented with alleged conflicts between the Treasury Regulations and the Algiers Accords, have stated that the Treasury Regulations are the relevant source of U.S. law.

6/30/2005 6:17 PM  
Blogger Julian Ku said...

Hi Paul,

Point well taken. I was a bit imprecise. Is the theory that the basis for the preemption of domestic lawsuits is not the Accords themselves but the policy reflected in the Accords? And that the President has the authority to implement this policy with Treasury Regs pursuant to his inherent constitutional powers and IEEPA?

This raises an interesting puzzle, then. As Chris rightly points out above, former hostages might bring lawsuits against Ahmadinejad (say after he leaves office) under various anti-terrorism laws, some of which may have been enacted post 1980. Would a court read the Treasury Regs and the policy embodied in the Algiers Accord to override such a federal statute?

6/30/2005 11:40 PM  
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