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Shurat HaDin Helps U.S. Citizens Win Lawsuit Against Syria

Tel Aviv based Shurat HaDin represented two families of Americans in their successful lawsuit against the Syrian government.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 12/18/2012, 6:21 AM

Attorney Nitzana Darshan-Leitner
Attorney Nitzana Darshan-Leitner
Yoni Kempinski

A Tel Aviv based law center has represented two families of American citizens in their successful $338 million lawsuit against the government of Syria.

The decision, handed down Monday in the United States district court for Washington D.C., found that the government of Syria was responsible for providing material support and resources to the Kurdish Workers Party ("PKK"), a terrorist organization designated by the U.S. State Department.

Chief District Court Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that Syria was vicariously liable for the PKK's 1991 kidnapping of a group of American biblical archeologists leading an excavation in Turkey. The Americans, who were searching to discover the location of the remains of the biblical Noah's Ark, were held hostage for 21 days before they finally were able to escape.

The families were represented by attorneys Robert Tolchin of New York and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Tel Aviv. Darshan-Leitner is the director of the Shurat HaDin Law Center.

The Court awarded the families $38 million dollars in compensatory damages and levied a $300 million punitive damages award against the Syrian government as well.

Marvin Wilson and the family of the deceased Ronald Wyatt brought the lawsuit against Syria, alleging that Damascus had allowed the PKK to operate from Syrian territory, and provided financial support and training to the terrorist group. The civil action sought both compensation and punitive damages from Syria.

In September 1991, Wilson and Wyatt traveled to Turkey as part of an archeological project to excavate a site near Mount Ararat, where according to the Tanach, Noah’s Ark is believed to have finally found land. Shortly after traveling near the Syrian border the Americans, along with others, were taken hostage by armed gunmen. For the next 21 days the captives were subjected to brutal treatment, forced 18 hour marches and repeatedly assaulted by their PKK captors.

The terrorists made ransom demands to the Turkish and American governments.

In July 2001, plaintiffs filed a complaint against Syria pursuant to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act’s terrorism exception, 28 U.S.C. § 1605A in the U.S. district court in Washington D.C.

The Court wrote in its ruling that “the brutal character of the kidnapping in this case, the significant harm it caused both the hostage plaintiffs and their families, along with Syria’s demonstrated and well known policy to encourage terrorism all merit an award of punitive damages.”

Darshan-Leitner said following the ruling, “This is a groundbreaking ruling which finds that Syria was responsible for the crimes perpetrated by the PKK terror organization it sponsors. This ruling also points to an underlying fact: the free world will no longer stand idle while international crimes are committed and it will fight against those rogue regimes which support these heinous acts. Above all, the court found that this kidnapping was brutal and heinous, and involved threats of execution, torture, as well as marches through mountains and dense forests. It is therefore fitting that compensation should be in the millions not in the tens of thousands. These days Syria continues to commit crimes against those who oppose the regime, and Syria will pay.”

Last month, Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit on behalf of two dozen Americans in Israel, who are suing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for negligence in allowing the United States to fund the Palestinian Authority, which used the money for terror.

The Federal suit alleges that the U.S. State Department violated the Anti-Terrorism Act, and abandoned Congressional safeguards, transparency and reporting requirements.

Clinton allegedly ignored congressional safeguards and transparency requirements attached to American aid to the Palestinian Authority, the Law Center stated.