Seven retired four-star generals from the U.S. Marine Corps are urging Senate leaders to include victims and the families of victims from the 1983 Beirut attack on the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in legislation delivering $3 billion to 9/11 families.
The generals are calling for the Fairness for 9/11 Families Act to be amended to include the families of victims of the Beirut terrorist attack.
“None of us object to further helping 9/11 families, but we do object to inadvertently leaving the Beirut families behind,” the military leaders wrote in the letter, sent last week and obtained exclusively by The Hill.
The letter is addressed to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Signatories include General James L. Jones, who served as national security adviser to former President Obama; General Joseph F. Dunford, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Obama and Trump administrations; and General James N. Mattis, who served as secretary of Defense under former President Trump.
The Fairness for 9/11 Families Act, which passed the House in late September, would rescind and redirect $2.7 billion in unused funds from COVID-19 pandemic relief and direct those payments to immediate family members of 9/11 victims.
Lawmakers who sponsored the bill, including Schumer, praised its passage in the House as providing a “catch-up” payment for thousands of 9/11 victims, spouses and dependents who were “unfairly” excluded from the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST) when it was established in 2015.
But the Marine generals say the Beirut bombing victims and the 9/11 victims were both intentionally excluded from the USVSST because they were pursuing or had received compensation from other areas.
For the 9/11 victims, it was the Victims Compensation Fund, which was established in 2001 and came under criticism for failing to meet the needs of the victims.
A U.S. court in 2007 ruled that Tehran was obligated to pay $2.65 billion to the families of the Beirut victims. About $2 billion in frozen Iranian assets were delivered in 2016.
“Now that Congress is expanding USVSST eligibility, it is only fair that the exclusion of the Beirut Marine barracks bombing victims be remedied,” the generals wrote.
The letter calls for an amendment to rescind and redirect an additional $1 billion in unused COVID-19 relief in a similar “catch-up” payment.
The retired Marine generals said they were all on active duty on October 23, 1983, when suicide bombers detonated two truck bombs outside the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut, killing 241 American service members and 58 French military force members also housed in the building. Six civilians also died in the attack.
The push to include the victims from the Beirut attacks in the Fairness Act has the backing of VoteVets, with the senior adviser for the advocacy group sending a letter to Schumer and McConnell on November 2 calling for the legislation to be amended.
Paul Rivers, 59, a former Marine sergeant who survived the bombing in Beirut after being buried alive for two hours, said in a statement to The Hill that “it would rub salt in the wound” if the 1983 victims were excluded from the Fairness Act.
“I know 1983 is a long time ago, and the bombing has faded in the public’s memory. But it’s something I live with every day,” he said in the statement. “All these years later, it would rub salt in the wound if the family members of those who were lost are left behind again. I can’t believe that is what Congress intends. We have always had support from leaders on both sides of the aisle and I hope that continues.”