The House on Wednesday passed a bipartisan measure freeing up access to over a billion dollars in Iranian funds for the families of over 200 U.S. Marines killed during an Iran-backed terror attack in 1983.
The Our Obligation to Recognize American Heroes (OORAH) Act passed in a 397 to 31 vote Wednesday evening as an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act.
On October 23, 1983, two suicide bombers with the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah detonated two truck bombs, one at the Marine base in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 American soldiers as well as French military personnel and several civilians.
The legislation, sponsored by Vice President Mike Pence’s brother, Indiana congressman Greg Pence, makes $1.68 billion in Iranian government assets kept in the Luxembourg-based bank Clearstream available as “compensatory damages” to the families of the victims.
“I served my country as a United State Marine, and I understand what it takes to keep our nation safe,” Representative Pence told National Review. “This is the least we can do for the families of those brave 241 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country.”
The legislation is deeply personal for Pence since he was stationed in Beirut just days before the deadly attack.
“I was lucky. My battalion shipped out 10 days before the bombing,” Pence said during remarks on the House floor Tuesday. “I was able to come home to my wife, who was expecting our first child, and my family in Columbus. I told myself I would never forget those men.”
“This legislation will help victims and their families obtain just a small amount of justice,” he added in a statement.
Several court judgments have found Iran responsible for the terror attack and ordered Iran pay restitution to the families, but the orders have proven difficult to enforce. The measure amends the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 to permit the family members of the victims to execute on the funds.
Pence, a Republican, was joined by Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona in introducing the bipartisan measure. A sister piece of legislation was introduced in the Senate by another group of bipartisan lawmakers, Republican senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio as well as Democrats Sheldon Whitehouse, Doug Jones, and Jacky Rosen of Nevada.
The measure come amid increasingly acrimonious relations between the U.S. and Iran.
Iranian officials said last month that new U.S. sanctions mean “closing the doors of diplomacy” between the two countries.