San Diego International Law Journal

Library of Congress Authority File


Document Type



This Article discusses the rules of procedural law that authorize United States courts to enter civil judgments against international terrorists and the foreign states that sponsor them. Somewhat surprisingly, these rules do not make such judgments difficult to obtain. As the Sutherland case illustrates, plaintiffs have already recovered substantial money judgments against terrorist defendants. Not surprisingly, the real difficulties are encountered when plaintiffs seek to enforce such judgments. Private parties have successfully utilized civil litigation as a means of neutralizing domestic hate groups. The question now is whether they can achieve similar success with respect to international terrorists. Success in this context is measured by two basic goals: compensation of victims of international terrorism and deterrence of future wrongful acts on the part of international terrorist organizations and their state sponsors. This article attempts to provide some assessment of whether the rules of procedural law permit private parties to accomplish these goals. There has been a considerable amount of civil litigation involving international terrorism, even before the attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. Nearly all these cases have resulted in default judgments. As a consequence, few appeals have been taken and many of the procedural issues have not been addressed by appellate courts. This Article therefore begins with discussion of the three components that determine the validity of a default judgment within the United States courts: personal jurisdiction, service of process, and subject matter jurisdiction. Other issues discussed include venue and forum non conveniens, choice-of-law and jurisdiction to prescribe, the act of state doctrine, and judgments and enforcement of judgments. This Article concludes with some suggestions for the courts, the Congress, and the Executive branch that might provide the victims of international terrorism with more effective means of redress through civil litigation.