Funding Death: Arizona Families Sue Banks for Financing Iranian Attacks on U.S. Soldiers

Funding Death: Arizona Families Sue Banks for Financing Iranian Attacks on U.S. Soldiers
Zac McDonald

Second of two parts.

When Ahmed Alahmedalabdaloklah was convicted on terrorism charges in U.S. District Court in Arizona, the case represented only part of the effort in American courtrooms to hold accountable those who killed more than 1,700 U.S. soldiers with roadside bombs in Iraq.

Federal agents described him as a master bomb-designer during the conflict, and said his case was the first time a foreign combatant from Iraq had been brought to justice in a U.S. court. That was Part 1 of the story.

Part 2 revolves around who paid for those bombs.

The U.S. government went after a string of prominent European banks, accusing them of conspiring to launder hundreds of billions of dollars for Iranian interests, knowing some of that money funded terrorism. The banks paid more than $4 billion in fines to U.S. regulators and admitted responsibility rather than face criminal prosecution.

Based on those actions, dozens of families of killed or wounded soldiers, soldiers like Ryan Haupt and Robert Bartlett of Arizona sued those banks and the government of Iran. Those lawsuits have not reached trial yet. This is the story of how they came to be.


On May 3, 2005, Sergeant Robert Bartlett of Gilbert rode inside an armored Army Humvee traveling along “Route Pluto” on Baghdad’s northern edge. He was a sniper.

His Army squad headed to its third mission of the day to clear an area of threats. As the Humvee approached a security barrier along the palm-lined road, it slowed.

Nobody saw the man with the radio transmitter.

Just as the Humvee slalomed its way around the barriers, the man with the transmitter pushed a button.

The blast from the 40-pound IED tore through the vehicle with shrapnel, ball bearings, molten copper, and flame. The driver was mutilated and killed instantly. The gunner’s legs were cut to ribbons. Half of Bartlett’s face had been blown off, from his chin to his temple. Ball bearings perforated his lungs, collapsing one.

Time stopped.

click to enlarge Army Sergeant Robert Bartlett of Gilbert was blown up in an IED attack in Baghdad in 2006. The bomb tore off half his face and killed two comrades. - U.S. ARMY
Army Sergeant Robert Bartlett of Gilbert was blown up in an IED attack in Baghdad in 2006. The bomb tore off half his face and killed two comrades.
U.S. Army

Bartlett regained consciousness when the gunner collapsed onto him. They cradled each other, helpless, waiting to die. The air inside the wrecked Humvee thickened with the reek of diesel and burnt flesh.

A commander had been thrown clear in the blast. He regained consciousness, pried a door open, and tried to crank the motor.

That year, 2005, a Syrian man named Ahmed Alahmedalabdaloklah started designing the electronic components that enabled insurgents to detonate IEDs remotely, a federal jury in Arizona later found. He had a workshop in the heart of Baghdad, on Omar Street.

The Syrian’s signature design, using microchips produced at Microchip Technology Inc., an unwitting Chandler company not far from Bartlett’s home, showed up in Iraq IED blasts until 2009, the government said.

It presented no evidence that the device used to blow up Bartlett’s squad came from the Omar Street workshop. That attack was not part of that case.

Alahmedalabdaloklah was in league with a faction of Sunnis and former Saddam Hussein supporters called the 1920 Revolution Brigades. Bartlett’s squad was patrolling areas that were hotbeds for Shiite insurgents.

But both rival factions shared the goal of killing and driving out foreign occupiers.

In total, IEDs from all factions killed 1,721 U.S. troops, including 43 from Arizona. Overall, nearly 40 percent of troop deaths came from IEDs. Phoenix New Times analyzed data compiled by iCasualties.org from the Pentagon’s monthly reports.

Court records show that in 2006, coalition forces found 381 IED circuit boards, 119 of them just like those on Omar Street.

“The sheer number of such devices,” Alahmedalabdaloklah’s attorneys argued, “makes it implausible that any one person or group of individuals working closely together could be responsible for all of them.”

Plainly, bombs and bomb components were everywhere.

click to enlarge Roadside bombs like these killed hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq. - DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE
Roadside bombs like these killed hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq.
Department of Defense

On Good Friday, April 6, 2007, two IEDs went off under U.S. Humvees, both part of the pattern. Both killed 19-year-old Army soldiers on patrol. Each was characteristic of the bombs used variously by Sunni and Shiite factions.

That month was the third-deadliest of the war for IED attacks. The next month was the worst.

One attack killed Damian Lopez Rodriguez of Tucson and two of his Army comrades. The bomb blew up under a U.S. military convoy near Baghdad International Airport.

FBI agents testified that the electronic components in the IED were identical to those produced and designed by Alahmedalabdaloklah in his Omar Street workshop.

In other part of town, the second blast killed Daniel A. Fuentes from New York.

“The weapon used to kill Daniel A. Fuentes was an Iranian-manufactured IED provided to Iranian-funded and -trained terror operatives in Iraq,” Fuentes’ family alleged in one class-action civil case in federal court.

U.S. government regulators and investigators alleged that Iran and its foreign bankers laundered hundreds of billions of dollars, which in turn helped fund bombing operations in Iraq that killed U.S. and coalition forces.

The families of soldiers killed or wounded in 70 Iraq-conflict IED bombings between April 2004 and November 2011 have sued in federal courts. Bartlett’s family joined Fuentes’ among the plaintiffs.

A half-dozen insurgency groups carried out the bombings under the direction, training, and funding of Iranian forces, the U.S. government and plaintiffs said.

The defendants in nine of those cases include the Republic of Iran and such prominent European banks as HSBC; Barclays; Standard Chartered; Lloyd’s TSB Bank; Credit Suisse; Deutsche Bank; the Dutch ABN AMRO and its buyer, the Royal Bank of Scotland; and Credit Lyonnais and its successor, Credit Agricole Investment Bank.

Plaintiffs alleged the European banks conspired with Iranian government and banking officials to transfer Iranian money illegally to U.S. banks and convert it to dollars. They did this, the lawsuits contend, by deliberately hiding the Iranian origins of funds from U.S. financial regulators and manually falsifying records to ensure money would bypass automatic filters to arrive in the banks’ U.S. subsidiaries.

All the while, the banks knew they were skirting U.S. laws that ban business with some Iranian entities or require full disclosure for those transactions that were legal.

European banks, many British, also knew Iran was funneling some of the money toward IED bombings in Iraq and elsewhere, at a time U.S. and British troops were dying in such explosions. Pentagon statistics show 44 British soldiers died in IED attacks in Iraq.

These banks forfeited $4 billion to federal and state regulators after admitting the responsibility in a deception that lasted more than a decade.

The government had wrested regulatory fines. Now, the families of the fallen soldiers are seeking damages.

“I really feel they need to pay for that. If they are truly laundering money, then they’re supporting terrorism, and even if it’s only business, it’s bad business,” Shawn Bartlett, Robert’s brother, told New Times in an interview.

HSBC is one of several banks Arizona families say helped fund the enemy in Iraq. - INSIDERMONKEY.COM
HSBC is one of several banks Arizona families say helped fund the enemy in Iraq.


In the first two years of the Iraq war, far away from its blood-soaked streets, as forensic teams examined bomb fragments, a very different kind of investigation unfolded in the United States. Financial auditors were starting to understand how insurgents were funding their attacks.

Investigators with the U.S. Treasury and Justice departments, the Federal Reserve, and the state of New York began wondering about suspicious transactions involving a handful of Iranian banks.

They looked into the possibility that U.S. branches of some European banks might be running afoul of the Bank Secrecy Act, the Trading With the Enemies Act, and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which authorized the president to freeze the assets of any foreign entity deemed a threat to national security.

Armed with a stack of federal laws and presidential executive orders, the U.S. Treasury Department oversaw its Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC. Routinely, OFAC updates lists such as the Specially Designated Nationals or SDN list. These act to blacklist foreign individuals and institutions from doing business with Americans.

The U.S. government suspects those on the lists of being involved with such international crimes as drug smuggling, human trafficking, war crimes — or supporting terrorism.

The most recent SDN list has 24,563 names, including just over 200 Iranian people and companies.

The Islamic Republic of Iran supported or partly owned many, including Bank Saderat, Bank Melli, Bank Mellat, and Bank Sepah, along with their subsidiaries.

In 2004, the first year after the Iraq invasion, none of these Iranian banks was on the OFAC list.

Regulators started noticing that money that was popping up in U.S. banks could be tied back to Iranian institutions. At that time, it was legal, but banks were required to report the transactions openly. The U.S. government wanted to check if money transfers were being used to launder money for Iranians on the OFAC blacklist.

The first public sign of a problem came in 2004, when the Federal Reserve Bank in New York entered agreements with local branches of two European banks, Standard Chartered and ABN AMRO, a bank headquartered in Amsterdam.

In the ABN AMRO settlement agreement, the Federal Reserve noted “a pattern of previously undisclosed unsafe and unsound practices” in the Dutch bank’s methods to combat money laundering.

U.S. regulators found that before mid-2004, ABN AMRO’s New York branch “processed wire transfers originated by Bank Melli Iran, a financial institution owned or controlled by the Government of Iran.”

ABN AMRO had been involved with Iran since the mid-1990s, according to the civil lawsuits against it and other banks brought by families of fallen U.S. soldiers.

According to the lawsuits, in 1997 the Dutch bank drafted a strategy paper called “Desert Spring” to work with Iran’s central bank and Bank Melli to drum up deposits “from Iranian nationals.”

By 2003, bank officials were claiming in internal emails, “There is no way the payment will get stopped as all NY (the New York branch) ever sees is a bank-to-bank instruction.”

“As a European institution, we do not comply with U.S. sanctions because those sanctions are politically motivated."

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The deception worked like this, according to U.S. regulators and the lawsuit allegations.

First, the Iranian banks would transfer money to their subsidiaries in Europe. Then, the Iranian branch banks in Europe would deposit the money in European banks. But the Iranians wanted dollars, so they had to find a way to get the money to U.S. banks and convert it.

Normally, when a foreign deposit or transfer came to a U.S. branch over the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT system, bankers would note the identity of the sender and recipient on a form, to ensure that nobody on the OFAC blacklist was involved.

But ABN AMRO would process Iranian transactions differently, using a different SWIFT form used for cover payments. These would appear as bank-to-bank transfers from one of the Dutch bank’s branches outside the United States to one in New York. That concealed the identities of the original parties. Bankers were instructed to forward such payments “without mentioning our bank’s name” on the forms, according to lawsuits and regulators.

Internal memos revealed the Dutch bank’s thinking.

“As a European institution, we do not comply with U.S. sanctions because those sanctions are politically motivated,” a bank compliance officer wrote at the Amsterdam head office.

Another in-house memo suggested a distinction between U.S. policy and efforts to curb money laundering and saw an opportunity in helping clients skirt the regulations. 

“OFAC is not the Bible for money laundering,” a banker involved with Iran wrote a colleague. “It is a tool of broader U.S. policy.”

British bank Standard Chartered got involved in Iran as early as 1993.

In 1995, the bank’s lawyers advised in a memo that if “SCB London were to ignore OFACs regulations,” and keep its own U.S. banks in the dark, “there is nothing (U.S. regulators) could do.” The memo was stamped “highly confidential & MUST NOT be sent to the U.S.”

In 2001, Iran’s central bank asked Standard Chartered to process the country’s daily oil sales into U.S. dollars. Bank executives called the contract “very prestigious” because they were now Iran’s de facto treasurers.

Bankers were instructed to type a single period, rather than the name of the sender, on line 52 of the SWIFT forms.

“Approximately 60,000 payments related to lran, totaling $250 billion, were eventually processed by SCB as part of the conspiracy,” according to the civil complaints.

By 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion, Standard Chartered noted some competitors were pulling out of Iran for “reputational risk reasons.”

One bank executive warned in an internal memo that sticking with Iran might trigger OFAC action, causing “potential reputational damage.”

The warning went unheeded.

“You f—-ing Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians?”

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Instead, business with the Iranian Bank Saderat had grown so large that Standard Chartered could no longer manually alter the SWIFT documents.

“SCB automated the process by building an electronic repair system with ‘specific repair queues’ for each Iranian client,” the lawsuits allege.

When U.S. regulators came knocking in 2004, the bank agreed to bring in auditors from Deloitte and Touche. Deloitte’s auditor told the bank’s compliance officer of its early findings in an October 2005 email, noting he “watered-down” the original draft because it was “too politically sensitive.”

The next year, New York regulators asked for audit statistics. One internal email revealed more than 2,600 suspect Iranian transactions worth more than $16 billion.

“Faced with the prospect of disclosing billions of dollars in Iranian transactions,” the class-action lawsuit alleges, Standard Chartered executives ordered the New York branch to turn over just four days of data to regulators, “masquerading as a two-year log.”

Standard Chartered was also unrepentant.

“You f—-ing Americans. Who are you to tell us, the rest of the world, that we’re not going to deal with Iranians?” one Standard Chartered executive was quoted by a New York branch officer as saying.

Court documents tell a similar story about other European banks such as HSBC, Barclays, and Credit Suisse.

Those records say that each bank had long-standing relations with the Iranians. Each created its own method to disguise Iranian transactions. Each made it standard practice and acknowledged the effort to skirt OFAC. Many circulated internal memos warning of the pitfalls, but most carried on because the financial rewards were attractive.

HSBC removed references to Iranian entities by entering “one of our clients” on transfer forms and putting transactions in a special “repair queue,” to be forwarded as internal bank transfers. HSBC processed 700 such transactions a day.

HSBC’s chief compliance officer warned in a 2000 email that the effort to avoid OFAC sanctions unacceptably threatened to embarrass the bank. The next year, a bank auditor warned colleagues to heed pending U.S. legislation, “particularly if we are unfortunate enough to process a payment which turns out to be connected to terrorism.”

Barclays bank concealed Iranian deposits by filtering incoming and outgoing payments and, according to one internal memo, by withholding in transfer messages “extraneous information,” such as the identity of Iranian clients.

“To circumvent U.S. legislation, currently route US$ items for sanctioned institutions via unnamed account numbers,” another Barclays memo advised.

Credit Suisse would omit Iranian names and bank ID codes and instead hand-enter “order of a customer” and its own bank codes. About 95 percent of Credit Suisse’s Iranian transactions were handled this way.

After the Iraq invasion, Credit Suisse used coded abbreviations for customers and trained Iranian clients how to avoid OFAC triggers.

“Credit Suisse became one of the main U.S. dollar clearing banks for the Iranian banking system,” the lawsuit said, adding that by 2006 the bank illegally funneled $480 million into U.S. banks to benefit Iranian interests.

The European banks were working with a handful of Iranian banks, and they had come under the scrutiny of the U.S. government too.

In 2006, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it cut off Bank Saderat from all direct and indirect access to the U.S. banking system. The Iranian regime had nationalized Bank Saderat after the Islamic Revolution.

Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey said Iran had funneled $50 million to Hezbollah through Bank Saderat.

“It is remarkable that Iran has a nine-digit line item in its budget to support terrorism,” Levey said at the time.

A year later, in 2007, the U.S. labeled Bank Saderat a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” organization and OFAC blacklisted it.

Class-action lawsuits allege that each named European bank, “knew, or was deliberately indifferent,” that it facilitated the transfer of at least $100 million U.S. to insurgency groups acting inside Iraq, under Iran’s guidance.

The suit names conspirators as Bank Saderat, “and other U.S. Specially Designated Nationals such as … Bank Melli Iran, Bank Mellat, and Bank Sepah” and Iran’s central bank.

U.S. military brass said they knew where some of the money went.

In July 2007, a U.S. general told reporters that Iran was sending $3 million a month to fund IED bombings in Iraq.

U.S. officials said, and the class-action lawsuit alleges, that the money went through the Quds Force, an elite unit within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard responsible for supporting allied terrorist groups around the Middle East, including in Iraq.

The Quds Force established Department 2000 to coordinate with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Hezbollah created Unit 3800 to help Shiites in the Iraq Special Forces, the umbrella term the U.S. assigned to that group of factions. Unit 3800 trained those insurgents in Lebanon and Iran to attack coalition forces in Iraq.

A key figure in that effort was Ali Musa Daqduq, once the bodyguard to Hezbollah’s leader. In 2005, Hezbollah ordered him “to go to Iran and work with the (Quds Force) to train Iran’s proxies in Iraq,” U.S. officials said after capturing him two years later.

The grave of soldier Jeremiah Robinson of Mesa. - FALLEN HEROES PROJECT
The grave of soldier Jeremiah Robinson of Mesa.
Fallen Heroes Project

Two years after the invasion, the bloodshed in Iraq was ramping up, and Iranian-made IEDs were responsible for much of it. A main culprit was an innovation U.S. forces attributed to the Quds Force and Iran.

The military called them EFPs, explosively formed penetrators. Insurgents started topping remote-controlled roadside bombs with conical copper plates. The heat of the bomb blast would melt the copper, and the molten metal could punch a hole through the armor underneath Humvees.

Humvees like the one carrying Robert Bartlett that day in May 2005.

Bartlett’s commander managed to pry open the hatch of the smoldering Humvee. He moved Bartlett to the back seat, put a tourniquet on the gunner’s shredded legs, and cranked the wrecked Humvee’s motor.

It turned over.

“I just started yelling ‘GO! GO! GO!’ That’s all I could get out because my jaw was hanging down by my neck,” Bartlett told American Forces Press Service years later. “With every breath I took, I was losing another breath.”
He was lucky he got the chance to tell any story.

By the time he reached Camp Rustimiyah, on the southern outskirts of Baghdad about 15 miles away, Bartlett had stopped breathing. Doctors declared him dead, but used a tracheotomy to resuscitate him. A helicopter flew him north 50 miles to a hospital in Balad, Iraq, where he was revived a second time.

When the military had to decide whom to airlift for further medical treatment to a military hospital in Germany, triage doctors said others had a better chance of surviving.

Instead, Bartlett ended up in Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland five days after the bombing. There, doctors brought him out of a coma and his vital signs flatlined again. He was medically dead for a third time in a week.

For years, U.S. leaders, including Texas senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz, claimed Iranian-made EFPs had killed more than 500 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. A declassified Pentagon report in 2015 put the number at 196 during five-and-half-years.

Whatever the figure, the Iranian bombs were pervasive and deadly.

click to enlarge On January 18, 2009, Army Staff Sergeant Roberto Andrade Jr. of Phoenix was killed by an Iranian-style IED. - FALLEN HEROES PROJECT
On January 18, 2009, Army Staff Sergeant Roberto Andrade Jr. of Phoenix was killed by an Iranian-style IED.
Fallen Heroes Project
More Arizona soldiers followed Bartlett’s fate — or worse.

Five months later, on October 5, 2005, Army Specialist Jeremiah Robinson, a 20-year-old from Mesa, was travelling in Baghdad with the 860th Military Police Company of the Arizona Army National Guard.

An Iranian-made IED, also fitted with the deadly copper cap, blew up his Humvee. He died the next day. It was the fifth-bloodiest month of the war for IED fatalities. Such attacks claimed the lives of 57 U.S. soldiers.

Robinson’s father was a sergeant and 20-year veteran in the Chandler Police Department.

“Jeremiah, his mission in life was to be a soldier, to be a copper,” Burt Robinson, told the Arizona Republic soon after his son’s death. “It was his privilege to serve in that war. Unfortunately, we have to pay the ultimate sacrifice. There’s no reason for it. It just is.”

A year later, on October 17, 2006, Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Haupt of Phoenix rode in a convoy in Baqubah, about 40 miles north of Baghdad. A roadside bomb exploded under his vehicle. He was 24, had just gotten married, and now he was dead.

His father, Lance Haupt, a Glendale truck driver blamed international banks for the death, calling their influence on geopolitics “satanic.”

Ryan Haupt was one of 52 U.S. soldiers killed by IEDs that month, the sixth deadliest.

Eight months later, on June 2, 2007, another Iranian copper-tipped IED killed another soldier with Arizona roots.

Army Sergeant Shawn Dressler died 30 minutes after the attack. He was 22. His company with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment was patrolling Baghdad when the bomb went off.

He was one of 58 U.S. soldiers killed that month in an IED attack.

Dressler had already cheated death during his tour of duty. A Kevlar vest saved him when he knocked back with a spray of bullets in the chest. Now, he left behind two parents and a sister in metro Phoenix, and a new bride, according to a memorial published by the Fallen Heroes Project website.

Dressler had met Amanda Bridges during a previous tour of duty in Iraq. She flew out to Germany to marry him six days after she returned home. Dressler died four days after their first anniversary.

After the Army, he wanted to become a cop, a teacher, or a forest ranger.

On January 18, 2009, Army Staff Sergeant Roberto Andrade Jr. was killed by another Iranian-style IED while his Humvee patrolled Baghdad. He was 26.

He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 66th Armor, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, according to a Military Times account. He enjoyed playing soccer, football, and basketball.

It was his third tour in Iraq, and he was weeks away from returning home to end his service.

“If people asked you which one was he, you would say, ‘He was the one with the smile.’ He was very soft-spoken, but he could command with that smile,” a woman named Vicky Munari told the Associated Press.

Andrade grew up in Phoenix, where his parents still live.

The Andrades, Dresslers, Haupts, Robinsons, and Bartletts all joined the class-action lawsuits seeking damages from the Republic of Iran and the European banks they allege helped move Iranian money.

Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Haupt of Phoenix was killed by an IED in Baqubah in 2006. He was 24. His parents have joined in a suit against several banks they say financed attacks on U.S. soldiers. - FALLEN HEROES PROJECT
Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Haupt of Phoenix was killed by an IED in Baqubah in 2006. He was 24. His parents have joined in a suit against several banks they say financed attacks on U.S. soldiers.
Fallen Heroes Project

As the U.S. Justice Department got closer to bringing in its quarry and getting Syrian bomb designer Ahmed Alahmedalabdaloklah into a federal courtroom in Arizona, it also closed in on the banks that did business with the Iranians.

In 2009, Credit Suisse agreed to pay a $536 million penalty in a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ and New York prosecutors. The Justice Department said it was the largest-ever forfeiture for a violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

Also in 2009, Lloyd’s accepted responsibility for violating U.S. banking regulations and paid a $350 million fine.

In 2010, the DOJ announced in a press release it entered an agreement with the Dutch bank ABN AMRO, then owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland.

For eight years until 2004, “ABN caused ABN’s U.S. affiliate to file false, misleading, and inaccurate annual reports of blocked property to OFAC,” the government said.

The bank paid a $500 million fine and admitted responsibility in a deferred prosecution agreement of violating the Trading With the Enemy Act and two other federal banking laws.

Three months later, Barclays forfeited $298 million and accepted responsibility for two U.S. banking violations in a deferred prosecution agreement.

In 2012, DOJ officials announced the HSBC bank had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, admitted to violating U.S. banking and money-laundering laws, and forfeited nearly $1.3 billion.

“The record of dysfunction that prevailed at HSBC for many years was astonishing,” then-Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said at the time.

Federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch, who later became U.S. Attorney General, said at the time it was the biggest-ever fine imposed under the Bank Secrecy Act.

In 2012, Standard Chartered agreed to forfeit $227 million to the DOJ and accept responsibility for violating U.S. banking law. The Justice Department called the bank’s conduct “flagrant.”

In 2014, later New York regulators reopened their investigation of Standard Chartered and fined the bank another $300 million.

In 2015, Deutsche Bank paid a $200 million fine and entered into a consent agreement with the New York Department of Financial Services.

“If you don’t have money, you can’t buy a bomb.”

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None of that money went to the families of the fallen soldiers. They sought compensation, but they were really after something resembling justice. They wait.

“We know these cases may take years to finish,” Shawn Dressler’s parents, Cecil and Tonya Dressler of Sun City, wrote in an open letter to the Arizona Republic a year ago.

“An important part of that fight is ensuring more Americans know the truth about Iran and its enablers’ conspiracy to kill American service members in Iraq. Nothing will erase the pain of Shawn’s murder, but nothing will stop us from seeking justice in his name.”

They did not return an email request for an interview.

For Shawn Bartlett, the 41-year-old interior decorator in metro Phoenix and brother of IED casualty Robert Bartlett, any notion of fairness looms.

“Justice? That’s a huge one for me,” he said. “Justice, for now, there really isn’t.

“Getting rid of the funding is the first front-and-center thing on the dash. Not letting banks do this: launder money and support terrorism,” Bartlett explained. “If you don’t have money, you can’t buy a bomb.”

click to enlarge Army Sergeant Robert Bartlett of Gilbert needed 40 reconstructive surgeries after surviving an IED blast in Baghdad in 2006. He was declared dead three times. - YOUTUBE VIA AMERICAN SOCIETY OF PLASTIC SURGEONS
Army Sergeant Robert Bartlett of Gilbert needed 40 reconstructive surgeries after surviving an IED blast in Baghdad in 2006. He was declared dead three times.
YouTube via American Society of Plastic Surgeons

Robert Bartlett survived. Before the war, he was a gregarious man and bartender at two local Irish pubs. He joined up in 2003 at age 30, feeling he had to do something after the 9/11 attacks and in homage to a family whose members had been in the military since Valley Forge. His father fought in Vietnam, his grandfather in World War II.

He needed 40 surgeries to reconstruct his shattered face and body. He insisted Shawn stay by his side at Walter Reed. The PTSD made him wary of others.

After his first surgery, he was back in the pub, amid welcoming arms. In one weekend, they raised $38,000 to help pay for his medical costs.

And that’s where an old friend introduced him to a woman and asked if he remembered her.

“I said, ‘yes,’ and went over to her and told her she didn’t know it yet, but I was going to kiss her in three months when the swelling in my face went down,” Bartlett told the American Forces Press Service.

The couple went on a date the next day, and he proposed right away. “We’ve been together ever since. I knew after the first week that I wanted to marry her,” he said.

“People ask me if I’d do it all over again, and I say ‘In a freaking heart beat,” Bartlett said in a YouTube interview.

He spent time working at the Veterans Affairs clinic in Gilbert, helping other vets cope with the same PTSD he suffers. He talked about “white-knuckling it” when he drives under an overpass or a lousy driver cuts him off. Those were danger signs in Iraq of a deadly ambush.

When plaintiffs’ lawyers called Shawn Bartlett and told him of the lawsuit, he was stunned.

“It weighed on me. To think about hundreds of millions or billions of dollars is beyond fathomable. It was pretty shocking that’s what was going on and that’s how much money it takes to fund terrorism,” Bartlett said.

His first instinct was to ask his brother. Then the family talked about the litigation and decided it could do some good.

They decided the money would go not to the family but to helping wounded vets, Shawn Bartlett said. “This is the only way I can be of any help.”

He hopes the case will prevent others being wounded like his brother.

In recent years, Robert Bartlett has become an outspoken critic of the international treaty to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He joined Veterans Against the Deal.

In 2015, he gave an interview on Fox News and talked about the bomb that disfigured him and blew off the top of the head of his comrade, Staff Sergeant William Brooks, after whom Bartlett named his son.

“It’s called an EFP. And these bombs are coming directly from Iran. They’re still killing our Americans over in Afghanistan,” he told Megyn Kelly. “That’s who we’re giving $150 billion to so they can continue to spread their terrorism.”

Bartlett went on: “America needs to take a look at my face, and say, ‘You know what? I don’t need any more of my countrymen to look like Staff Sergeant Robert Bartlett. I don’t need any more dead soldiers like Staff Sergeant Brooks, who doesn’t get to walk his daughters down the aisle because he gave his life for his country.’”

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Sean Holstege is a freelance reporter with a 30-year career in print news. He was an investigative reporter at The Arizona Republic and the Oakland Tribune. He won a Sigma Delta Chi award for investigative reporting. He’s covered transportation, terrorism, the border, disasters, child welfare, courts, and breaking news.
Contact: Sean Holstege