An attorney representing American citizens injured during a 2004 terror attack in Israel claims the Trump administration is putting the well-being of the perpetrators before the victims of the attack.
Kent Yalowitz, an attorney representing several Americans hurt during a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, is blasting the Justice Department for pressing the Supreme Court not to review an appeals court decision to nix the case. The administration’s decision is incomprehensible given President Donald Trump campaigned during the 2016 election on protecting all Americans, Yalowitz told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“It’s stunning to me that the president campaigned on putting Americans first … now all of a sudden he’s putting terrorists first and Americans last,” Yalowitz said, referring to a U.S. appeals court decision in 2015 to throw out a verdict that would have allowed victims of Palestinian terrorism to collect a reversed multi-million dollar judgment.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) were found guilty in 2015 of orchestrating a series of terror attacks in the early 2000s that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, including Mark Sokolow, an attorney who was badly maimed in one of the bombings.
A U.S. district court initially ruled that the PA and the PLO were liable for $218.5 million in damages – the sum automatically tripled to $655.5 million under the 1992 Anti-Terrorism Act, a number roughly 15 percent of the PA’s annual budget. A Manhattan appeals court ruled in August of 2016 that the organizations were not responsible for paying the fine because the attacks occurred outside of the country.
Solicitor General Noel Francisco eventually filed in February the request document to the Supreme Court after several months of delay. The brief urged the justices to turn down the victims’ appeal claiming it didn’t “warrant this court’s intervention at this time.” Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel less than two months earlier in December. He also plans to move the United States Embassy there. Yalowitz was not impressed.
“It doesn’t make sense that a terrorist can be held liable for criminal matters but not punitively,” he said, referring to the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 1992, a law passed in response to the murder of a man in 1985 who was shot in the head and thrown overboard in his wheelchair when Palestinian Liberation Front guerillas took over a ship on a trip through the Mediterranean.
Yalowitz wants to know why the Trump administration worked to stymie his efforts to punish the PLO. “The only way to stop terrorism is to hold people accountable for their actions” he said. “But If you murder Americans anywhere in the world, then you must be taken to court. We know this because terrorists who kill Americans are routinely brought to justice.”
A bipartisan group of senators apparently agreed with Yalowitz. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa was one of 23 Senators who filed an amicus brief in April of 2017 backing the victims’ request that the Supreme Court take up the case.
“The ATA provides that perpetrators or supporters of international terrorism may be brought to justice in U.S. courts for injuring U.S. citizens regardless of where the injuries occurred,” Grassley wrote in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October of 2017. Several of Grassley’s colleagues shared similar sentiments in the amicus brief last year.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Orrin Hatch of Utah, and their Democratic colleagues, Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts signed the brief imploring the high court to review the case. The violence and mayhem meted out against Sokolow and others is what the ATA was designed to prevent, they noted in the brief.
The Trump administration, for its part, is not wavering from its decision. The president will continue to hold terrorists responsible for bombings that kill and hurt Americans, Kerri Kupec, a spokeswoman for the Office of Solicitor General, told TheDCNF in response to questions about why the Justice Department essentially sided with the PLO.
“The United States sympathizes deeply with the American families who, in 2004, sued the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization for acts of terrorism committed against their loved ones,” said Kupec, whose office was responsible for asking the Supreme Court not to relitigate the matter.
One attorney does not believe there is anything sinister afoot on the part of the Justice Department.
Stephen Vladek, a professor of law at the University of Texas who specializes in national security law, believes the government might simply be concerned about the risk of asking the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling on a due process issue.
“The solicitor general is reluctant to have SCOTUS jump in when a lower court makes a decision that doesn’t immediately harm the U.S.,” Vladek told TheDCNF. “It might be political, but it isn’t partisan –because the government usually holds the ‘if it’s not broke, then don’t fix it’ position on these matters.”
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