Friday, June 26, 2020

26-Jun-20: Private meetings with His Majesty and the injustice they conceal

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a private audience with Jordan's monarch
via video link June 16, 2020 [Source: Jordanian media]

A series of meetings over two days last week in the US Congress enabled Jordan's King Abdullah II to "brief" (that's the word that was used) American lawmakers on His Majesty's views about a variety of issues. Turns out these were chiefly about Israel and not in a flattering way.

Obviously Jordan's ongoing efforts to thwart the extradition of a Jordanian fugitive from US justice, Ahlam Tamimi, was not top of the king's talking points list. Since March 2017, Jordan has been aggressively blocking Department of Justice efforts to have Tamimi taken into custody in Jordan and brought to trial in Washington. That's when formal US criminal charges against Tamimi were first unsealed and she became an FBI Most Wanted fugitive

We laid all of this out in a dossier we produced overnight and then distributed to as many of those attending as we could reach by email in the 24 hours before the event. (Our dossier is here.) 

Here is how Associated Press described the Jordanian plan. in a report published ahead of the meetings. There's a lot packed into this synndicated story, so read carefully. Notice that they quote us:
US considers withholding aid to Jordan to force extradition
By MATTHEW LEE and JOSEF FEDERMAN
June 16, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is considering withholding aid to one of its closest Arab partners, Jordan, in a bid to secure the extradition of a woman convicted in Israel of a 2001 bombing that killed 15 people, including two American citizens.

The administration says it’s weighing “all options” to press Jordan to extradite Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, who is wanted by the U.S. on a charge of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against American nationals. The charge was filed under seal in 2013 and announced by the Justice Department four years later.

The extradition issue is likely to be raised this week when Jordan’s King Abdullah II speaks to several congressional committees to voice his opposition to Israel’s plans to annex portions of the West Bank.

Al-Tamimi is on the FBI’s list of “most wanted terrorists” for her role in the suicide bombing at a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria. It was one of the deadliest attacks during the second Palestinian uprising.

She has lived freely in Jordan since Israel released her in a 2011 prisoner swap with the militant group Hamas. Jordanian authorities have rebuffed U.S. requests to turn her over, despite an extradition treaty. Jordan has a large Palestinian population, and it’s unclear if a threat over aid would cause it to rethink its position.

Ahead of King Abdullah’s video congressional appearances, scheduled for Wednesday with the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees, the State Department said that billions of dollars of foreign assistance to Jordan could be used as leverage to get Jordanian authorities to extradite Al-Tamimi.

The threat came in written answers submitted by the administration’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Jordan, Henry Wooster, to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in response to questions posed by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“The United States has multiple options and different types of leverage to secure Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi’s extradition,” Wooster wrote. “We will continue to engage Jordanian officials at all levels not only on this issue, but also on the extradition treaty more broadly. U.S. generosity to Jordan in Foreign Military Financing as well as economic support and other assistance is carefully calibrated to protect and advance the range of U.S. interests in Jordan and in the region.”

Asked specifically if aid to Jordan would be part of that leverage in the Al-Tamimi case, Wooster replied: “If confirmed, I would explore all options to bring Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi to justice, secure her extradition, and address the broader issues associated with the extradition treaty.” Wooster’s responses to the questions were obtained by The Associated Press.

The reference to aid in Wooster’s response was unusual. Previously, the Trump administration, and the Obama administration before it, had taken a low-key approach to Al-Tamimi, bringing it up in private conversations with Jordanian officials but shying away from a public fight with a rare Arab country that recognizes Israel and has been a dependable source of intelligence information about the region, including in neighboring Syria.

The U.S. has long been a major provider of aid to Jordan. In early 2018, the Trump administration signed a five-year, $6.4 billion aid agreement with Jordan that increased the annual amount of aid by $275 million to $1.3 billion. That boost “highlights the pivotal role Jordan plays in helping foster and safeguard regional stability and supports U.S. objectives such as the global campaign to defeat ISIS, counter-terrorism cooperation and economic development,” the State Department said then.

Al-Tamimi was arrested by Israel weeks after the bombing and sentenced to 16 life terms but released in the 2011 Israel-Hamas prisoner swap and moved to Jordan. She has made frequent media appearances, expressing no remorse for the attack and saying she was pleased with the high death toll.

Among the victims of the attack was Malka Roth, a 15-year-old Israeli American girl, whose father, Arnold Roth, has led a campaign seeking Al-Tamimi’s extradition.

In an interview Monday, Roth said his attempts to speak to Jordanian officials, including a letter sent to the ambassador in Washington last year, have been ignored. “The Jordanians have been egregiously rude and unhelpful in every possible way which we’ve tried to engage with them,” he said.

Roth said he has begun to make progress with members of Congress, citing an April 30 letter signed by seven Republican lawmakers to Jordan’s ambassador seeking Al-Tamimi’s extradition.

“My wife and I have been battling since February 2012 to see the United States charge, extradite and prosecute this horrifying fugitive from justice who proudly boasts of murdering so many children,” he said.

The blast at the Sbarro restaurant in downtown Jerusalem went off on the afternoon of Aug. 9, 2001. The assailant detonated explosives hidden in a guitar case packed with nails. Among those killed were seven between the ages of 2 and 16, and scores were wounded.

Al-Tamimi, a Hamas activist who chose the target and guided the bomber there, said in a 2017 interview with the AP that Palestinians have a right to resist Israeli rule by any means.

In 2017, Jordan’s high court ruled she could not be extradited, reportedly saying the 1995 extradition treaty had not been ratified. She has also claimed the U.S. has no right to charge her because she was already tried and sentenced in Israel.

In Jordan on Tuesday, Al-Tamimi’s extended family sent a letter to the king urging him to resist the American pressure and to “close the file” against her. It said the extradition request was “political.” “Jordan, under your Hashemite flag, has not and will not accept any compromises that detract from its human dignity and national sovereignty over all its national soil,” the letter said.

There was no immediate comment from the palace.

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan, contributed.
AP's story got wide syndication. We saw versions of it in the New York Times, Washington Post, US News, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post (under the heart-warming headline "Abdullah getting some rare heat from DC"), Ynet Israel, Insider.com, Gulf News (United Arab Emirates), on radio news right across the US and on other news platforms.

We know - but only because people who were there told us - that the hearings, sorry, briefings, took place. No news industry source has reported on it. And from friendly sources in Washington, it was said (though not in very concrete terms) that the Tamimi extradition was raised in questions. 

What else was the king, sitting in his palace and communicating via video link, asked? We know almost nothing. What were the questions? Who asked them? What answers did they get? How did the king react? All our efforts to find out have been met with dark suggestions that everyone who knows the answers is sworn to secrecy.

These were virtual meetings, conducted via Cisco Webex, since the king was in Jordan and not Washington when he delivered the "briefings". Staffers, we're told, were not allowed in. Which is amazing. Bordering on the incomprehensible. Where are the media? The staffers? The leaks?

But it turns out the meetings (OK, briefings) aren't actually confidential at all. We found a published report of what happened and details of at least some of those who participated. It's on the web. Any one interested can see it.

It's a report that comes from Jordan's Royal Hashemite Household.

Pause to think about that before we go further. The head of a state against whom substantial sanctions were recently legislated and signed into law by the President of the United States, and whose deployment are currently being threatened ["How Jordan’s refusal to extradite a convicted terrorist could imperil $1.5 billion in US aid", Al-Monitor, May 14, 2020] asks for and gets permission to meet directly with lawmakers inside their parliament over a period of two working days and involving multiple committees.

What's more, the participants - among the most influential and powerful politicians in the entire United States - agree (or so it appears) to keep the whole affair secret. Not a word of the substance of those two days of meetings is released.

If we're misinterpreting, maybe someone can straighten us out. 

Only one US lawmaker appears to have acknowledged that he "met" (meaning via video conference) during the Jordanian king's two-day blitz and that's the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee [here]:
CHAIRMAN RISCH HOSTS SFRC VIRTUAL COFFEE WITH KING ABDULLAH II OF JORDAN
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today hosted a virtual committee coffee with King Abdullah II of Jordan to discuss the strong, strategic relationship between the United States and Jordan.
“The United States and Jordan share a long history of mutual cooperation on issues ranging from security to trade. This relationship is one based on shared values and regional objectives,” said Risch. “Jordan has been central to promoting peace in the Middle East, and I look forward to our continued work together to achieve stability in the region.”
“We also thank our Jordanian partners for their generosity in hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, as well as their assistance in fighting extremism,” continued Risch. “While we have made significant progress, continued counterterrorism pressure is required to ensure the Islamic State is never again in a position to destabilize the region. I look forward to continuing to build upon this important relationship in the months and years ahead.”
Unfortunately not a word about Jordan continuing to harbor confessed bomber/terrorist Ahlam Tamimi. No mention of Congress' decision to legislate sanctions directed at Jordan. Polite silence on Jordan's flagrant disregard for is 1995 Extradition Treaty with the US. And once again the case of our murdered daughter Malki is ignored.

Is there a dispute in US government circles about whether or not Jordan is in breach of its Extradition Treaty? No, none at all. As it happens, the State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism for 2019, underscored that when its latest version emerged earlier this week. This year's is pretty clear on the question of the treaty's validity. See page 126 of the 304 page tome under Jordan:
In 2019, Jordan did not extradite Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, who has been charged in the United States with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against U.S. nationals outside the United States resulting in death. The charge is related to her participation in the August 9, 2001, suicide bomb attack at a pizzeria in Jerusalem that killed 15 people, including two U.S. nationals. Four other U.S. nationals were among the approximately 122 others injured in the attack. Following publication of the 2018 Country Reports on Terrorism, Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi confirmed that U.S. authorities asked Jordan to extradite Tamimi, and he expressed the view that Jordan’s constitution does not allow the extradition of a Jordanian citizen to a third country. The United States regards the extradition treaty with Jordan as valid and in force.
So now, with all those thoughts in mind, here is the one and only report to have emerged so far about what happened when Jordan's king delivered his briefings last week to a gathering of America's most powerful. It's published [here] by Jordan's Washington Embassy last week. Essentially the same content can be found on the Jordan Vista website as well as the government-mouthpiece newspaper Jordan Times. The yellow highlighting below is ours:
KING DISCUSSES JORDAN-US STRATEGIC TIES, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS WITH CONGRESSIONAL LEADERS, COMMITTEES 
His Majesty King Abdullah on Tuesday warned that any unilateral Israeli measure to annex lands in the West Bank is unacceptable and undermines the prospects of achieving peace and stability in the region.
At meetings held via conference calls with US Congressional leaders and committees on Tuesday and Wednesday, attended by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, King Abdullah stressed the importance of establishing an independent, sovereign, and viable Palestinian state on the 4 June 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
In calls with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, US House of Representatives’ Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the Appropriations Subcommittees on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programmes at the Senate and the House, His Majesty discussed the strategic partnership between Jordan and the United States, and the latest regional developments, foremost of which is the Palestinian cause.
The King reaffirmed the strength of Jordanian-US relations, and keenness to enhance cooperation across various sectors, expressing appreciation for the support provided by the United States to Jordan in development and defence.
Discussions covered efforts to reach political solutions to crises in the Middle East, as well as regional and international efforts to fight terrorism within a holistic approach.
International efforts to counter coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and cooperation to mitigate its humanitarian and economic repercussions were also discussed.
The US lawmakers described His Majesty as the voice of moderation in the region, expressing keenness to hear from the King on developments in the Middle East.
They also commended Jordan’s handling of COVID-19 and the measures taken to ensure public health and safety.
Moreover, they expressed appreciation of His Majesty and his ongoing outreach to Congress leaders and committees, despite the circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Adviser to His Majesty for Communication and Coordination Bisher Khasawneh, Adviser to His Majesty for Policies and Media Kemal Al Nasser, and Jordan’s Ambassador in Washington, DC, Dina Kawar attended the meetings.
Royal Hashemite Court 
16 June 2020 
So in summary: Which US lawmakers did Jordan's king have the rare privilege of addressing inside the Congress during two busy working days of closed-door, unpublicized meetings? At minimum, according to the Jordanians - 
(Click the links above to see the lists of members.)

Jordan's Royal Household also took the liberty of publishing photos [here] of some of the Congress members who took part in these confidential gatherings - people who now act as if they cannot even confirm they were there! And who quite possibly don't even know their participation was made a matter of public record by the briefing side.

Here are just a few of those photos, all of them - to be clear about this - from Jordanian online sources:

Rep Brad Sherman (D-CA) is briefed by the king [Via Jordanian government] 
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is briefed by the king [Via Jordanian government] 
House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep Nita Lowey [D-NY] is briefed by the king [Via Jordanian government] 
Rep Barbara Lee (D-CA) is briefed by the king [Via Jordanian government]  
Rep Hal Rogers (R-KY) is briefed by the king [Via Jordanian government]
Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) is briefed by the king [Via Jordanian government]
Rep Marcy Kaptor (D-OH) is briefed by the king [Via Jordanian government]
Rep Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) is briefed by the king [Via Jordanian government]

We downloaded and saved more photos than just these. It seems the Jordanians wanted to make a splash.

Members of Congress probably don't read this blog. But if they did - and frankly even if they don't - we would want them to know how we feel. So:
Ladies and gentlemen of Congress, in giving honor and respect to Jordan's king last week and then complying what we think is his request for the interaction to stay secret, you do a tremendous dishonour to the life and memory of our daughter Malki.

The absurdity of complying with a Jordanian request to keep things quiet is underscored by how that confidentiality was breached within hours by the king and his retinue. The confidentiality was one-sided and humiliating. Other than your compliments, they didn't publish a single word of your comments or questions.

They didn't mention our murdered child or the Jordanian woman who admits she carried out a massacre that targeted children just like, and including, our daughter who was 15. They exploited your silence so that they could put out a one-sided piece of propaganda, half of a dialogue carefully edited to exclude whatever they cared to exclude, complete with photos of some of you listening on in awe.
Trying to see justice done in a situation like the one we - Frimet and Arnold Roth, parents of Malki of blessed memory - have been living through in the years since our child's life was taken from us is strange. We haven't run into anyone who denies that justice is a supreme value. It's subject on which there's broad agreement.

But we have encountered people who understand justice in ways we simply can't recognize.

Our task, our fate, has turned out to be that we need to remind people of some of the basics in life. The woman who confesses happily to planting the bomb at Sbarro tells her audiences this was a fine act, a divine act. Where she lives (Jordan, to be clear) this is true, as they see it. 

For the rest of us, that's a horror. Killing children? Regretting that you didn't kill more? And becoming a national celebrity? What's terribly, indescribably wrong with this picture?

We have to talk to reporters or their editors or sometimes politicians or commentators or experts who, by their lack of interest and occasionally by their hostility, convey to us that the bomber might be right. That there are actually two ways to look at this.

We hoped the senior American lawmakers who we knew (because Associated Press revealed it ahead of time) were meeting last week with the Jordanian king would remember the basic values of the society that gave them their position and influence. Sadly, we don't know if any of them did or if they will. We need them to become re-acquainted with justice and with the moral courage to stand up for it.

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