Monday, November 04, 2019

03-Nov-19: In Washington, a step towards bringing the Sbarro bomber to justice

We posted this meme in August 2019.
Instagram closed down Tamimi's account a few days later.
We report here on an unexpected, modestly encouraging development in our efforts to bring to justice the fugitive Hamas savage who bombed a Jerusalem pizzeria because of the children inside it.

Jewish children, as it happens. Exactly whom the bomber was targeting.

But first some background.

Our fifteen year old daughter Malki was one of many children killed in the bombing of a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem whose deaths were sadistically celebrated as a triumph in parts of the Arab world.

Over the years since the massacre, one of the hardest things for us to accept as bereaved parents has been the deplorable ongoing role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in all this. And the minor, essentially invisible, outrage it has aroused among people we think ought to be seriously enraged. This is not about politics after all but justice.

Ahlam Tamimi, a Jordanian woman who says she was Hamas' first female terrorist and who masterminded the bombing, has publicly confessed - on camera, for the record, multiple times - to the role she played. She has proudly called it "my operation" and has said she has no regrets about what she did.

Describing the shared-taxi ride that got her out of Jerusalem minutes after the explosion, she cheerfully shared the mood:
They said on the radio that the number had increased to five. I wanted to hide my smile, but I just couldn't. Allah be praised, it was great. As the number of dead kept increasing, the passengers were applauding. They didn't even know that I was among them... We passed a Palestinian police checkpoint, and the policemen were laughing. One of them stuck his head in and said: 'Congratulations to us all.' Everybody was happy. [Source: MEMRI]
Her satanic handiwork in fact left behind 16 destroyed lives. Dozens more victims were horribly maimed but survived.

Tamimi, born in Jordan in 1980 to a Jordanian family, lived in Jordan until she started college studies at Birzeit University, near Ramallah in the area today controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Few of our readers will know that Beirzeit's Arabic-language Wikipedia page (archived here in case it, you know, gets lost) names her as one of its notable alumnae along with numerous other terrorists. The more widely-read English-language version cautiously leaves her and the others out.

Tamimi returned to Jordan after Israel conditionally commuted her sentence (to time served) in the extortionate 2011 transaction known as the Shalit Deal in which a sole Israeli hostage was freed by the terrorists of Hamas in exchange for 1,027 imprisoned terrorists ["19-Oct-11: Haaretz: Shalit prisoner swap marks 'colossal failure' for mother of Israeli bombing victim"]. Tamimi, serving 16 consecutive life sentences, was one of them.

Now married ["22-Jun-12: A wedding and what came before it"], a mother, a celebrity, an honored speaker at public eventts where she shares lecterns with senior figures from Jordan's highest ecehelon, she continues to live there today, free as a bird. It's a dream life.

It should never have turned out that way. A US Federal criminal complaint (roughly the same as an indictment) issued in 2013 but kept secret and under seal until March 2017 ["14-Mar-17: Sbarro massacre mastermind is now formally charged and extradition is sought"] makes her a fugitive from US law.

Not right away but nearly a year later, a substantial State Department reward was announced ["31-Jan-18: There's now a $5 million reward for bringing the terrorist Ahlam Tamimi to justice"]. And most significantly there's an unsatisfied US request to its ally, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, to extradite her under their 1995 treaty ["21-Mar-17: Tamimi extradition: When it's claimed that something is illegal in Jordan..."]

Absolutely determined that she should face justice, we have written often and bitterly about Jordan's brazen flaunting of its treaty with the US. It is clear to us and to better-informed commentators (this 2017 journal article from National Security Law Brief is a good example) that Jordan's claims that the 1995 extradition treaty with the US is unconstitutional are baseless.

Jordan in fact asserts the treaty has never had any legal effect since the day it was signed. But in reality, the kingdom has extradited to the US every time it was asked to do so. Right up until the Tamimi case.

Note that neither the Jordanian government nor any of its diplomats, senior politicians or royal family members has claimed Jordan's constitution keeps Tamimi safe from extradition. That role has been taken exclusively by the judges of its Court of Cassation, in effect the kingdom's supreme court. Everyone else in Jordan's power system has stayed silent about Tamimi and extradition. And no reporter, as far as we know, has ever pressed Jordan's authorities to explain.

Parallel to that, there has been a striking absence of public statements on the matter by US government sources. Even as that has continued, we have watched, infuriated and offended, the steady parade of US officials paying visits to Amman and King Abdullah's palace and the frequent return visits by the king and his entourage to the US Congress, to the White House, to the welcoming US media.

All of this with no mention by any of them about how Jordan demeans its treaty with the US.

No US government official has said what we believe ought to have been said over and again: that Jordan disclaiming responsibility for extraditing the confessed bomber and mass murderer of children - and harboring her - is wrong and offensive. That it breaches Jordan's bilateral obligations. That the US, which lavishes financial, military and other support on the Hashemite Kingdom, won't stand for the rank injustice the Jordanians are getting away with.

Nothing. Till now.

What's just happpened? Since 1985, the US Secretary of State had to deliver to Congress (in accordance with Title 22, Section 2656(f) of the United States Code) an annual report on global terrorism and what countries around the world are doing to defeat it. Since 2005 when a name change was made, these have been published as "Country Report on Terrorism". Jordan is always listed.

Last year's report [here] introduces Jordan (at page 138) in the customary way:
Jordan remained a committed partner on counterterrorism and countering violent extremism in 2017. 
Then for the first time it mentions Jordan thwarting the US efforts to extradite Tamimi:
A U.S. criminal complaint was unsealed in March charging Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, a Jordanian national in her mid-30s, 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 an August 9, 2001, suicide bomb attack at a restaurant 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. Also unsealed was a warrant for Al-Tamimi’s arrest and an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint and arrest warrant. Jordan’s courts have ruled that their constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals.
And that's it. Evidently, whoever compiled it had nothing more to say.

To us, this was a disturbingly odd summing up. While it airs Jordan's anti-extradition viewpoint, it says nothing about what the US believes. It cannot be, we said to ourselves, that the US lacks a view about this scandal. That it has nothing at all to say to the Congress. Something's wrong. What are they hiding and why?

The 2018 edition came out yesterday [here].

It adopts essentially identical language to the paragraph above. But then at page 135 it adds this new conclusion:
In 2018, Jordan continued to cite a court ruling that its constitution forbids the extradition of Jordanian nationals. The United States regards the extradition treaty as valid.
And there it is.

For the first time, a simple, clear public statement by the US clarifying what we keep asserting: that when Jordan denies it has any obligation to extradite our child's killer, that's wrong. It's also unacceptable to the United States.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi with her Jordanian hosts in Amman
two weeks ago [Image Source]
But here's what happens in the real world.

Two weeks ago ["19-Oct-19: House Speaker Pelosi led an official visit today to the chief protector of our child's killer"], nine members of the US Congress, eight of them Democrats - all of them chairs or senior members of House of Representatives committees - made a flying visit to Amman, Jordan's capital, and the royal palace. There they sat down with the king and his son the crown prince.

The distinguished Congressional travelers' names:
Ranking Member Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee; Chairman Eliot Engel, House Foreign Affairs Committee; Chairman Bennie Thompson, Homeland Security Committee; Chairman Adam Schiff, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence; Congressman Ron Kind, House Ways and Means Committee; Congresswoman Susan Davis, House Armed Services Committee; Congressman Stephen Lynch, Chairman, House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security; Congresswoman Elaine Luria, House Armed Services Committee; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
(Strikingly, no one from the House Judiciary Committee took place. That's relevant because of what's in this recent news report: "Parents of US Girl Killed in 2001 Jerusalem Bombing Call for Congressional Investigation Into Fugitive Hamas Terrorist Living Freely in Jordan" [Ben Cohen in Algemeiner, July 17, 2019])

Had we been tipped off in advance about the delegation meeting with King Abdullah, we would have asked them to challenge their host's disregard of a quarter-century-old cornerstone agreement solemnly entered into with the Clinton Administrationn by his revered father, King Hussein. As senior lawmakers, they could have reminded him how annual US aid to Jordan has nearly quadrupled in historical terms over the last 15 years. An authoritative source [Congressional Research Service, April 2019] says roughly $20.4 billion had been given as at the end of Fiscal Year 2017. And a lot more since.

But their visit was unpublicized ahead of time. We had no idea.

On learning about it, we promptly did two things:
  • We messaged each of the Congress people and asked them to engage with us. How many people, seeking justice for a murdered loved one, a child, a US citizen who never reached her sixteenth birthday, do these representatives ever hear from? Every one of these elected officials has a well-staffed office, people who are paid to deal with nudniks and the general public. Not one of them has so far responded to us or acknowledged our questions in any way.
  • We asked the State Department if delegation members were briefed ahead of their Jordan visit, thinking that since there's so little media coverage of the Tamimi case, they could do with some help. We received a polite response. It says the Congressional delegation did indeed get a briefing before their Jordan visit but declined to say what matters the briefing covered - only that it "included a number of topics related to the bilateral relationship." 
So did the legislators ask King Abdullah II to extradite Tamimi so she can be put on trial for the terrorism charges she faces in Washington? We still don't know. And it's not for lack of trying. But at least we know now this isn't because Jordan is free of the obligation to hand her over. We know the State Department has an actual view on this. That view is the Jordanians surely are obliged and that justice demands it.

Jordan's government tracks what was published in yesterday's Country Report about Jordan and Ahlam Tamimi. We know because it's a front page item in today's Jordan Times, the English-language newspaper said to be controlled by the government (and which blocks us on Twitter):
The US Department of State has hailed Jordan as a “committed partner” in counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE). In its Country Reports on Terrorism 2018, the Department of State commended Jordan’s “leading role” in the global coalition to defeat the Daesh terror group... 
Hailed and commended, yes. As for the State Department report saying the US regards the extradition treaty as valid, that part the authoritative Jordanian daily's editors simply ignore. They just choose not to report it. And for those laboring under the illusion of a free, liberal and fair-minded Hashemite Kingdom, you might want to glance at "20-Jan-18: Shutting down media critics in Jordan isn't quite the challenge it might seem to be". According to Freedom House, Jordan has one of the world's most unfree news industries, media and human rights environments.

Nonetheless, what's just happened amounts in our view to a welcome step in the direction of overdue justice. There haven't been many of those till now. So we're feeling fine with it.

UPDATE November 10, 2019: The Haaretz article which was published on line is in today's print edition of the newspaper. View the printed page here.

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