Monday, November 16, 2020

16-Nov-20: Justice, the Tamimi extradition and what Jordan tells Arabic media but not the world

Jordan's foreign minister speaks: We quote him in this post
We track Jordan's Arabic-language media closer than many outside observers. Still, we missed the exchange below until it was highlighted in an Arabic-language Twitter post [here]. Now we're catching up.

The tweet itself is dated October 6, 2020, a few days after Jordan forcibly expelled Nizar Tamimi to another country (evidently Qatar) with very little advance notice. We'll get to him in a moment. 

The tweet refers to a scene that played out in what appears to be a conference room of the Foreign Ministry of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Amman, the capital. A 50 second long video (here) captures the interaction. Here's the brief dialogue in Arabic-to-English translation arranged by us:
Unidentified Jordanian journalist

“Regarding the freed detainee Ahlam Tamimi, there are American pressures on Jordan...”

Ayman H. Safadi
, Foreign Minister of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan: 

Once more, sir, we are a country which respects the law. Jordanian law does not allow handing over a Jordanian citizen to a third country unless there are agreements. There is no agreement between Jordan and the US to hand over Ahlam Tamimi. Consequently there is no legal basis for handing her over as we adhere to the law in this case. There were requests from several parties in America to hand her over since there is a pending lawsuit against her. We say, because we act according to law, the law does not permit us to hand her over and consequently we shall not hand her over.”
Our Arabic-to-English translator thinks this was "some kind of periodical briefing. Both the flags at the foreign minister's sides are Jordanian. So it's unlikely this exchange was part of a formal visit of, say, some foreign dignitary. But it's hard to be certain."

The journalist who posed the question
Keep the foreign minister's assertion in mind - that Jordan, in safeguarding a confessed terrorist bomber, keeping her out of the reach of US justice, Federal criminal charges and a date in court, is acting in accordance with "the law" - while we expand the discussion.

This happens not to be the first time he has said this. 

We wrote about it almost exactly a year ago in an open letter to Mr Safadi ["13-Nov-19: Thank you, Mr Foreign Minister"] based on a report we spotted on the popular Jordanian news-site JO24. That, in our view, was the first-ever public statement by any Jordanian government official that the kingdom will not hand over to US law enforcement the woman who spearheaded the Sbarro massacre.

And if you're wondering: no, of course he gave no response to our November 2019 open letter. In the bitter reality of our experience, no Jordanian government official has ever responded to any of the communications we have directed at them in the wake of our daughter's murder. 

Our Malki, in case the narrative in unfamiliar to you, was one of many Jewish children blown up in the bombing of a Jerusalem pizzeria filled with Jewish children. 

The Jordanian terrorist who selected the target site, who brought the bomb, a human bomb, to the door of the pizzeria, who fled the scene after telling him to wait with detonating his exploding guitar case until she was safely distant, and refers publicly to what she did as "my operation" and to the Jewish children inside as the reason she selected Sbarro Jerusalem for destruction, is today living in Jordan. She was born and educated there and is sheltered by Jordan today. She had her own made-in-Jordan TV show for five years until September 2016 and has lectured throughout Jordan and the Arab world for years, spreading a message of support for terror and lethal bigotry. (There's a great deal more background in an epic David Horovitz article that appeared in Times of Israel earlier this year.)

Back to the Jordanian politician. 

Mr Safadi is a figure of some significance. He has held the portfolio of foreign minister since early 2017. To judge by the fact that he has kept it through a succession of recent governments that have briefly come and gone, he has the king's confidence. He is also Jordan's current deputy prime minister. 

US-educated Safadi's claim, at least in the form it was published last year, is untrue. What he said then is that "several US authorities asked Jordan to extradite Jordanian citizen Ahlam Al-Tamimi" and that "Jordan respects and abides by the law" and "the law does not allow it... Jordanian law does not allow the extradition of a citizen to a third country and there is no legal basis for the delivery of Ahlam al-Tamimi.

The truth is Jordan not only does allow extradition; it has in fact extradited Jordanians repeatedly to the United States. 

Like most nations, Jordan has treaties that regulate how this is done. It has one with the United States that was signed in 1995 and that the United States says is valid, in effect and binding. 

This is made clear (though it was never in serious doubt) by an announcement of the State Department that we quoted here a year ago: "12-Nov-19: On Jordan, the US and the children killed in a pizzeria". It s also listed in a public document with the eminently appropriate name "Treaties in Force". The 2020 edition of TIF lists the Jordan/US treaty at page 245. There it records that it was signed on March 28, 1995 and entered into force on July 29, 1995. For purposes of American law, the TIF is authoritative.

Less than a year after that November 2019 clarification, the US re-stated somewhat more forcefully its official view on the validity of the Jordan treaty. It did this on June 24, 2020 using language that people in the know have told us was intended to send a clear message.

Here's some background to that. 

Every year, the Bureau of Counterterrorism at the US State Department issues a public document called Country Reports on Terrorism. This is done by way of complying with a Federal law ["22 U.S. Code § 2656f - Annual country reports on terrorism"]. The annual reports are meant to give Congress a detailed, country-by-country yearly update on how global efforts to defeat terror are faring. 

The 2020 edition of the Country Reports [online here] addresses Jordan and its years-long thwarting of the Ahlam Tamimi extradition. Here's what it says:
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.
People sensitive to the lexicon of diplomacy say the choice of words indicates the US is communicating that it has gotten fed up with Jordan's baseless claim that “there is no legal basis for the delivery of Ahlam al-Tamimi”. It wants the Tamimi extradition to happen. 

Some more background:

In the summer of 2019, we entered into correspondence with State Department officials about the Tamimi extradition and the slightly bizarre biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you game Jordan plays. 

We reminded them of how Jordan's highest court, the Court of Cassation, had handed down its ruling in the Tamimi case less than a week after the US announced charges against her ["20-Mar-17: The Hashemite Kingdom's courts have spoken: The murdering FBI fugitive will not be handed over"]. The kingdom's senior jurists decided the treaty was invalid, basing that on one ground: that it ought to have been ratified by the parliament. And wasn't.

In addressing the State Department, we were conscious of how the Jordanian jurists could have said but did not t
hat (a) there were additional grounds for invalidating the treaty. In fact, they referred to just one. And (b) that additional legal claims - such as the doctrine of double jeopardy - applied and would operate to prevent Jordan from handing over Tamimi. They referred to none.

Double jeopardy comes up from time to time as a reason not to extradite when it's raised by Jordanian reporters with no legal training. Also by Jordanian diplomats in private, but never public, statements about which we have been briefed. Not one of the several experts on the law of extradition whom we have consulted sees double jeopardy as having any relevance at all in the Tamimi case. It has no relevance to the Jordan/US treaty. It's been explained to us that the treaty itself indicates the doctrine has no application.

Some additional dimensions to consider:
  • The treaty could have been ratified that very day. Or the day after. Or any other day in the quarter of a century since it was signed and put into effect. 
  • The US believes every i was dotted and every t crossed - that all the technical requirements were complied with and satisfied. But even if there had been some parliamentary lapse, the ratification could have been dealt with after the fact. Where there's a will etc. 
  • Jordan's relationship with the US is super important for Jordan. It's arguably far more important than say Jordan's ties with Ukraine. The Jordan/Ukraine extradition treaty is treated by both sides as a valid legal obligation. In fact, we asked Jordan's ambassador in Washington about it by email last year. She ignored the points we made. She ignored us. She ignored a letter [the JTA's syndicated report, and our blog post] from seven US law-makers who raised similar issues. (To us, something is seriously wrong when the official representative of a purportedly-close ally on the payroll of US taxpayers treats respectful and important questions with disdain.) The judges did not turn their minds to this aspect. But we should. And so should friends of Jordan. 
  • The US is by far Jordan's largest supplier of funding. Jordan is the third-largest recipient of US aid in the world. A reasonable person might imagine that in such circumstances, Jordan would make really serious efforts to honor its obligations to the US. It appears a reasonable person would be wrong. And the judges made no mention of the issue. One might argue it’s not their job. But the same certainly cannot be said about Jordan’s parliament, not to mention its king. 
  • Jordan has numerous extradition treaties with countries other than the US. Were those treaties all ratified before they were put into effect? From our research, the answer is definitively no. The judges didn't ask but it is a matter that would surely trouble anyone concerned with the "rule of law" aspect of long-thwarted Tamimi extradition.
  • The October 2020 media event at the Jordanian Foreign Ministry
    Now this important observation: Just because the Jordanian court was told that no ratification was done,
    it still might not be true. As we describe below, the truth appears to be that there was indeed an act of ratification. Or more precisely, that Jordan may have been able to give the US what are called "instruments of ratification" - and no one cares to talk about it. 
  • In fact, we were told by a US Department of Justice source that the US was neither asked to advise on this; nor was it raised in the very brief Jordanian court hearing. It appears no representative of the United States was present in court when the Court of Cassation handed down a ruling on the validity of a vital agreement between the two countries. We of course weren't there, know nothing about Jordanian rules of procedure and are left to rely on what US administration officials with knowledge of the matter say. And that's what we heard from them. Call us surprised. 
  • No one is going to argue that Jordan is one of the world's paragons of democratic practice. Its media, in particular its newspapers, are famously unfree. The king appoints the prime minister and may dismiss him or accept his resignation. He has the sole power to appoint senior military leaders, justices of the constitutional court, all 75 members of the senate, cabinet ministers, dissolve both houses of parliament. The king must approve laws before they take effect and can issue royal decrees which are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. He commands the armed forces, declares war and ratifies treaties [Source: Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, Updated to June 18, 2020]. To state the obvious, in Jordan, what the Hashemite king says, goes. In any tension between constitution and realpolitik, no one should be in doubt about how the Jordanian outcome is determined.
But what if there were documentary evidence that the ratification did in fact happen at the relevant time? What if the claims made by (and perhaps to) the judges of the Court of Cassation and on which their decision was based are factually incorrect?

The following quote resulted from one of those email exchanges between us and a State Department official who we understand was authoritative in the context of US/Jordan relations. That official told us
In the specific case of Ahlam Tamimi, we continue to advocate that the Government of Jordan arrest her and agree to extradite her to the United States. To date, the Government of Jordan has been unwilling to accede to our requests because they have claimed the bilateral extradition treaty we signed in 1995 is null. We continue to dispute the Jordanian government’s claim, as we exchanged instruments of ratification, bringing the treaty into force on July 29, 1995, and the treaty has not been terminated. I hope the information I provided above answers your question. Please let me know if you have any additional questions.
We asked whether this statement could be quoted publicly. Yes was the answer.

This week, November 14, 2020, to be specific, marked the 85th birthday of King Abdullah II's widely respected father, King Hussein. The Arabic media - both conventional and social media - are replete even now, two days later, with tributes to the older king's nobility, leadership and so on. We have been thinking about all of that this weekend as we ponder the misleading and mostly unchallenged assertion by one of Jordan's most influential figures that the treaty is a nullity. 
Front page of New York Times, August 4, 1995

The New York Times in an August 4, 1995 article on Jordan 
tracks the pursuit of one of the plotters of the first lethal attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, the one carried out in 1993. 

That was when a rented truck filled with explosives was driven into the complex's underground parking garage and "killed 6 people, injured more than 1,000 and shook America's sense of immunity from foreign terrorism["Suspect Is Said to Be Longtime Friend of Bombing Mastermind"]. 

Eyad Ismoil, a Palestinian immigrant working in a grocery store in Dallas, was the driver. The Times report says Ismoil fled to Jordan on a Royal Jordanian Airlines flight that same day, a few hours after the bombing, "prompting a two-and-a-half-year manhunt". He was eventually tracked to a "refugee camp" 30 miles north of Amman and though "the F.B.I. knew his whereabouts last winter, the Americans could not arrest him until King Hussein of Jordan signed a new extradition treaty with the United States last week... Local authorities in Jordan arrested Mr. Ismoil on Sunday as he left a class at a university, and they turned him over to F.B.I agents at a military airfield on Wednesday night." He was promptly flown to New York City, tried, convicted and three years later sentenced to a term of 280 years in prison. He remains behind US bars.

So now, some speculation

If he were alive today, what would King Hussein, who died in 1999, say to the way his kingdom has put arguably the most strategic of its strategic foreign relations at risk? 

Jordan has done that by (a) denying that a milestone treaty personally championed by him is now being impugned by his successors and (b) standing in appalling, incomprehensible solidarity with a woman, arguably the most wanted female fugitive now alive, who is a celebrity chiefly because of the bombing she carried out in order to kill as many children as possible.

When we say "at risk", we're thinking of a December 2019 law enacted by the US Congress and immediately signed into law by the President of the US. Sarah N. Stern's fine analysis in the Israel Hayom newspaper that same month ["A long-awaited holiday gift for terror victims"] cogently lays out the issues. 

In effect, that sanction law says Jordan's demeaning of its treaty with the US puts at meaningful risk the massive foreign aid it has gotten annually over recent years from the US - amounting to some $7.3 Billion for the period 2016-2020. As little as most American news-readers know about this (since there has been virtual no media coverage in the West), the story is widely followed in the Arab world where it's considered alarming.

Is there a realistic chance of the sanction being applied, given the transition now underway in Washington? It was not applied last year; it has not been applied so far this year either. The prospects for next year are unknown but probably low.

But there are other signs - for instance, the forced expulsion of Tamimi's husband, Nizar Tamimi from Jordan just six weeks ago ["04-Oct-20: The Sbarro bomber's husband has been forced to leave Jordan: A snapshot of developments"]. We mentioned him at the start of this post.

These suggest Washington has an interest in seeing Jordan confront its inner demons that somehow make it acceptable to safeguard and even celebrate a woman famous principally for the Jewish children she boasts of killing.

With due respect to Jordan's foreign minister, the rule of law is not a simple matter of adhering to parliamentary procedure and protocol. It is also about the moral and ethical precepts that a nation's laws are intended to implement. 
 
Malki at the heart of a family celebration some weeks before
the end of her life. She never reached her 16th birthday.
Given where we have been these past several years, we don't expect to find justice waiting at the door, though of course we remain quietly optimistic. We would be more optimistic if the news industry showed some small degree of interest in our pursuit of justice. But the de facto embargo on most reporting of Ahlam Tamimi's incredible career - her charmed life in Jordan, the way a strategic ally of the United States sticks its finger in American eyes - is a painful reality in our lives and in our efforts. 

We believe we would have seen Tamimi in leg-chains and orange overalls in a Federal court house long ago if not for Jordan's tail-wagging-the-dog determination to keep her safe and famous. Ask yourself, having gotten this far into our post, if you already knew any of these details from mainstream news sources.

We're determined to press forward. The right way to view our efforts is as a quest by bereaved parents in search of justice following their child's murder. It is not at all a political crusade. Nor does it stem for any appetite for vengeance. 

Meanwhile watch this space and please sign our petition

No comments: