Monday, September 12, 2022

12-Sep-22: What, officially, does Jordan hear from the US embassy about the Tamimi extradition?

Source: Yesterday's Jordan Times
There are reports in the Jordanian media today about a Congressional Delegation ("a CoDel") visit to the royal palace in Amman yesterday.

The only Congressional name that appears in any of the numerous news items we saw is that of Senator Michael Rounds, a Republican and the junior senator from South Dakota. He sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

He was accompanied by the American ambassador, Henry Wooster. Other American-looking visitors (possibly staffers) are seen in the accompanying news video but the Jordanian reports don't name any of them. 

The visit was clearly appreciated by the hosts. That's evident from seeing which Jordanians participated. King Abdullah II; his son Crown Prince Hussein; Jordan's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Ayman Safadi; and the director of the king's office, Jafar Hassan. There may have been others.

As we have said in previous posts, official American delegations to Jordan's sumptuous Al Husseiniya Palace raise thorny, even disturbing, questions about how the United States views the Hashemite Kingdom's years-long breach of the 1995 Extradition Treaty between the two countries

The 1995 treaty we mentioned is the one invoked by the US Department of Justice when it filed a criminal complaint on July 15, 2013 against the Jordanian woman charged with bringing a powerful and very deadly bomb - an exploding human being, a human bomb - to a central Jerusalem Sbarro pizzeria thronged with a lunch-hour crowd of families and children. The children. as we learned later from the mouth of the monster who made the decision, were the target.

Our daughter Malki, 15, was one of the children murdered there that day. 

No official account reports what happened after the charges were signed off by Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

But from several sources, our understanding is that the DOJ promptly (we think in mid-2013) notified its Jordanian counterparts of the court order. And then delivered a request that the fugitive bomber be extradited under the treaty as other Jordanian fugitives had been extradited by the Jordanians before her each time Jordan was formally requested to do so by the Americans.

In the specific case of the Sbarro bomber - and on more than one occasion - Jordan rejected the request. 

* * *

Let's now fast-forward almost four years. The criminal complaint against the Jordanian woman, a Hamas agent named Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, was eventually made public on March 14, 2017. It had been kept secret under seal until then. 

Did the US make energetic efforts to get Tamimi extradited under the treaty through all those years? There's no way to know for sure. But the answer is almost certainly yes.

Then, just six days after the unsealing and the formal announcement [see Individual Charged in Connection With 2001 Terrorist Attack in Jerusalem That Resulted in Death of Americans] of the terrorism charges against Tamimi, Jordan's highest court sprang into action. In a stunning and brief ruling, it said Jordan had no obligation to hand her to the Americans because the then-22-year-old bilateral agreement suffered from flaws. 

On closer examination, it was clear they meant flaws created by Jordanflaws that only Jordan could fix if -- and it's a large if -- they were indeed real
The Al-Husseiniya Palace in Amman 

But no one was giving their ruling closer examination. And no news report at the time cast any doubt at all on the soundness of the Jordanian judges' argument. That's a shame because to us it's clearly built on deception and inaccuracies. (We choose not to use blunter words.)

Tamimi herself, by then an icon in her homeland, was triumphantly hugged to Jordan's breast. 

Some excerpts from an Associated Press article under the by-lines of Karin Laub (AP's then Jordan bureau chief) and Mohammed Daraghmeh:
A Hamas activist on the FBI’s list of “most wanted terrorists” said she is relieved Jordan’s highest court has blocked her extradition to the U.S., where she faces charges in a suicide bombing that killed 15 people, including two Americans, at a crowded Jerusalem pizzeria.
Ahlam al-Tamimi, 37, who chose the target of the 2001 attack and guided the bomber there, told The Associated Press that she “lived in fear” for her life until this week’s high court ruling, in part because she had received threats, including from U.S. citizens, on social media. She said she can’t leave her native Jordan for fear of arrest if she travels abroad.
Al-Tamimi has been unapologetic about her role in one of the deadliest of scores of Hamas suicide bombings during the second Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule. She said Palestinians have a right to resist by any means, including with such attacks, against what she portrayed as a brutal military occupation.
“We are an oppressed people defending ourselves,” al-Tamimi said in an interview this week in her home in the Jordanian capital, Amman. “We want Israel to leave our land so we can live in quiet.”
Asked about her role in the killing of civilians, including children, she said: “I don’t target children, but when the bomb goes off, it goes everywhere.”
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. Fifteen people were killed, including seven between the ages of two and 16, and scores of people were wounded.
Al-Tamimi was arrested by Israel several weeks after the bombing and sentenced to 16 life terms. She was released in a 2011 Israel-Hamas prisoner swap.
Since then, she has been a familiar media presence, including at one point hosting a talk show on a Beirut-based Hamas-run TV station about Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
She has also spoken repeatedly about the attack, saying she was pleased with the high death toll.
On Monday, Jordan’s high court ruled that al-Tamimi cannot be extradited from Jordan to the United States because the two countries don’t have an extradition treaty.
[Source: "Jordan planner of 2001 blast relieved US extradition blocked", AP, March 23, 2017 - originally posted here and now archived]
There's much more to be said about whether the Jordan/US treaty is valid including very significant information we (Frimet and Arnold Roth) obtained when we sued the US government under the Freedom of Information Act. Note: sued. Simply applying under the FOIA law got us nowhere.

The US, at least for the record, has consistently said the 1995 treaty is as valid today as it was when new, and remains binding on the parties and in full effect. The treaty is listed in the State Department official online Treaties in Force compendium

In the course of many consultations and discussions we have had with officials of the US government and legal experts, not one of them has contradicted that or brought it into question.

On the other hand, getting US officials to state the obvious has proven incredibly frustrating. To say it plainly, if the treaty is valid, then the failure by Jordan to comply with its treaty obligation in the Tamimi case is a breach. And if it's a breach, why is no one saying so? The simple answer, friends and neighbors, and there is one, is that it's all about politics. 

Meanwhile, Tamimi lives free as a bird in Jordan as the Department of Justice prosecutors in Washington and the FBI agents charged with delivering her to US law enforcement cool their heels. 

* * *

Henry T. Wooster, a career diplomat, was nominated in November 2019 to become the US ambassador to Jordan, a position that had remained unfilled since Alice Wells departed in March 2017. (A Foreign Policy article at the time said that soon after taking office, "President Donald Trump pushed out the US ambassador to Jordan after complaints from the country’s king, even though there was no evidence the diplomat had misrepresented Washington’s policies.")

The nomination was made by the Trump White House.

US ambassadors need to be confirmed before their appointments are official. The confirmation process involves public hearings in the US Senate. 

Our focus now shifts to what Mr Wooster said when going through that process in a video conference session of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on May 13, 2020 presided over by Hon. John Barrasso, (Republican, Wyoming). The candidate, according to the chairperson's introduction in the official protocol, is:
a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor. Mr. Wooster is currently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Maghreb and—or Egypt in the Bureau of Northeastern Affairs. He has previously worked as the Deputy Chief of Mission and then Charge´s d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Jordan. Mr. Wooster has also served as Deputy Chief of Mission in the U.S. Embassy in France.

The years Mr Wooster previously served in America's Jordan embassy evidently warmed him to the charms of the kingdom. He underscored this in answering a question about the possible impact on Jordanian feelings if the US were to cut back its financial support refugees:

Well, Senator, no one knows this better than the Jordanians—no one is a better friend to Jordan than the United States is. And we can say that with integrity. And I can look you in the virtual eye and say it. And that is true by orders of magnitude. It is not simply a debating distinction. It is true if you look at the record. And the record shows, again and again and again, and with orders of magnitude, there is no friend that is better to the Hashemite Kingdom than the United States. So, we do not want these people to be beleaguered, and we do not want them left out in the dark. I mean, these are allies and strategic partners, and we are going to stand by them. We are going to make sure that they are not left with a deal that is bad for Jordan, too. [Source: The official protocol]

Diplomats as effusive as Mr Wooster aren't all that common.

But let's compare that now with what happened in the non-face-to-face part of the confirmation hearing when questions for the record are submitted ahead of time by the Senators and the candidate responds after taking some time to prepare a written answer. This doesn't always happen - but it happened in the Wooster confirmation.


Question. Please describe the extent to which Jordan’s refusal to extradite Tamimi has affected U.S.-Jordanian relations?

Answer. We continue to ask that the Government of Jordan arrest Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi and agree to extradite her to the United States. The Government of Jordan has been unwilling to accede to our request due to the Court of Cassation’s ruling that our bilateral extradition treaty is not valid. We continue to dispute the court’s claim, as we exchanged instruments of ratification that brought the treaty into force on July 29, 1995 and the treaty has not been terminated. We continue to raise this issue at the highest levels in order to reach a satisfactory solution.

Question. What options and leverage does the United States have to secure Tamimi, including potentially withholding assistance to the Government of Jordan?

Answer. The United States has multiple options and different types of leverage to secure Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi’s extradition. 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.

Question. Can you commit to using those options and leverage to secure Tamimi’s extradition?

Answer. 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.

It's the kind of forthright response a well-prepared ambassador ought to give. But we're left wondering how closely His Excellency Henry T. Wooster, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (as he has been since August 27, 2020), hews to the approach he outlined to the Senate.

* * *

As of today, Tamimi is still free and still making public appearances replete with messages encouraging terror. 

As for Jordan, its senior officials (with the notable exception of Foreign Minister Safadi) have maintained a policy by which they carefully avoid making public statements about the treaty even as they hold tight to the kingdom's celebrity terrorist. The principal principle seems to be: just don't get into spats with the Americans

The United States through three administrations (Obama, Trump, Biden) takes a reciprocal approach and is sticking to it. And justice be damned. 

The exception to the game-plan is Safadi. We have published two blog posts reporting how, on two occasions a year apart, he has asserted publicly in Arabic to domestic audiences that refusing to hand over the mass-murderer as required by the treaty is actually evidence Jordan respects the law: see "13-Nov-19: Thank you, Mr Foreign Minister" and "16-Nov-20: Justice, the Tamimi extradition and what Jordan tells Arabic media but not the world".

(We haven't yet written about the numerous occasions on which Jordan's king, speaking off the record in what are often closed-door meetings in the US, offers a range of near-plausible explanations for his Tamimi strategy.)

2001 The site of the Sbarro massacre (Peter Dejong, AP)
If Mr Wooster were the kind of person who answers letters, we would want to pose some questions to him based on what he placed on the record. 

For instance,

  1. Has he or his staff in the Amman embassy explored all options to bring Tamimi to justice? Is there a plan to start exploring this at some point in the foreseeable future? 
  2. Can he outline for us what "all options" might look like?
  3. Those "broader issues associated with the extradition treaty" - can we get a preview of what they are? 
  4. Can we count on them getting public exposure even as the FBI Most Wanted fugitive terrorist is hosted by Jordan? 
  5. In continuing to dispute the Jordanian court’s claim about the validity and applicability of the treaty, and raising the issue "at the highest levels in order to reach a satisfactory solution", is there progress? It's been years, Your Excellency. Can we get some teeny tiny indication of how the process is going? 
  6. And where the sticking points are?
  7. Would the Ambassador like to know a little about our murdered daughter Malki? About her beautiful life and about the really fine non-sectarian, apolitical and tremendously constructive work done in her memory via the Malki Foundation?
From experience, we fear each of our questions would get the same answer.

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