Thursday, May 04, 2023

04-May-23: Will the Senate press the new US ambassador to Jordan about Malki's killer?

AA/S Yael Lempert, the nominee, is speaking as we post this [Image Source]
[A version of this post appears today as a Times of Israel blog]

* * *

This morning (May 4, 2023) in Washington, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hear from President Biden’s nominee for Ambassador to Jordan.

Yael Lempert is a highly qualified and experienced nominee who deserves to be confirmed and given the chance to serve as the American people’s representative in Amman. However, it will be a missed opportunity if senators on the Committee fail to press her for greater clarity on the Biden Administration’s position on a key issue of concern not only to the US-Jordanian relationship but to the basic practice of American justice.

For more than a decade, one of the F.B.I.’s most-wanted and highest profile perpetrators of terrorism, Ahlam Tamimi, has been living freely in Jordan, loudly celebrating the murder and maiming of American citizens she spearheaded and encouraging others to do the same. Instead of extraditing her to the United States to face justice, as is required under the valid extradition treaty, Jordan has refused to hand her over – while eagerly siphoning billions of dollars in aid from American taxpayers.

On August 9, 2001, a human bomb exploded inside a Sbarro pizzeria in Jerusalem. Tamimi selected the site as her target with great care as she has explained in numerous appearances in the Arabic-language media, and deposited the bomb-carrier at its entrance before fleeing to safety.

Fifteen innocents were murdered, eight of them children, with 130 injured.

Our daughter Malki, just fifteen years old, was one of two Americans among the dead. A third American, a young mother lunching with her toddler, remains in a coma still after all these years. We know Tamimi had the key role in the bombing on behalf of Hamas. We know she chose the pizzeria because of its popularity with young people. We know she sees this as the crowning achievement of her life.

We know these things because she has boasted publicly over and again and again of the unfathomable evil she unleashed that day.

* * *

Justice alone cannot comfort bereaved parents. But its absence aches terribly, stinging at our wounds. It’s an agony that is amplified because justice for Malki’s murder is both attainable and elusive.

Arrested soon after the attack, Tamimi was convicted and sentenced by an Israeli court in 2003 to sixteen life terms in prison. The bench of three judges recommended that no Israeli government ever contemplate paroling her. Thus, for a time, it seemed to us that justice had been done and we could get on with our lives.

But then, in 2011, Israel - to our horror and riding roughshod over Israel’s judicial system -  freed her, along with 1,026 other prisoners, in an unfathomable exchange with Hamas for a hostage IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit.

We were devastated.

Hope, however, came via America’s justice system. In Washington, US federal prosecutors filed charges against Tamimi in 2013, seeking justice for Malki and another American woman killed in the Sbarro atrocity. US law allows the Justice Department to prosecute tightly-defined terrorist acts perpetrated against Americans no matter even if they occur outside American territory.

Jordan, however, refused to cooperate, violating the extradition treaty it signed with the United States and ratified in 1995. And it has persisted in its unjustifiable refusal right up until today. Though it has extradited Jordanian citizens to the United States under that accord previously, Jordan began claiming in 2017 that a technicality two decades earlier in the treaty’s ratification process now absolved it of any obligation in the Tamimi case.

We know that’s not accurate.

We brought a legal action to shed light on Jordan’s claims. This was something the Freedom of Information Act empowers us to do. The result was that the State Department almost immediately shared with us a document written and signed by Jordan’s late King Hussein attesting unmistakably to the treaty’s valid ratification at that time. No one, as far as we knew then and know now, was aware of this other than government officials. It’s a stunning contradiction of Jordan’s official stance today.

When the current Ambassador to Jordan, Henry Wooster, faced his confirmation hearing in 2020, he was very properly pressed by some of those on the panel about the prior administration’s view of the 1995 treaty’s status.

“We continue to dispute the [Jordanian] court’s claim,” Wooster said to the Committee, “as we exchanged instruments of ratification that brought the treaty into force on July 29, 1995, and the treaty has not been terminated… The United States has multiple options and different types of leverage to secure [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.”

Long overdue, it is vital that the Biden Administration takes the same view. When senators have an opportunity to pose questions to Ambassador-designate Lempert, we hope they will again press for clear answers on the Tamimi case and the validity of the 1995 extradition treaty.

If the view of the US government continues to be that Jordan is violating the treaty, Congress has already offered a prescription on how to force the kingdom’s hand. Almost entirely unreported, it’s a fact that every State and Foreign Operations Appropriation title enacted since December 2019 has included a prohibition on the use of Congressionally-appropriated foreign assistance to any government that violates an extradition treaty. That certainly covers US aid to Jordan.

Last year, Congress approved a seven-year Memorandum of Understanding that will send Jordan $1.45 billion annually in US assistance. We believe those funds cannot legally be sent to Jordan until it upholds its obligation to extradite Tamimi.

American support, delivered generously for decades, remains absolutely critical to Jordan’s security, economic reforms, and growth. We know the outgoing ambassador agrees with that view. Everyone does. Yet Ambassador Wooster insisted earlier this year – reported only in Arabic as far as we know –that this generous aid comes with ‘no strings attached’.

Since 2017, we’ve repeatedly implored presidents, secretaries of state, ambassadors, and many legislators – Democrats and Republicans alike – to make clear that taxpayer funds do carry strings: that Jordan respect its treaty obligation and extradite Tamimi. Over those same years, though, we’ve been met with pressure to cease campaigning for justice by the politicians and entrenched interests promoting ever-closer U.S.-Jordanian ties.

The fact is we are not politicians. What we are is parents.

So long as the perpetrator of our daughter’s murder walks free in Jordan, we will continue urging America’s leaders to pursue justice for Malki and the other Americans targeted in Tamimi’s heinous attack.

That’s why we beseech the senators sitting in today’s Committee to – at minimum –ask Ambassador-designate Lempert the same questions that were posed to her predecessor. Americans ought to know whether their hard-earned dollars are being handed over to a foreign kingdom harboring an unrepentant, fugitive mass-murderer with ‘no strings attached’. Or whether Congress and the Administration will truly do everything in their power to ensure that American justice is served.

* * *

Frimet and Arnold Roth, who jointly authored this post, are founders of the Malki Foundation which they established in their murdered daughter’s memory. Since 2001, it has given broad-ranging support to families of special-needs children - both Jewish and Arab - in Israel.

* * *

UPDATE: The video of the Senate hearing is here.

No comments: