Sen. Cruz Shines Light on Obama Administration’s Failure to Stand With American Victims of Terrorism

Last week I chaired a hearing for the Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts titled “Justice Forsaken: How the Federal Government Fails the American Victims of Iranian and Palestinian Terrorism.” This hearing focused on the federal government’s failure to support the American victims of Iranian and Palestinian terror in their search for justice.

The government of Iran, Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and the Palestinian Authority (PA) have been found responsible in courts of law for numerous terrorist atrocities against American citizens. This hearing highlighted the plight of these victims and their families, who not only face great difficulty in collecting the compensation that Iran, PLO, and PA owe them, but who must also fight the U.S. government tooth-and-nail to do so. Aside from the terrorists themselves, the U.S. government has unfortunately too often been the biggest roadblock standing in the way of justice.

The following was my opening statement during the hearing:

'I’m 12-years-old, I’m from New York, and I’m going to stay alive.’ That was what American Jamie Sokolow told herself as she, a little girl, laid shocked, battered, and bleeding on a Jerusalem street nearly fifteen years ago. Moments earlier, Jamie had been chatting with her family outside a shoe store, happily discussing the new sandals she was about to buy. And then a Palestinian suicide bomber struck, sending shrapnel into Jamie’s right eye and blood across her face. Jamie’s whole family was wounded, including her father, a 9/11 survivor. Nearby, a bone was sticking out of her mother’s leg. Even worse, a woman’s severed head lay just a few feet away. Still, Jamie kept courageously repeating: ‘I’m 12 years old, I’m from New York, and I’m going to stay alive.’

Today’s hearing is for Americans like Jamie, like the Sokolow family -- Americans who have suffered greatly because of the horrific and evil actions of Iranian and Palestinian terrorists. Americans who have fought hard to ensure that justice is done in these situations, only to see their own Government, more often than not, stand against them.

Several of these brave Americans, these brave victims, are here today. Two of them will testify. Many more, I know, are here with us in spirit. We thank you all for your presence. We hope that you will continue to bear witness against these crimes. And we want you to know that we have not forgotten, and we will never forget.

The history of Palestinian and Iranian terrorism against Americans is extensive and continues to this day. Americans have long been the targets of Palestinian hijackings, suicide bombings, and assassinations, in part because of our nation’s close relationship and friendship with Israel. In 1977, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine murdered two American officials, including our ambassador to Lebanon. In 1985, Popular Front terrorists hijacked a cruise ship, murdered a disabled Jewish-American man in a wheelchair, and callously tossed his body overboard. In 2001, Palestinian terrorists murdered a 13-year-old boy named Koby. I have a letter here—which I intend to put into the record, without objection—from Seth and Sherri Mandel, Koby’s parents. The Mandel’s write that their son ‘was bound, stabbed and beaten to death with rocks. The walls of the cave in the Judean Desert were covered with his blood, smeared there by the killers. His body was so badly mutilated and disfigured that dental records had to be used for positive identification.’

Sadly, even today, the killing still rages. This fall, Palestinian terror attacks in Israel have surged, in the form of stabbings, car-ramming, and shooting attacks. Terrorists have killed nearly a dozen persons, and wounded over 120--some of them Americans. On October 1, Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank gunned down renowned Rabbi Eitam Henkin, an Israeli-American, and his wife Naama right in front of their four children, ages 9, 7, 4, and 4-months. That, ladies and gentlemen, is an act of pure and unadulterated evil. And just three weeks ago, terrorists shot and stabbed 76-year-old American Richard Lakin, killing him. Lakin was a lifelong educator, dedicated to teaching English to Jewish and Arab students.

Of course, as bad as Palestinian terrorism has been, the Iranian government arguably has even more American blood on its hands. On this day 36 years ago—November 4, 1979—several hundred young Iranians climbed the walls of the American embassy in Tehran and stormed inside. By early afternoon, they had captured, blindfolded, and handcuffed dozens of American citizens and diplomats, including 52 who would remain in their hands for 444 days.

Thus began Iran’s war against the ‘Great Satan’—a war that has been waged on the American people for nearly four decades, whether the United States Government will admit it or not. In 1983, the Iranian government—acting through its terrorist proxy Hezbollah—bombed a Marine barracks and the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 241 Marines and 17 American civilians. Two years later, Hezbollah hijacked a TWA flight and murdered Navy diver Robert Stethem—whose brother is here to testify today. Iran also helped murder 19 Americans with the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, 12 Americans with the 1998 attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and over a dozen American sailors with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.

Nor should we forget that Iran has waged war against our troops in Iraq. Based on the declassified portion of a report that Central Command has provided to my office, we now know that at least 196 U.S. service members were killed in Iraq by Iranian-made Explosively Formed Penetrators, or EFPs, from 2003 to 2011. Let me repeat that number, because this is the first time it has been made public. According to the Central Command, at least 196 U.S. service members were killed in Iraq by Iranian-made Explosively Formed Penetrators, or EFPs, from 2003 to 2011.

And General Joseph Dunford recently testified that approximately 500 U.S. service members were killed in Iraq by Iranian activities, which accounts for at least 14 percent of the combat deaths in Iraq. That blood is on Iran’s hands. Even on this very day, as we speak, Iran holds four American citizens captive, and two more Americans were arrested just last month.

Although the United States is not at war with Iran, there’s no question that Iran has been and still is at war with the United States.

Yet, despite the slaughter and maiming of an untold number of American citizens at the hands of Palestinian and Iranian terrorists, the United States Government has, rather shockingly, failed time and time again to fulfill its sovereign duty: To obtain justice for its citizens. Our government has failed terror victims in a number of ways.

First, it has failed to prosecute terrorists. Since 1993, more than 50 Americans have been killed by Palestinian terrorists in Israel. And yet, as the Mandel’s point out, ‘not one terrorist here has been prosecuted’ by the Department of Justice. ‘Not one.’ According to the Mandel’s, the DOJ’s Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism, which was established in their son’s honor, ‘is supposed to investigate, apprehend, indict, extradite and punish terrorists -- but it doesn’t.’

Second, the government has actively discouraged the collection of valid judgments. Over the years, Congress has increasingly permitted American victims to bring lawsuits and obtain judgments in federal court against state sponsors of terrorism. Now, American victims and their families have successfully prosecuted 86 cases against the government of Iran and have been awarded judgments totaling nearly $50 billion. Similar victories have been won against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO.

As you will hear today, however, the United States Government all too often intervenes in these cases, opposing collection of judgment in the name of diplomacy. Indeed, just this year, in the Sokolow family’s case, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest—after years of silence—essentially siding with the Palestinian Authority, after the Sokolows won a huge judgment in New York. Sen. Schumer, I might add, who is on this subcommittee, came out strongly against the DOJ’s ridiculous intervention. And he was correct to do so. These are not and they should not be partisan issues.

Third, and perhaps the worst betrayal of all, is the recent Iranian nuclear deal—which Sen. Schumer joined me in opposing. President Obama has struck a dangerously bad deal that paves the way for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon within a decade or so and provides more than $100 billion in sanctions relief—money that will assuredly be used to finance the continuation of Iran’s terrorism operations against America and our allies.

And what do the American victims of Iranian terrorism get from this deal? Absolutely nothing.

Indeed, the Administration has openly admitted that it did not take the terror victims into account at the negotiating table. In litigation, the Administration sides with the terrorist against American citizens, and when negotiating with the Ayatollah Khamenei, the Administration ignores American hostages languishing in Iranian prisons; it ignores the victims of terrorism.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a national disgrace. And this hearing is designed to shine a light on the obligation of the government of the United States to stand with American citizens against terrorists who would murder innocent Americans.

 

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