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Cruz Convenes Senate Meeting on Iranian, Palestinian Terror Against Americans

Presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R – Tex.) chaired a subcommittee hearing this week that highlighted testimonies from victims of Iranian and Palestinian terrorism, including their struggle to receive just compensation from the perpetrators of the attacks, The Dallas Morning News reported on Wednesday.

Orde F. Kitre, an Arizona State University law professor and former State Department official, suggested a government agency designed to work with terror victims’s claims and seizing foreign assets of terror-supporting states for victims compensation.

And Ken Stethem, a retired Navy SEAL, suggested stronger U.S. anti-terror policy beyond the military. Stethem’s brother, Robert, was killed by Hezbollah terrorists during the 1985 hijacking of TWA Flight 847.

“I’ve seen terrorism on a personal, professional and policy level,” said Stethem. “These policies should be simple, sound, sustainable and they should have accountability built into them.”

Cruz is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts of the Senate Judiciary Committee. According to the senator, the goal of the hearing was to lay “the groundwork for a bipartisan bill to fix shortcomings in terror victim compensation.” Sen. Chris Coons (D – Del.), the subcomittee’s ranking member, added that “we must carefully consider every tool at our disposal” while trying to obtain compensation for victims of Iranian terror.

In his opening statement, Cruz related the history of Palestinian and Iranian anti-American terrorism:

“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.

Cruz also mentioned “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.”

In his prepared testimony (.pdf), Orde Kittrie, a law professor at Arizona State University and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, suggested that the government could use a legal mechanism called remission authority to obtain financial relief for the terror victims.

The Attorney General’s “remission authority” enables the Department of Justice to “restore forfeited assets to the victims of any offense that gave rise to the forfeiture.” For example, the remission authority enables the use as victim compensation of the $8.9 billion forfeited to the U.S. Department of Justice by BNP Paribas as a result of the bank’s guilty plea to laundering money for Cuba, Iran, and Sudan. On May 1, 2015, the U.S. Justice Department launched a website, titled United States v. BNP Paribas S.A., which invited submissions from all individuals worldwide, “regardless of nationality or citizenship,” who claim to have “suffered harm linked to Sudan, Cuba, and Iran from 2004–2012.” The website specified that “the information collected will assist the Government in determining use of available forfeited funds.”  This implied that the U.S. government might distribute some of the funds forfeited to it by BNP Paribas to persons with no nexus to the United States and no U.S. court judgment substantiating their claim. It would be more sensible for the funds to be used to compensate U.S. citizens. This could include (but not necessarily be limited to) U.S. victims holding U.S. court judgments as a result of acts of terrorism that were materially supported by the BNP Paribas money laundering.

Another witness, Kenneth Stethem, whose brother Robert was murdered by the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah in Beirut during the hijacking of TWA flight 847 in 1985, offered his support for the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act in his prepared testimony (.pdf). The legislation, which aims to stop Iran from getting sanctions relief until its government releases roughly $45 billion in compensation to American victims of terror, was passed by the House of Representatives last month.

In my opinion, providing long overdue justice for victims of terrorism while at the same time limiting the amount of money at Iran’s disposal to kill more Americans is paramount. The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act accomplishes both of these long-standing Congressional goals.

The Palestine Liberation Organization, which in February was found liable along with the Palestinian Authority for six terrorist attacks that killed and wounded multiple Americans between 2002 and 2004, complained that the hearing was “biased and inflammatory,” the Associated Press reported. However, Kent Yalowitz, who represented the families of victims of Palestinian terror at the hearing, said in his testimony, “Far from disowning these terrorists, the PA and PLO have kept them on the payroll and promoted them.”

Last month, The Jerusalem Post reported that the PA was paying salaries amounting to millions of dollars every month to convicted terrorists serving terms in Israeli jails.

According to documents obtained by Israel Radio, most of those behind bars receiving PA money are Hamas members who were behind some of the bloodiest terrorist attacks of the second intifada. Those receiving these PA “salaries” are all serving time in maximum-security prisons for the crimes they committed.

The government sources said that, while knowledge of these payments is “nothing new,” it clearly shows that the PA provides economic incentives for carrying out terrorist acts. More than that, one source said, the fact that these funds are allocated for that purpose helps bolster the image of terrorists – or as the Palestinians often call them, “martyrs” – into heroes.

“It is a problem for the PA. On one hand they claim they want peace and discourage violence, and on the other hand they put terrorists on pedestals, idolize them as heroes, and provide meaningful financial incentives for others to follow their path,” the source said.

Terrorists on the PA’s payroll include Hamas bomb makers Abdullah Barghouti and Ibrahim Hamad, who are serving multiple life sentences for helping orchestrate some of the deadliest terrorist attacks of the Second Intifada, such as the bombings at the Hebrew University cafeteria in 2002, a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem in 2001, and a Rishon Lezion nightclub in 2002.

[Photo: SenTedCruz / YouTube ]