American victims of Iranian terror were handed a $400 million loss with the payment of that sum to the Iranian government earlier this year. Whether it was a ransom payment for the release of hostages or, as defined by the White House, the payment of Iranian claims against the United States that was used as leverage for the hostages release, the fact of the matter is that the Obama administration has turned its back on American victims of Iranian terrorism.
My daughter Alisa, a 20-years old Brandeis University student studying in Israel, was murdered in 1995 by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a client of the Islamic Republic of Iran that was caught red-handed funding PIJ murders. Using the provisions of a 1996 federal law, our family pursued the Iranian government for its role in the attack, and in 1998 was awarded approximately $250 million in damages.
The small feeling of victory that led me to believe we would hold Iran financially accountable was soon dashed to bits by the Clinton administration as it fought to prevent us from collecting money from the Iranians. Every time we attempted to seize an Iranian-controlled asset in this country, we were confronted by a phalanx of lawyers from the departments of Justice, State and Treasury.
Despite our courtroom losses, a number of victims’ families banded together to press the fight in the Congress and in the press. As a result we were able to convince the Clinton administration that something had to be done and President Clinton selected Jacob Lew, then director of the Office of Management and Budget, to act as a sort of mediator in the discussions between the families and the government.
Lew’s efforts were rewarded with an agreement that would allow terror victims to receive payment on a portion of their damage claims. Not wanting to take taxpayer money, I insisted that the money come from designated Iranian assets, the main one being the $400 million of Iranian money in the Foreign Military Sales Program account. Lew assured me the money would have to come through the Treasury but there was that account to reimburse the government for any payments.
With the families in agreement as to the nature of the payments and their source, President Clinton signed Public Law 106-386 on October 28, 2000. Payments were made to my family and others, and the issue of the Iranian money faded into the background until earlier this year when it was revealed that $400 million was paid to Iran. The same amount as in the FMSP account.
At this point I should be beyond being shocked at the treatment of American terror victims by our government, but I am not – as the source of money that was to be used to reimburse American taxpayers for the money I received was used for other purposes.
Notwithstanding the grandiose verbiage used by the White House and the State and Treasury departments to describe the payment and the reasons behind it, I can only view it as a sellout of American victims of Iranian terror and of the American taxpayer.
I have publicly stated that, despite what happened to Alisa, I was never opposed to the restoration of relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. However, that restoration had a price – Iran had to account for its role in the murders of Alisa and so many others. Indeed, the statute that gave us our payments provides just for that.
No doubt, the White House and other government spokesmen will come up with more platitudes as to just what the statute means. To my mind, they can say what they want; the bottom line is that terror victims have seen their claims pushed aside by a government desperate to bring Iran to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, it’s more of a poker table, and the Iranians hold the cards.Stephen M. Flatow