On May 8, 2001, Koby Mandell, a 13 year old Israeli with American citizenship and 14 year old Yosef Ishran, were killed on the outskirts of Tekoa where their families lived. Though the actual identities of the murderers was never determined, the Israeli government determined that Palestinian terrorists were responsible.
Their murders led to Congressional legislation strengthening the US response to the killing of Americans overseas.
|Koby Mandell. Source: YouTube video|
But it was not easy.
The original version of the Koby Mandell Act applied pressure on the US government to deal with Palestinian terrorists who murdered American citizens in attacks on Israel.
The Koby Mandell Act criticized the US government for its failure to dedicate the necessary resources to apprehending Palestinian terrorists:
- Numerous American citizens have been murdered or maimed by terrorists around the world, including more than one hundred murdered since 1968 in terrorist attacks occurring in Israel or in territories administered by Israel or in territories administered by the Palestinian Authority.
- Some American citizens who have been victims of terrorism overseas, especially those harmed by terrorists operating from areas administered by the Palestinian Authority, have not received from the United States Government services equal to those received by other such victims of overseas terrorism.
- The United States Government has not devoted adequate efforts or resources to the apprehension of terrorists who have harmed American citizens overseas, particularly in cases involving terrorists operating from areas administered by the Palestinian Authority. Monetary rewards for information leading to the capture of terrorists overseas, which the government advertises in regions where the terrorists are believed to be hiding, have not been advertised in areas administered by the Palestinian Authority.
The bill was criticized by Jewish groups for being too narrowly focused on Palestinian terrorism and for being more interested in criticizing the government than in developing more effective terrorism countermeasures.
Other aspects of the bill, seemed to be very relevant:
(7) The Office shall endeavor to monitor public actions by governments and regimes overseas pertaining to terrorists who have harmed American citizens, such as naming of schools, streets, or other public institutions or sites after such terrorists. In such instances, the Office shall encourage other United States Government agencies to halt their provision of assistance, directly or indirectly, to those institutions.
But one of the most important elements of the bill provided for rewards:
(1) The Office shall assume responsibility for administration of the Rewards for Justice program and its web site, www.rewardsforjustice.com, and in so doing will ensure that–
(A) rewards are offered to capture all terrorists involved in harming American citizens overseas, regardless of the terrorists� country of origin or residence;
(B) such rewards are prominently advertised in the mass media and public sites in all countries or regions where such terrorists reside;
(C) the names and photographs and suspects in all such cases are included on the web site; and
(D) the names of the specific organizations claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks mentioned on the site are included in the descriptions of those attacks.
The key element of the bill is that US victims of Palestinian terrorism receive justice:
To create an office within the Department of Justice to undertake certain specific steps to ensure that all American citizens harmed by terrorism overseas receive equal treatment by the United States government regardless of the terrorists’ country of origin or residence, and to ensure that all terrorists involved in such attacks are pursued, prosecuted, and punished with equal vigor, regardless of the terrorists’ country of origin or residence.
The result was the creation of the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT)
Where do things stand now?
On February 2, 2016, Representative Ron DeSantis chaired a hearing before the Subcommittee on National Security addressing the job the OVT was doing in general and in prosecuting Palestinian terrorists in particular.
|Representative Ron DeSantis. Credit: Wikipedia|
A key exchange between Congressman DeSantis and Brad Wiegmann, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, in the Department of Justice went like this:
Mr. Wiegmann, the committee has counted that since �93, at least 64 Americans have been killed, as well as two unborn children, and 91 have been wounded by terrorists in Israel in disputed territories.
Mr. DESANTIS. How many terrorists who have killed or wounded Americans in Israel or disputed territories has the United States indicted, extradited, or prosecuted during this time period?
Mr. WIEGMANN. I think the answer is�is none.
Mr. DESANTIS. Okay. How many terrorists who have killed or wounded Americans anywhere else overseas has the United States indicted, extradited, or prosecuted?
Mr. WIEGMANN. I don�t have an exact figure for you.
Mr. DESANTIS. But it would be a decent size number, though, correct?
Mr. WIEGMANN. It would be a significant number, yes.
Mr. DESANTIS. Okay. Does the DOJ plan to prosecute any of the terrorism cases committed by Palestinian terrorism and Israel in the disputed territories?
Mr. WIEGMANN. So we have a number of open investigations. I can�t comment further on the status of the investigations.
Mr. DESANTIS. Do you know how many, though?
Mr. WIEGMANN. I can�t give you that number.
Mr. DESANTIS. Why not?
Mr. WIEGMANN. I don�t have the number, and I don�t think we want to comment exactly, because the more we say about the number of investigations we have, the more we tell the bad guys who we are trying to get.
Mr. DESANTIS. …In your opening statement, you said that these prosecutions, when Americans are killed by terrorists overseas, including in Israel, that that was the highest priority, and that there should be no stone left unturned. And I understand when you�re talking about foreign jurisdictions, and you alluded to some of the issues that arise, and I think that point is well taken. But when it�s zero for 64, I think you see some people, who have been affected negatively, wonder, you know, what exactly is the Department doing within this particular aspect of terrorism that occurs in Israel?
Another exchange between Wiegmann and Representative DeSantis concerned whether US foreign might influence the the Department of Justice pursued terrorists:
Mr. DESANTIS. …Now, it�s been alleged that the reason that DOJ does not prosecute the Palestinian terrorists who harm Americans in Israel, the disputed territories, is that the Department of Justice is concerned that such prosecutions will harm efforts to promote the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or that it will actually harm the Palestinian Authority.
So let me ask you straight up, is that a consideration the Department of Justice?
Mr. WIEGMANN. I can assure that is absolutely not the case.
Mr. DESANTIS. And has the State Department ever made arguments to the Department of Justice to handle some of the Palestinian terrorism cases differently than you may normally handle, say, a terrorism case in Asia?
Mr. WIEGMANN. Absolutely not. The State Department has nothing to say about cases that we bring, whether in Palestinian territories related to these cases or not. So it absolutely makes zero difference to us whether the terrorist attack occurred in Israel, whether it�s a Palestinian terrorist group, whether it�s ISIL, Al Qaeda, they are all the same to us. We want to protect Americans regardless of who they are victimized by.
An important issue in the US pursuing and extraditing terrorists in general and Palestinian terrorists in particular is the question of double-jeopardy. Does the US consider pursuit of Palestinian terrorists released from prison, for example in the Gilad Shalit exchange, to be off-limits:
Mr. DESANTIS. …Now, some have said that if you have a situation where a terrorist who kills Americans in Israel is prosecuted by the Israelis, then they are later released in a prisoner exchange or release, that somehow if we were to prosecute them here, that would trigger double jeopardy. Is that the Department�s position?
Mr. WIEGMANN. Absolutely not. We have prosecuted people who have been released from prison before. Sometimes it takes us a while. One prominent case is an older case, actually a case involving a Palestinian terrorist who hijacked an airliner in Pakistan. He spent, I think, 8 to 10 years in a Pakistani prison. Then he was released, made his way to another country, and was, I think, more, 10, 12, 15 years later that we were able finally to apprehend the person, prosecuted him in 2004, and he�s got a 60-year sentence today.
So we have prosecuted people who have been released from prison before, and certainly, nothing in the Israeli prison release would be any different. We fully intend to pursue charges in any of those cases if we can.
Some of Wiegmann’s testimony is positive — that the prosecution of Palestinian terrorists is not influenced or hampered by foreign policy and that double-jeopardy is not an issue.
But the fact remains that the record of the OVT is horrendous. Some of the parents and relatives of victims made clear they thought the Department of Justice and the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism were not doing their job, undercutting the intent of the Koby Mandell Act. Apart from the clear failure to apprehend even one Palestinian terrorist, other complaints during the hearing were that the OVT was not in contact with them..
- When she the head of the American Consulate in Israel to find out about the recent activities of The Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism , she never heard back.
- Her family was not informed of key personnel changes in the OVT.
- Although Rewards for Justice distributed 100 million dollars to 70 people who have given information leading to the apprehension of terrorists — the program had not been activated in Israel.
We are approaching the end of 2017 and still the OVT has been a failure.
Most recently, efforts to bring Ahlam Tamimi to justice have been thwarted by Jordan’s refusal to honor its extradition treaty with the US. It is unclear what the US is going to do to prevent this from being one more failure in the record of the the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism.
And in the record of the Koby Mandell Act.