President Donald Trump campaigned as a law-and-order candidate who would crack down on terrorism. He is supposedly a friend of Israel. And the president is never for a lack of words, even when he should be. So it might surprise some that the Trump administration is choosing to remain silent in a court case as American victims seek to make financiers of terror pay for their gruesome crimes.
The issue is so clear cut that firebrands of the left and right, such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz, are miraculously on the same side of the debate. Dozens of U.S. Senators and Members of Congress from both parties have called on the administration to file a brief with the Supreme Court, but yet to no avail.
The case of Sokolow v. Palestinian Liberation Organization et al. stems back to seven terror attacks that took place between 2001 and 2004. The PLO and Palestinian Authority supported a campaign of terror in Israel that killed and maimed hundreds of civilians, including U.S. citizens. In 2015, a jury found the PLO and PA were liable for the acts of terror. The result of the case was that the victims and their families were awarded $655.5 million. But that wasn’t the end of it.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the case last year on the grounds the attack happened overseas and is beyond the jurisdiction of U.S. courts. While the Supreme Court has previously ruled that American courts shouldn’t have jurisdiction in cases with foreign plaintiffs, foreign defendants, and based on foreign conduct, in this case, the victims were Americans.
The courts have also given deference over foreign policy to the legislative and executive branches. Because of the threat of terror against Americans travelling abroad, Congress passed a law—the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992—that provides U.S. courts extraterritorial jurisdiction. That law was a direct response to a 1985 PLO attack on an Italian cruise ship, as terrorists seized the ship, shot, and threw overboard a wheelchair-bound American, Leon Klinghoffer. The law maintains broad support from both Congress and former leading officials in the executive branch, including former FBI Director Louis Freeh and Former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who filed a brief with the Supreme Court supporting the victims.
Now Sokolow v. PLO sits waiting for the Supreme Court to decide if it will hear the case or allow the Second Circuit ruling to stand. In June, the Supreme Court specifically requested that the Trump administration offer its view of the case. But Solicitor General Noel Francisco has taken no action. Critics speculate that the State Department has been the roadblock, along with inaction by the Justice Department. Holding the Palestinian Authority liable for its past violence could weaken America’s relationship with the Palestinians and destabilize an already indebted PA, and so it seems that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the career bureaucrats are siding with the terrorists over the American victims.
InsideSources reached out to a man who previously held Francisco’s job. Theodore B. Olson, of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, who is Supreme Court counsel for the victims in the Sokolow case, explained, “The Justice Department should have filed its brief months ago. The lower court decision cripples a vital anti-terrorism statute and essentially tells foreign terrorists that they may kill and maim Americans with impunity. This is not a close call.”
Olson continued by making it evident where the blame for this delay lies: “The Justice Department has a crystal-clear obligation to defend the law that Congress passed. This kind of delay could be caused only if one of the ‘client’ agencies within the government wanted it, and there’s only one agency of which I am aware that takes calls from foreign terrorist governments but not their American victims.”
Writing to Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a bipartisan group of 24 U.S. Senators explained: “If left to stand, the [Second Circuit] decision casts severe doubt on the continued ability of other American victims of international terrorist attacks to obtain some semblance of justice in our nation’s courts against the perpetrators, and undermines a key counterterrorism tool that was deliberately crafted by Congress with the support and assistance of your Departments.”
The question now is whether Tillerson, Sessions, and Francisco will act in defense of terror’s victims or give their de facto support to a terrorist government by doing nothing.