A lawyer who represents American victims of terrorism has called on the U.S. Senate to hold hearings into the events that led Department of Justice Solicitor General Noel Francisco to file a brief with the United States Supreme Court siding with the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority against American victims of terror.
A similar request to the U.S. House will be sent within the next week.
Shortly after Solicitor General Francisco filed his brief, the Supreme Court entered an Order declining to review a federal appeals court’s decision setting aside a $655.5 million judgment a jury had awarded the American victims of terror against the PLO and the Palestinian Authority for their role in multiple attacks in which Americans were killed and injured. The lawyer, David Schoen, later joined by the Zionist Organization of America, had demanded immediate hearings into action taken in the case by the Solicitor General and the State Department and has asked Congress to set aside funds equivalent to the judgment originally obtained by the American victims from dollars earmarked for the Palestinian Authority, this reporter has learned.
The Supreme Court’s decision, announced on April 2nd, let stand a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York that overturned the $655.5 judgment, based on a finding that U.S. courts do not have jurisdiction over the PLO and the Palestinian Authority for acts of terror against Americans carried out overseas. A federal statute, the Anti-Terrorism Act, was passed by Congress specifically to give U.S. Courts jurisdiction over such claims. Both the U.S. House and members of the U.S. Senate from both major parties filed briefs in the Supreme Court advising the Supreme Court that this is exactly the kind of conduct the Anti-Terrorism Act was intended to cover and they urged the Court to review the case and restore the original judgment to the American victims. The Solicitor General and the State Department filed a brief not just against the American victims, but against the briefs filed by Congress as well.
“It is unconscionable that our Solicitor General and State Department not only condoned this manipulation but actively advocated for it…”
It has been a long battle for the victims and families brutalized by terror attacks that took place in Israel nearly two decades ago. In 2004, Mark Sokolow filed a lawsuit on behalf of victims who either lost their lives or were survivors of terror attacks conducted by the Palestinian Liberation Organization/ Palestinian Authority in Israel. The lawsuit condemned the PLO and Palestinian Authority for aiding and planning terrorist attacks in Israel between 2001 and 2004. It wouldn’t be, however, until 2015 when a jury would unanimously award $655.5 million to the victims and their families.
The PLO and Palestinian Authority appealed the case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which reversed the lower court’s verdict on jurisdictional grounds. In 2017 the victims’ families asked the Supreme Court to hear their case. The court, in turn, asked President Trump’s Solicitor General to submit a brief as to “why or why not” the court should hear their case. Fransisco, joined by the Legal Advisor for the State Department, argued against the victims, leading the Supreme Court to decline their case on appeal.
Because of this. Defense Attorney David Schoen, who represented the plaintiffs in the Sokolow case during the pretrial stage and who filed an Amicus brief in the Supreme Court, sent a letter last week to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassely, R-Iowa, along with 22 of his colleagues. He asked the lawmakers to open an investigation into the matter.
The senators, all who supported the families in their fight against the PLO, had signed and submitted their own Amicus brief on April 2017 asking President Trump’s Justice Department for the case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Late last month after the Solicitor General submitted his brief denying their case, Schoen sent a letter asking Fransisco to withdraw and reconsider. The Solicitor General declined.
“I respectfully suggest to you that in the wake of such shocking conduct by the Solicitor General and the State Department’s legal advisor, hearings must be conducted in the Senate and in the House by the appropriate committees to get to the bottom of this,” said Schoen in the letter to lawmakers. “I further respectfully submit that a remedy that must at least be considered by you is a set aside of U.S. dollars for these American victims of terror from money otherwise earmarked for the PA/PLO until the victims have received an amount equal to the judgment entered in their favor.”
Grassley’s office did not immediately respond for comment.
Last week before requesting the Senate hearings, Schoen had asked the Fransisco to withdraw his brief to the Supreme Court, arguing that the PLO and Palestinian Authority, the government representing the Palestinian people, had agreed in a 2007 meeting with then Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice that it was in the “PLO/PA’s best interests and U.S. best interests for the PLO/PA to change policies and appear in all of the Anti Terrorism Act cases in the U.S. to prove to the American public that they were not supposedly involved in the terrorism charged.” Schoen provided the Solicitor General with documents the PLO and Palestinian Authority had filed in a federal court, including sworn declarations by Palestinian Authority leaders, consenting to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in cases like the one Sokolow brought against them under the ATA.
In a letter, Rice wrote to President Mahmoud Abbas on Jan. 2007, she encouraged the Palestinian Authority to respond the court cases against them in a “good faith and in a timely manner.”
Abbas had asked his then Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, later the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, to handle all legal matters associated with litigation against their government in the United States.
Fayyad found common ground with Rice stating, “it is my belief there are meritorious defenses to the claims brought in the United States and it is important to the PA to present those defenses. Moreover, it is important to the PA’s role in the international community to participate in the legal process, even when it is a process brought in the United States for actions that occurred far from the United States.”
“The importance of this was not fully appreciated by the [Palestinian Authority] government, as a whole, until recently. Now we can act on that understanding, and therefore seek to contest this litigation fully and responsively,” Fayyed added.
These official documents from the Palestinian Authority leadership were filed in a federal court in Washington, DC by the same lawyers who represented the defendants in the Sokolow case, and with these documents, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority filed a brief unequivocally committing to appear in all U.S. courts in which they were accused of acts of terror against Americans and to defend all such cases on their merits and no longer claim a lack of jurisdiction as they had in the past.
According to Schoen, the DOJ’s solicitor general’s argument that the PLO’s actions should not be brought to trial in the United States because the terror attacks took place in Israel, goes against the very agreement Fayyed had with Rice in 2007 and against the firm commitment the PLO and PA made to a federal judge prior to the trial in the Sokolow case.
Schoen wrote that the solicitor general’s brief “did not stand up for the right of American terror victims to secure some measure of justice under U.S. law against the terrorist perpetrators, or for the vigorous and unfettered enforcement of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).”
A spokesperson for the DOJ Solicitor General declined to comment for the story and stated: “the brief reflected the position of the United States.”
The lawsuit was based on the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was championed in 1992 by Grassley, and affords American victims of terrorist acts conducted overseas crucial legal remedies.
“Instead, the Solicitor General, on behalf of the United States government, urged the Supreme Court to deny the plaintiffs’ petition, thereby defending the terrorists by letting the PLO and PA off the hook on jurisdictional grounds under the ATA, instead of supporting the terror victims,” Schoen said. “I am writing this email to those members of the Senate who signed on the Amicus brief filed in the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the American victims of terror in the Sokolow case…You showed great courage and integrity in making your position known to the Court as a matter of principle.”
Schoen said one of the most shocking developments, in this case, was the decision by Fransisco, who worked with a legal advisor from the State Department, to go against the lawmakers’ request to have the victims’ case heard and instead side with the PLO and Palestinian Authority.
The victims argued that Fransisco’s brief to the Supreme Court to accept the lower courts conclusion that it is not fair to subject the PLO/PA to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in cases brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act, denies the victims their ability to seek justice.
In 2007, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority made an unequivocal commitment to accede to the jurisdiction of U.S. courts in the ATA cases after consultation with our State Department. They also made a commitment to defend all ATA cases on the merits, Schoen said.
“In fact, in written documents, including a Declaration filed by the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister, subject to the penalties for perjury, the PA and the PLO advised another U.S. court that their officials had met with the State Department and had concluded that it was in their own best interests and in the best interests of the U.S. for them to defend on the merits in order to prove to the American people that they did not provide material support for terrorism,” he stated in the letter. “That, of course, was a lie, as the jury in Sokolow resoundingly found.”
Schoen noted that after the PLO and the PA lost the original case they “reneged on their sworn commitment and sought to have it overturned on the very jurisdictional grounds to which it had acceded as a matter of policy.”
“It is unconscionable that our Solicitor General and State Department not only condoned this manipulation but actively advocated for it,” he said.
Schoen advises that a similar letter to the U.S. House will be sent within the next week. After his letter to the Senate was sent the Zionist Organization of America has joined the call of Congressional hearings and for the setting aside of U.S. Dollars earmarked for the PLO and the PA equal to the amount of the judgment entered by the federal jury for the families of the American victims.