Why is the American Jewish Congress siding with a Somali leader who has been accused of acts of torture?
The organization has filed a brief in the Supreme Court case that will decide whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act extends to an individual acting in his official capacity on behalf of a foreign state. Also at issue is whether an individual who is no longer an official of a foreign state at the time a suit is filed retains immunity for past action on behalf of that state.
The AJCongress brief argues that US courts have no jurisdiction in the case against Muhamad Ali Samantar, a former defense minister and later prime minister, who was sued in Virginia by alleged victims for acts committed overseas.
What does this have to do with America? That’s exactly the point. “Enforcement of international legal norms should be left to criminal prosecutions and other diplomatic avenues of recourse,” says the AJC.
What does this have to do with the AJC? You don’t need a degree in international relations to figure out they are worried not about Somalis or ministers of the United Kingdom or India but Israeli political leaders and generals. There is already a movement afoot to try them in American courts or in the Hague for alleged war crimes. (We are confident that once those lawsuits commence, parallel suits against Hamas and Hezbollah will immediately be filed by those altruistic plaintiffs.)
It’s fine to argue that US courts are for US crimes. We’re already the world’s policeman. Do we also need to be its bailiff?
But in taking this stance, the organized American Jewish community may open itself to charges of a double standard since we have applauded recent civil litigation against Iran, Hamas and the PLO for carrying out terrorist attacks acts abroad, and against Arab Bank for allegedly financing them.
There’s one distinction off the bat: The acts named in those suits resulted in the deaths of US citizens. But we haven’t seen lawsuits against every country where Americans die, and the people who killed them, here.
Marc Stern, AJCongress’ legal expert, says there is another distinction: The Somali case and those against Israel involve officials of sovereign nations, as opposed to outcast terror groups.
“In addition, many of the terrorism lawsuits were brought under specific statutes that limit those you can sue. You have to be on the [State Department] list of terrorism-supporting states to be sued. It’s not a general invitation to drag every foreign dispute into the United States.”
Stern added that more is at stake for Israel than money. “Hamas can lose a dozen of these lawsuits and it’s no sweat off their back. But Israel’s moral standing is at stake if they are sued in Washington because of a mistaken attack on a refugee camp.”
Stern says he’s never been a big supporter of the anti-terrorism lawsuits. “They’re an open invitation to counter-lawsuits, which are more trouble than terrorism suits,” he said.
Iran, he added, has already been on the losing end of “hundreds of millions in judgments and it hasn’t deterred them at all.”