This week, the Supreme Court will decide whether to take a landmark case involving American victims of terror. For 14 years, a group of American families have been fighting to sue a known terrorist group and their supporters for acts that killed or injured their loved ones. Now, in a matter of days - their final plea for justice will be delivered or denied. And they say what makes matters worse; the administration is not their ally. Lisa Fletcher reports on their fight for justice.
Larry Carter lost his daughter in a bombing at Hebrew University in 2002.
Larry Carter: I got a phone call from the consulate in Jerusalem at 2:30 AM Friday morning confirming that it was and in the meantime you know, it was like, god don’t let be her.
Nine people were killed, including five Americans, when someone left a bomb inside a bag in the school’s cafeteria.
Larry Carter: I said, well, it's so long, it's taken to how can you be sure? And then she said, well, she had to be identified by fingerprints. And then after I hung up and it's like I'm hit by a train
The bomb-maker, Abdullah Barghouti, a satellite dish assembly worker from Kuwait, later confessed. The Palestinian Authority was directed to prosecute him after a deadly bombing at a Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem in 2001.
That didn’t happen.
Carter joined with 10 other families that had been victims of terrorism. Also among the Americans in the suit was Mark Sokolow.
Mark Sokolow: Terror endangers all of mankind - let us band together and let us fight together
He and his wife and daughters were wounded by a female suicide bomber while vacationing in Israel. That - was mere months after he escaped the World Trade Center on 9/11. Carter, Sokolow and the others sued the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. Kent Yalowitz represented Carter and 10 other families in their suit against the PLO and their complicity in the deadly terror attacks
The whole United States government has the rights and responsibilities to conduct foreign policy protecting Americans wherever in the world and travel. The law that allowed the lawsuit was created after a horrific terrorist attack almost two decades earlier.
In 1985, off the coast of Egypt, the Achille Lauro Cruise Ship was hijacked by four men from the Palestine Liberation Front. They murdered a 69-year-old Jewish American man in a wheelchair and threw him overboard. Leon Klinghoffer’s family went through 12 years of legal battles before reaching a settlement with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Their story paved the way for the 1992 Anti-terrorism Act. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley was one of the original sponsors.
Sen. Grassley: With this law, we will be able to bring terrorists to justice, the American way. By using the framework of her legal system to seek justice against those who follow no framework or defy all notions of morality and justice.
In 2015 Carter, Sokolow and the families won in in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. A unanimous verdict ruled the PLO, and Palestinian Authority backed the attacks. The jury awarded the family more than 218 million dollars - a sum automatically tripled under the Anti-terrorism Law.
That didn’t happen.
Lisa Fletcher: Are you surprised by the way this is going down?
Kent Yalowitz: Stunned. Appalled.
The judgment was thrown out. Not by arguments from PLO attorneys or an international tribunal but an appeals court in New York. The court claimed that foreign terrorists can avoid prosecution in the US for crimes not committed on American soil.
Yalowitz and his team fought on landing this case at the door of the Supreme Court. There’s a bi-partisan effort to support the victims’ legal fight. The entire House of Representatives has formally urged the Supreme Court to review the case along with 23 senators spanning the political spectrum from Elizabeth Warren to Ted Cruz. But there was one impediment
Larry Carter: We feel like our government has abandoned us. We really do. And we're Americans. And yet our government is taking their side.
After eight months of silence, the White House weighed in. The Solicitor General who represents the government before the Supreme Court recommended that it not take the case, but let the lower courts decide.
Larry Carter: I have had officials high ranking officials in the State Department sit across a table that close look me right in the eye and say we will protect your interest and I, like a fool, believed them
Lisa Fletcher: What’s at stake here more broadly, beyond these 11 families?
Kent Yalowitz: The right of the United States government to go outside of our borders and protect American wherever we travel. This law is supposed to travel with us so that if we’re in Brussels or Paris or Nice or were in London or Manchester and a terrorist strikes at us, or someone supports a terrorist that strikes at us, this law gives us the opportunity to be heard to have the chance for justice
Exactly what Larry Carter and the other 10 families are looking for.
Larry Carter: If the Supreme Court gets the case and rules, then we'll know that we have done everything that we can do, uh, to have justice for our kids.
The Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the case this week. The Trump administration wasn’t first to take this stance. In 2015, the Obama administration sided against the families. It argued that forcing the PA to pay hundreds of millions of dollars would cripple its ability to function as a governmental authority and that would, in turn, pose a risk to US interests.