Letters to the Editor

Words versus Deeds?

Flatow is the father of Alisa Flatow who died following a terrorist attack in Gaza in 1995. He has obtained a $247.5 million dollar judgment against the Islamic Republic of Iran for its role in the terrorist attack.

Following the horrific terror attacks in Kenya and Tanzania, Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, "the United States will spare no effort and use all means at our disposal to track down and punish the perpetrators of these outrageous acts." America's position on terrorism has, once again, been clearly stated. Yet, my experience indicates the opposite takes place and the words are followed by inaction or the wrong action.

Encouraged by the passage of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 which, for the first time, subjects state sponsors of terrorism to the jurisdiction of America's courts, our family filed a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic of Iran for its role as the sponsor of the 1995 terrorist attack which took the life of my 20 year old daughter Alisa. Five months ago, United States District Court Judge Royce Lamberth agreed with our experts that Iran was the financial sponsor of the attack and awarded our family almost one-quarter of a billion dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.

Now, I find myself in the surreal position of being opposed by the Department of State in my attempts to enforce our judgment against Iranian assets located in the United States.

The Department of State stepped in on the side of the Iranians when my attorneys asked the United States Marshal's Office in Washington, D.C. to seize Iranian government real estate located in the nation's capital. To our surprise, the U.S. Justice Department has asked the court to block our efforts to seize these assets. While requesting a court ordered stay of our efforts, the government's lawyers were quick to emphasize that they were not in court representing the government of Iran. But, as was noted by my attorney Steven R. Perles, there were only two parties to the lawsuit and the government's lawyers were not representing my family.

The government's formal request to quash our writs of attachment is over 40 pages long. The government's position is that it must hold up its end of international legal obligations or run the risk that "other countries may not uphold their international obligations which benefit the United States." Yet, it was the illegal seizure of the United States Embassy in Tehran which served as the cause of the breaking of diplomatic relations with Iran. If the Iranians were not then interested in "their international obligations" to protect Amenca's interests, why should Mrs. Albright and the State Department now step in to protect Iranian interests?

Sad1y, framing the decision in our case is a proliferation of news articles and analysis about the warming of relations between Iran - still identified by the State Department as the number one state sponsor of terrorism - and the United States. This is the same Iran which is developing non-conventional weapons capable of reaching American forces now serving in the Middle East.

As a nation flies its flags at half staff once again, many will wonder - where will the State Department and the families of those killed in the latest terror attacks go from here? Will the injured and families of those killed at Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam eventually find relief and comfort through the United States pursuit of the terrorists responsible for the East Africa attacks? The posting of a $2,000,000 reward is a step in the right direction. Time will tell as to the rest. The decision of the administration to oppose our own efforts does not bode well.

On the day President Clinton signed the anti-terrorism bill on the White House lawn, he eloquently recognized the "endurance" and "courage" of the families who have suffered at the hands of terrorists. Mrs. Albright should understand that we will continue to endure and fight against those who harm our children. Although Alisa is no longer here with me, I am still her father and I have not surrendered my responsibility to bring her killers to justice. It is up to the State Department to prove it is in the fight.

Stephen M. Flatow
West Orange, NJ

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