OpinionIsrael at War

It’s time for America to go to court

The United States has means to pressure terrorists if it has the will; indicting them by name is the first step.

The U.S. Department of Justice. Credit: Christopher E. Zimmer/Shutterstock.
The U.S. Department of Justice. Credit: Christopher E. Zimmer/Shutterstock.
Stephen M. Flatow. Credit: Courtesy.
Stephen M. Flatow
Stephen M. Flatow is president of the Religious Zionists of America. He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995, and author of A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror. (The RZA is not affiliated with any American or Israeli political party.)

Living in Israel right now, I appreciate U.S. President Joe Biden’s public announcements and personal display of support for Israel at war. His 24-hour drop-in visit stunned many Israelis who have watched America’s decline as a positive force in the Mideast. And his statements of solidarity with Israel as we in Israel and Jews around the world struggle with the aftermath of the massacre and hostage-taking that Hamas perpetrated on Saturday, Oct. 7, are most welcome. The movement of two U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike groups to the Eastern Mediterranean was also a clear signal to Iran via Hezbollah that the Biden administration has our back.

But not all government employees are happy with Biden’s and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s support of Israel. One, Josh Paul, the director of congressional and public affairs at the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, resigned, as The Wall Street Journal reported, because “he could not work in support of a set of major policy decisions—including “rushing more arms to one side of the conflict”—that he believes to be ‘shortsighted, destructive, unjust and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse.’ ” Thank you for your service, Mr. Paul; don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Other U.S. State Department employees are organizing a “dissent cable,” a document allowing criticism of American policy that goes via a protected internal channel to the State Department’s leaders. In other words, it’s a way for entrenched bureaucrats who cannot be fired to protest decisions made by appointed officials. Perhaps they should follow Mr. Paul out the door, but principles only go so far when you know your job is protected by union rules.

Now that the president and secretary of state have weighed in on the Hamas war, where is the Department of Justice under Attorney General Merrick Garland in all of this? From where I sit, it’s missing in action.

U.S. laws allow for the prosecution in the United States of crimes against Americans committed overseas. This power is found in the U.S. Code’s criminal law provisions. One of those provisions is relevant to the war with Hamas because it deals with hostages.

18 USC Sec. 1203 deals with hostages and says in pertinent parts that “whoever … seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure, or to continue to detain another … in order to compel a … a governmental organization to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the person detained, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished by imprisonment for any term of years or for life and, if the death of any person results, shall be punished by death or life imprisonment.”

It is clear that the “whoever” cited in the statute is those members of Hamas who actually participated in the attacks and those who “conspire.” Namely, that would be the Hamas leadership: Ismail Haniyeh, safely ensconced in U.S. ally Qatar; Marwan Issa, the leader of Hamas in Gaza; and Yahya Sinwar, who plays a significant role in Hamas’s military and strategic operations. And, of course, let’s not leave out the ever-elusive Mohammed Deif, who heads the military wing of Hamas through its Al-Qassam Brigades.

You may recall then-president Bill Clinton’s 1996 promise to the family of Nachshon Wachsman, who was kidnapped and then murdered by Hamas in 1994, assuring he would bring Mohammed Deif, the mastermind of the kidnapping, to justice. It never happened and now, almost 30 years later, Deif is still free to murder and take hostages.

The might of the U.S. justice system can also back up Biden’s supportive statements and military posturing. Indictments of Haniyeh, Issa, Sinwar and Deif would send a message. Getting Haniyeh out of Qatar may not be easy because there is no extradition treaty between the Americans and Qataris, but the United States has other means to pressure them if the will is there. And they should give pause to Turkey and any other Mideast country that may consider providing a safe haven for these vicious thugs.

The United States has the tools to fight Hamas, but they must be used. What do you say, Attorney General Garland?

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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