9/11 families, betrayed again: The White House nearly got away with a dastardly deal

This is an opinion piece from the New York Daily News written by 9/11 widow Terry Strada, national chair for the 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism.

“As one who lost her husband on September 11, 2001, and has devoted her life to the pursuit of truth and justice for those attacks, I have worked for decades to bring those foreign nations to justice for their roles bolstering Al Qaeda and enabling the murders of our fellow Americans.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we brought civil suits against those nations that provided material support to Al Qaeda, most prominently Saudi Arabia, but also the Republic of Sudan. We included Sudan because it gave safe harbor to Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorists, enabling them to grow that organization into the international terrorist enterprise it would become. Sudan’s support for the radical jihadists caused the U.S. government to give it the deserved title of “state sponsor of terrorism.”

We have been determined to hold terror sponsors to account in court for our loss and suffering. We fought to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which enabled our lawsuits against those nations that had not been formally designated as state sponsors. Because Sudan had been designated, though, our rights to sue were already vested and we were doggedly gathering evidence, prepared to pursue discovery and prove our cases if and when Sudan had the courage to appear in court and mount a defense.

This month, however, we barely survived an effort by our own government to wipe out our rights altogether, and it was only thanks to congressional allies led by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez that we prevailed. The threat was an effort by the Trump administration to trade away our right to hold Sudan accountable for an unrelated foreign policy priority. It was a shameful, pitiful fiasco that the public should better understand, to ensure that it never happens again.

The Trump administration’s gambit began to take shape in 2019, when the Sudanese military overthrew dictator Omar al-Bashir. The new regime asked the Trump administration to remove it from the state sponsor of terrorism list, and our government began negotiating terms for the removal. Specifically, the government sought to ensure compensation for some of the terrorism victims of Al Qaeda who had unrelated, non-9/11 claims against Sudan — specifically, those related to the bombings of the U.S.S. Cole and U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. At no time did our nation’s diplomats contact the 9/11 families or seek to act on our behalf.

Despite this lack of engagement, our own government offered the Sudanese an incentive to pay the Cole and Embassy bombing victims’ families: the elimination of our rights. Our own government told Sudan that it would persuade Congress to wipe out our 9/11-related lawsuit altogether, depriving us of any accountability and justice. The State Department was essentially playing one set of terrorism victims off the other, in an incredibly dishonest and dastardly act. Never before has the U.S. government done to any group of victims what it sought to do to us.

Contrary to outrageous recent reporting fed by the White House, the 9/11 community was not bothered by our exclusion from the settlement. We support the Cole and Embassy families and their receipt of whatever small measure of justice they may accept. What we could not support was any attempt to extinguish our legal rights.

Fortunately, the White House’s scheme could not proceed without Congress’s endorsement, and the government had made its secret bargain with the Sudanese without ever talking to the legislative branch about it. Key senators stepped forward and fought the White House for months — ultimately ensuring that the 9/11 families’ rights were fully protected as part of the end-of-year omnibus spending bill, which the president just signed. We can now press our case against Sudan unmolested.

Regrettably, in the nearly 20 years since September 11, time and time again we have seen our government give lip service to supporting our pursuit of accountability and truth, while repeatedly working against us behind the scenes. The Trump administration is no exception. It has been maddeningly uncooperative in turning over the evidence it possesses and far more interested in protecting the Saudis, Sudanese and other “friends” in the region than guaranteeing that the truth of their pre-9/11 conduct is told.

Hopefully, this shameful behavior will be the final scene in that long and agonizing story, and we can look forward to a government that stands with terrorism victims instead of working to damage our interests.

Strada is the widow of Tom Strada, who died in the World Trade Center’s north tower during the 9/11 attacks. She is the national chair for the 9/11 Families and Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism.

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