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Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 1999/17 Tishrei, 5760

Tony Snow

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'Walking on my daughter's grave' -- WE ALL KNOW Bill Clinton can weep over the misfortunes of common men, but does he care enough to lift a finger when they need help?

A handful of Americans think they know the answer. They include the wives and sisters of Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Pena and Pablo Morales -- men whose planes were blasted out of the air by Cuban MiG fighters on April 24, 1996. They include the family of Alisa Flatow, a Brandeis student who died four years ago in Israel when terrorists detonated a bomb near the bus she was riding.

All received special attention from the president during the 1996 election season. Stephen Flatow, Alisa's father, met personally with Clinton on three occasions and listened as a teary commander in chief confessed, "I wish I could do more."

Clinton made good on those words two days after the Cuban attack on American citizens. He declared: "I am asking that Congress pass legislation that will provide immediate compensation to the families, something to which they are entitled under international law, out of Cuba's blocked assets here in the United States."

Congress passed the law two months later, and the victims' families sprinted to court. Soon after, they received judgments against the governments that had orchestrated their loved ones' deaths -- Cuba and Iran. Then a funny thing happened. The Department of the Treasury refused to grant them access to the frozen assets of the terrorist states.

So Congress stepped in last year and rewrote the law so Treasury couldn't stand in the way anymore. It also added a proviso -- demanded by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright -- that the president could waive the statute when vital national security interests were at stake.

The families headed to court again and were surprised to find hostile government lawyers opposing them again. The most bizarre confrontation occurred this August, when the families of the slain Cuban-Americans found themselves across the table from a legal team comprised of State Department attorneys and registered agents of the Cuban government. The president himself had signed an order preventing the families from touching a penny of the $187.5 million a court had awarded to them.

Typically, he seized on an ambiguity in the statute and twisted the law to violate the will of Congress. This prompted members of Congress to clarify things -- again. Sens. Connie Mack, R.-Fla., and Frank Lautenberg, D.-N.J., proposed requiring the president to justify on a case-by-case basis any refusal to seize assets of terrorist states. The rider was killed upon threat of a presidential veto.

To date, Team Clinton has rebuffed the way of survivors of the Pan Am 103 bombing, now traced definitively to Libya. It has gone to court to thwart four businessmen abducted and tortured by Iraq and two who suffered similar abuse at the hands of Libya. It has snubbed the families of Alisa Flatow, Armando Alejandre, Carlos Costa, Mario de la Pena and Pablo Morales.

Put these cases together with the FALN debacle, and it appears Clinton has abandoned the war on terrorism to wage war on the victims of terror. The administration now regards mourning families as annoyances and thugs as potential allies. This is true whether you're a maimed police officer in New York or a parent in New Jersey. In the moral maelstrom of Clinton Village, the president ignores the cries and pleadings of survivors, and colludes with killers, all in the name of advancing human rights.

Nearly 6,000 families have sought reparations from Cuba; untold others want recourse against the seven terrorist states mentioned in the law -- Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria. To date, the Compassion President has supported the claims of only three plaintiffs. Their names: AT&T, ITT and Citicorp.

Maggie Khuly, the sister of Armando Alejandre, says she has learned bitter lessons from the ordeal: "We found out very clearly that being a Cuban in Miami -- even though you might be an American citizen and were born in this country ... people think you're nobody. ... When the U.S. government intervened in the case, it really was a shock. ... We saw it as siding with the Cuban government and siding against us. But we're the ones whose rights have been violated."

Stephen Flatow has lost his composure only once in his four-year quest for justice -- at a court hearing last month. "I felt they had walked on Alisa's grave. The way they were talking about the issue ... the government was losing sight that an American citizen was killed in a directed attack against a public passenger bus. ... But I'm going to stay cool. If I let it get to me I would die."

The president may have good reason for his actions. But he hasn't once bothered to pick up the phone and explain his views to families he once befriended. Nor have his flunkies.

So families and victims soldier on, determined to get their due -- even if it means taking on a U.S. government that sits on the other side of the courtroom, making common cause with Fidel Castro, Moammar Khadafy and Saddam Hussein.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate