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Justice must not be the price for peace with Sudan

The US Congress should stand firm in protecting the legal rights of the many victims of terror groups sponsored by the East African nation
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands with Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling sovereign council, in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (Sudanese Cabinet via AP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stands with Sudanese Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, the head of the ruling sovereign council, in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. (Sudanese Cabinet via AP)

History has taught us that peace at any price is nothing but a steppingstone to injustice and terror. Two leaders shaking hands and signing a treaty must never wipe away holding a nation accountable for its past crimes.

A month after Israel reached agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the framework of the Abraham Accords — a truly historic moment for the future of the Middle East — US President Donald Trump announced that Sudan was joining the Accords and would establish full ties with the Jewish state. But, there was a catch. The Trump administration, eager to score a political win before the November 3 presidential elections, rushed the agreement. Sudan’s strongman Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan made it clear that he wouldn’t sign the accords unless the United States removed the East African nation from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and Congress granted Khartoum full immunity from future claims in American courts of law for its role as a state sponsor of international terrorism.

The military dictators who ruled Sudan since its independence from Great Britain in 1956 have always supported a radical agenda that promoted violence throughout the region. According to testimony before the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee in 1997, “Sudan harbors elements of the most violent terrorist organizations in the world: Jihad, the armed Islamic group, Hamas, Abu Nidal, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Group are all present in terrorist training camps in Sudan. These terrorist groups are responsible for hundreds of terrorist attacks around the world that have taken thousands of lives.” 

Osama bin Laden found sanctuary in Sudan, and, in 1998, the United States launched cruise missiles against Sudan for its role in facilitating al-Qaeda’s suicide truck bombings of two American embassies in East Africa. For years, Sudan’s Red Sea ports served as conduits for Iranian arms and missile components to reach terror cells inside the Gaza Strip; Sudan’s complicit support of these terror factions resulted in scores of innocent people being killed and wounded.

Many victims of Sudanese-supported terror were forgotten when the peace deal was hurriedly negotiated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his counterparts in Khartoum. The Trump administration wanted a victory and Pompeo conceded the quid-pro-quo to Khartoum that it would compensate American victims of the East Africa embassy bombings to the tune of $335 million in return for being removed from the State Department terror list and that Congress would pass legislation that would thwart the victims of past terror attacks from demanding court-ordered compensation from Khartoum in the future. Without such immunity, Sudan would risk billions of dollars in foreign investment; since those funds could be embroiled in legal proceedings for years and ultimately be parties to additional lawsuits. Impoverished by wars and corruption, Khartoum needs foreign capital to emerge from its financial shambles. 

But what about the American citizens killed and injured by Hamas rockets and PIJ bullets facilitated by Sudan?

The Trump administration is hoping for the Israel-Sudan accords to be signed before the New Year, Congress must provide two Solomon-like answers to two moral and legal-laced questions. Does it absolve a nation of its complicity in murder and protect it from being held accountable, denying the victims of catastrophic terror their day in court? Or, does the United States stand firm, demand justice, and send a message to Sudan and the other nations standing in the wings to join the Abraham Accords that the United States government will never forget its citizens and will do all that the law allows to ensure that the road to peace is always paved by a path of justice. Senator Chuck Schumer (R-NY) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) have held up any arrangement that lets Sudan walk away from its terror debt and preserving the rights of 9/11 victims to go after Sudan — and any other nation that supported Bin Laden. 

The State Department has undertaken no effort to address the claims of the large number of terror victims killed and injured in Sudan sponsored attacks. These include victims of Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza and those murdered in the 9/11 tragedy. In its haste to have another foreign policy victory as it leaves office, the Trump administration threw these other, similarly situated families who have had their lives devastated by Sudan, under the bus and ignored their rights. Congress must remain resolute and protect the legal rights of all the terror victims, including those murdered and maimed by the Palestinians, not just the former embassy employees, so that justice is not the price paid for peace.

About the Author
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli civil rights attorney and the founder of the Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, an Israeli based civil rights organization which legally holds to account terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them. They are also dedicated to combating discrimination against Israel through the boycott and 'lawfare' campaigns.
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