It’s not about Kevin, but Rather about Robbing the Syrians in the Context of “Defending Them”
Reem Issa Reem Issa

It’s not about Kevin, but Rather about Robbing the Syrians in the Context of “Defending Them”

In the beginning of this year, a US federal court ordered a judgment in the amount of $50 million compensation for an American journalist, in a suit he filed against the Syrian regime for “detaining and torturing him from October 2012 until April 2016”.

The journalist, Kevin Dawes, had crossed into Syria via Turkey in early October 2012, in his capacity as a photojournalist to cover events in Syria, as he claims. Dawes was released through Russian intermediation, and the US State Department spokesman at the time thanked the Russian government for its efforts in this regard.

It is worth noting that, according to several reports, several Americans have been detained in Syria since 2011. They were present in the country as journalists, but Dawes was one of the few whom the US government worked diligently to release, which raises the question about what makes his release so important. This is a question outside the scope of this article, but it is important to keep it in mind.

Dawes had filed a lawsuit against the Syrian government in October 2021 with the help of the so-called “Syrian Emergency Task Force”, claiming that he had gone to Syria “hoping to provide medicine to civilians and cover their plight”. According to US legal and media sources, Dawes can receive compensation from the so-called “Victims of Terrorism Fund”.



What is the “Victims of Terrorism Fund”?

According to the Fund’s website, the US “Congress created the US Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST Fund) by statute, to provide compensation to a specific group of international terrorism victims harmed by state sponsored terrorism”. Additionally, “in general, the USVSST Fund is designed to award compensation to those victims of international state sponsored terrorism who (1) have secured final judgments in a United States district court against a state sponsor of terrorism, or (2) were held hostage at the United States Embassy in Tehran, Iran from 1979 to 1981 (and eligible spouses and children)”.

As a reminder, the countries considered by the US state sponsors of terrorism are, according to the US Department of State: Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and Syria. It is worth noting that Syria has been on this list the longest, as it was designated as a state sponsoring terrorism in December 1979.


What are the sources of money going into the Fund?

According to the act based on which the Fund was established, “the following shall be deposited or transferred into the Fund… all funds, and the net proceeds from the sale of property, forfeited or paid to the United States after the date of enactment of this Act as a criminal penalty or fine arising from… any related criminal conspiracy, scheme, or other Federal offense arising from the actions of, or doing business with or acting on behalf of, a state sponsor of terrorism… [and] one-half of all , and one-half of the net proceed from the sale of property, forfeited or paid to the United States after the date of enactment of this Act as a civil penalty or fine arising from… any related conspiracy, scheme, or other Federal offense arising from the actions of, or doing business with or acting on behalf of, a state sponsor of terrorism”.

Funds may be transferred to the Fund by decision of the US Department of Justice as well as by decision of Congress. The funds may come from sources such as the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, which is the receipt account for deposit of forfeitures made pursuant to laws enforced or administered by Treasury and Department of Homeland Security agencies. The Forfeiture Fund is administered by the Treasury Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture. Funds may also come through the Department of Justice’s Asset Forfeiture Program.

It is important to recall that the stated goal, by the US Treasury, of economic sanctions is to freeze the assets of the sanctioned entity or individual and prevent US citizens from doing business therewith. Presumably, once the foreign policy objectives of the sanctions are achieved, the assets will be returned to the country in question. However, according to the text of the Act under which the “Victims of Terrorism Fund” was established, any funds forfeited in the context of violating laws related to sanctions imposed by the US on countries or individuals can be deposited into the Fund.

One example of using US laws to forfeit funds related to activities in Syria was imposing a penalty on French cement company “Lafarge”, which admitted to supporting ISIS and the al-Nusra Front in 2013 and 2014 by operating in areas under their control in Syria. According to documents related to the case, funds, specifically $687 million, were forfeited from the company on based on terrorism and sanctions laws and deposited in the Forfeited Assets Fund of the US Department of Justice, which can transfer them to the “Victims of Terrorism Fund”. This means that funds confiscated based on the activities of non-US companies outside the US based on American laws, such as those related to sanctions imposed by the US on any country, could end up in the “Victims of Terrorism Fund”, which pays compensation, as in the example at the beginning of this article, to American citizens.

More clearly, these laws, especially such as the Caesar Act, can be used to freeze and forfeit the assets of Syrian individuals, companies, and institutions if these assets are located in countries or companies that the US can use its bullying to get its hands on, and through an American judicial judgment, it can deposit them in its various funds and pay them as compensation to American citizens, even though these assets and funds either belong to Syrian entities or individuals, or if they come from the Syrian regime, they actually belong to the Syrian people.

There is nothing that can prevent the US from using assets it forfeits from any country or citizens of any country. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine there have been increasing calls in US media and political circles for the Biden administration to liquidate billions of dollars from the assets of the Russian Central Bank that the US froze and use it to help Ukraine in its war efforts, or rather in order to cover the costs incurred by the West and US in supporting Ukraine against Russia.

This proposal was based on a law passed by Congress in 2001, according to which the US President “when the United States is engaged in armed hostilities or has been attacked by a foreign country or foreign nationals” can “confiscate any property subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, of any foreign person, foreign organization, or foreign country that he determines has planned, authorized, aided, or engaged in such hostilities or attacks against the United States; and all right, title, and interest in any property so confiscated shall vest”. The property can then be “be held, used, administered, liquidated, sold, or otherwise dealt with in the interest of and for the benefit of the United States”.

Therefore, in other words, while the US could not do this with regard to Russia, because the US is not directly engaged in the war in Ukraine, but can be considered engaged in the conflict in Syria by virtue of its military presence there. There are other precedents in which the same thing has been done with respect to assets forfeited by the US in other contexts, including Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, and Afghanistan, where funds from these forfeitures were used to compensate US citizens pursuant to judgments issued by US courts on the basis that they were victims of practices associated with these countries or their regimes or groups therein.


In conclusion…

If US sanctions are a means of political extortion and a means of restructuring the economies of targeted countries to push them towards destruction and disruption, then the additional “legal” tools that Washington is constantly inventing are being used to forfeit the funds and property of the targeted peoples, which Washington claims it imposes sanctions “to defend them”.

(Arabic version)

Last modified on Thursday, 18 January 2024 14:04