In a related development last this week, Israel agreed to establish an independent commission that will decide whether criminal charges should be brought against those involved in the decision to bomb the Gaza City neighborhood.
The lawsuit, Matar v. Dichter, was filed against Avi Dichter, the former Director of Israel's General Security Service (GSS), on behalf of the Palestinians who were killed or injured in the bombing. The attack occurred around midnight on July 22, 2002, when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropped a one-ton bomb on an apartment building in al-Daraj, a residential neighborhood in Gaza City in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It killed seven adults and eight children, including plaintiff Ra'ed Matar's wife and their three young children and plaintiff Mahmoud Al Huweiti's wife and two of their young sons. It also injured more than 150 others, including plaintiff Marwan Zeino, whose spinal vertebrae were crushed.
The May 2007 district court dismissal by Judge William H. Pauley, III of the Southern District of New York found that Dichter had immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) because, according to the Israeli government, Dichter was acting in the course of his official duties.
"The court's granting of immunity amounts to impunity for Dichter's decision to bomb a building full of civilians," said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. "Dichter's act was no less an act of terror because he hailed from the government of a U.S. ally - he must be held accountable."
CCR's case charges Dichter with war crimes, extrajudicial killings, and crimes against humanity under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) for his participation in the decision to carry out a "targeted assassination" by using military aircraft to bomb an apartment building in a densely-populated neighborhood in the middle of the night knowing there were civilians inside; international law prohibits attacks on civilians. The complaint also alleges that GSS provided the necessary intelligence and final approval to implement the attack.
The U.S. government, in a statement of interest it submitted in the case, argued that Dichter should be immune for official acts, including war crimes. In the submission, the U.S. government also reiterated its "serious objections" to the attack, which the Bush administration had previously condemned as a "deliberate attack against a building in which civilians were known to be located."
Said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren, "The hypocrisy of the U.S. government on one hand condemning the attack but on the other arguing that no one can or should be held accountable is astounding but, given this administration, not surprising. We still believe that no one should be able to drop a one-ton bomb on a residential building, kill more than a dozen civilians, and fall beyond the reach of the law."
CCR pioneered the use of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) as a tool for non-U.S. citizens to hold officials accountable for human rights abuses with its 1979 case against Paraguayan Police Chief Pena-Irala for the torture and murder of 17-year-old Joelito Filartiga, the son of a vocal opponent of the Paraguayan dictator. Over the past decade, CCR has successfully expanded the application of the ATS, also known as the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), to cases involving human rights violations abetted or committed by multinational corporations, including Unocal and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.