A retired 6-term congressman who represented slain activist Rachel Corrie’s district said Thursday he was unsurprised by an Israeli court verdict to dismiss a civil suit filed by the family.
Democrat Brian Baird of Washington said the trial was undermined by Israel’s failure to conduct a transparent investigation into the 2003 killing of his constituent in Gaza.
"The verdict was not a great surprise" because the outcome resulted from "a process that seemed designed to obfuscate the facts rather than clarify," the ex-lawmaker said in a telephone interview from Seattle.
"Sadly, as I’ve come to understand, this is standard operating procedure" for many complaints alleging Israeli military misconduct, he said. "The case was dismissed without proper consideration."
Baird, who served six terms in the US House of Representatives before retiring in 2010, was among the first officials to call for a US investigation into Corrie’s death. No American inquiry was formed, but the former lawmaker has continued to support the family’s fight for accountability in Israeli courts.
The suit by Cindy and Craig Corrie sought a symbolic $1 in damages for the death of their daughter, who was crushed to death by an armored bulldozer as she protested against home demolitions in Gaza. Their case accused Israel of intentional and unlawful killing and failing to investigate.
On Tuesday, a judge dismissed the suit and said Israel was not to blame for any "damages caused" as they occurred during wartime. He said Corrie’s death was a "regrettable accident," and added that she "did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done."
Former President Jimmy Carter responded that the "killing of an American peace activist is unacceptable," and urged the US to use "all reasonable means to ensure that the rights of its citizens are protected overseas and that justice is done for the Corrie family."
Reactions to the verdict were muted in Washington. Israel enjoys considerable support from both major parties. Lawmakers are also preparing for a November presidential election.
The PLO general delegation to the US said it was "dismayed" by the Obama administration’s silence.
"We strongly believe that the failure of US officials to support the Corries only sustains Israeli policies of harassment, intimidation, and coercion against American supporters of the Palestinian people," it said.
US Position ‘Unchanged’
Baird too said he regretted that the case never became a top foreign policy priority.
"In the early days after Rachel’s death, there was extraordinary compassion," he said, emphasizing that certain officials in the State Dept. had done an "outstanding job" in support of the family. However, he added, "There was not the same level of support from Congress."
Cindy Corrie, meanwhile, said the US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, had informed the family this week that the US position on Israel’s investigations remained unchanged. Shapiro was referring to remarks by a State Dept. official under the Bush administration who said Israel had failed to conduct a "thorough, credible and transparent" investigation, Corrie told reporters on a conference call.
State Dept. spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday she could not comment on a closed meeting and declined to give an official position on the verdict. But she said the US understood the family’s disappointment. "We reiterate our condolences to the Corrie family on the tragic death of their daughter," she said.
Baird, the former congressman, recalled being unprepared in 2003 for the extent of the antagonism he would face from Israeli officials and lobbyists after he proposed an independent investigation into the killing.
"Representatives of the Israeli government resisted providing full information, and in some cases provided false information," he said of the responses to his requests for information.
In one instance, "I was personally and repeatedly told by representatives of Israel and representatives of AIPAC that the bulldozer driver was suffering from a deep depression and undergoing therapy. That was in direct contrast to the (future) hearing where he implied he had little recollection of the event."
"At that time I was not saying Israel was culpable, but it was necessary to ask for an investigation … We had a responsibility if it was any country — friendly or unfriendly."
Ultimately, he said, the Corrie verdict put a spotlight on the many barriers to justice faced by Palestinians.
"This is not a rare event for Palestinians. Those individuals often get far less official due process. I trust that the Corries’ motivation is partly to highlight this fundamental characteristic for Palestinians," he said. "I admire tremendously the Corrie family for pursuing it."