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“Let’s Cut 'Em Off at the Knees and Let Allah Sort It Out!”

AIPAC & OFAC Ratchet-Up US Sanctions Targeting Syria and Iran’s Populations

by FRANKLIN LAMB

Damascus.

The US Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Assets Control, since  March of 2012,   is directed  by Mr. Adam J. Szubin who more than once has boasted on the sidelines of  a Congressional Hearing on Iran and Syria and at last March’s  AIPAC’s  national conference, that he fancies himself  a modern day Inspector Javert.  Choosing the Dickens character, according to one Congressional source, as a kind of role model because of Javert’s focused and relentless obsession.  Szubin has pledged the same with pursuing the financial interests of anyone on the planet that in any way violates the massive and still growing US-led economic sanctions that are targeting the civilian populations of Syria and Iran. For last fall’s Halloween party on the Hill, Mr. Szubin came dressed up as, yep, Jean Valjean’s nemesis.

Reportedly a pleasant fellow, Mr. Szubin works closely with his mentor, David S. Cohen, a bit less so, some say of the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.  The two gentlemen often work together, and sometimes with friends located less than a 20 minute walk across the Mall below the US Capitol buildings at the AIPAC HQ.  It is with selected AIPAC staff, sometimes over a catered lunch, that they dream up and craft ways to cut off the financial legs and the lines of banking support for all “terrorists”. They also  enforce US-led politically motivated civilian targeting  economic sanctions against rogue nations (read: the civilian populations of Syria and Iran), and even sometimes combat the financial support of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—the latter only  with respect to ‘bad’  countries like Iran, as opposed to ‘good’ countries like Israel.

OFAC has been accused of taking orders from AIPAC, who takes orders from the Israeli Embassy, wlhile for some reson is not required to register and foreign agents, and whose offices reportedly flood Szubin and Cohen with memoranda on how to, as a sign two weeks ago above the printer in AIPAC’s library read, “cut em off at the knees and let Allah sort it out!”

AIPAC, as one to the two pillars working feverishly on adding more layers of civilian targeting sanctions against Iran and Syria, does its part mainly with Congress.  This week it drafted and circulated to Congressional offices yet another Congressional letter to the White House. In a broad show of bipartisan support for’ containing the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran’, all but one member of the house foreign affairs committee signed, at AIPAC’s urging,  a letter to President Obama. The 7/8/13 letter petitioned the President to increase pressure on the Islamic republic. The AIPAC letter also notably arrives on the heels of Iran’s presidential election and is only the latest of a growing volume of sanctions the Obama administration has levied against Iranian and Syrian citizens. One Congressional source emailed that the timing of this most recent letter was meant to support the chorus of messages from the US Zionist lobby that Mr. Hasan Rouhani’s election will not bring any positive changes on the nuclear file.

But as AIPAC knows, few people, especially on the Hill, are much impressed these days by its stream of such “Sense of the Congress” letters making demands on the White House.  Often Congressional staffs and their Members sign them right away, barely reading them, so they do not have their offices invaded by AIPAC lobbyists who want to take up their time on the same subjects. Truth told, AIPAC is losing popularity on the Hill, according to Congressional contacts, even if it does not yet show much.

This is where OFAC’s work blends in and hopefully brings to perfection AIPACs project targeting the Iranian and Syrian people. One example that appears to have been coordinated with the House Foreign Affairs Committee letter are the recently announced amendments to OFAC’s sanctions regulations.

Earlier this month, some apparently fairly perverse US taxpayer-salaried lawyer types  dreamt up  & drafted, almost certainly with AIPAC input, the latest incomprehensible, way ‘over-broad’ and unfair, for OFAC amendments  to survive a US Federal Court challenge,  certain “technical amendments” to the Terrorism Sanctions Regulations and the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations.

These due process denying amendments, despite AIPAC and the US Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Control’s denials and protestations, will further curtail much needed medicines, medical equipment and food stuffs being available to the civilian populations of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran causes yet more civilian suffering.

One example, of many legal defects in the newly adopted regulations, that one imagines would be evident to most first year law students, reads: “A person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to § 594.201(a) has an interest in all property and interests in property of an entity in which it owns, directly or indirectly, a 50 percent or greater interest.”  What does this language require of firms wanting to supply medicines, medical equipment, and food stuffs to civilian targeted populations?

As explained by Mr. Cohen, “Terrorists” (read Iranians and Syrians) are deemed for the purpose of broadening the US-led sanctions, to have an interest in things in which they have a 50 percent or greater interest.

Who would have imagined?

The regulation continues:  “The property and interests in property of such an entity (read: the civilian population of Iran and Syria), therefore, are blocked, and such an entity is a person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to § 594.201(a), regardless of whether the entity itself is listed in the Annex to Executive Order 13224, as amended, or designated pursuant to § 594.201(a).  In other words, all US-led sanctions block the assets of companies who aren’t on the SDN list if they are owned 50 percent or more by someone who is on the list.

OFAC has not explained, but may well have to in US Federal Court, just how does anyone screen for blocked parties who aren’t on the list of blocked parties?

Simple, Mr. Cohen says, just ask every company you’re screening for the name of all its 50 percent or greater owners. Okay, but what if the majority owner isn’t on the list?  Well, OFAC expect those wanting to export to Syria or Iran medicines or foodstuffs to somehow ferret out who owns the majority owner.  Because if he is owned by a blocked party, then his property is blocked, meaning the company you are screening is blocked and its assets must also be blocked. OFAC replies, well just ask for the names of owners greater than 50 percent and owners of owners with more than a 50 percent interest. But even if the owner of the owner isn’t on the list, the owner of the owner of the owner could possibly be, so get to work.. and on and on it goes. Which board of directors of any company is going to go through all this no matter how motivated it is by profit and/or humanitarian concerns to deliver medicines and medical equipment and desperately needed fool to Syria or Iran? Just their legal fees would be enormous.

And, of course, there’s another problem with this new AIPAC and Israeli embassy concocted blocking rules. They apply not just to the interest of the blocked party but to the interest of the minority investors as well. And they apply even if the majority investor (or the majority investor in the majority investor) is designated after the investment. Therefore if someone owns 51 percent of Company B which owns 51 percent of company C and that, several years after his investment, he could be designated by OFAC as an SDN which ranks with child molester or necrophilia addict as a very bad thing to be accused of.  The 49 percent investors in both Company B and C now have their investments blocked. How can anyone protect themselves against that? What crystal ball are people supposed to use to predict whether a person they are doing business with won’t become an SDN in the future?

And that is the whole idea at OFAC and AIPAC regulation amendments. It allows the US Treasury Department, the White House and Congress, and the US representative at the UN to say internationally and also to the American people who increasingly oppose targeting innocent civilians for political purposes,  “Actually the limited sanctions against the Syrian and Iranian people  are humanitarian (despite the fact that scores of thousands of Syrian are on the verge of dying and hundreds have died and the number is increasing because previously imported drugs and food is not being sent to Syria, because of  the “food and medicine exemptions language.” For the reasons noted above, which company or its board of directors is willing to risk being hounded by Dickens’ Jarvert at OFAC and face the threat and likely reality of enormous crippling fines and litigation costs to figure out what the regulations really mean with respect to their clients business which may fall into a grey areas of involved joint business ventures.

But the new OFAC-AIPAC US civilian-targeting sanctions rules are now even more Kafkaesque.  For example, if medical or food stuffs producing exporting firms want to do business with Iranian or Syrian importing firms, how can they know if owner # 1 is an SDN and whether he may own 60 percent of Company B and 45 percent of Company C. Further suppose that Company B owns 40 percent of Company D, and Company C owns 60 percent of Company D.  Who and what is blocked under the new OFAC rules?  It might appear that Company B and its assets are blocked, but Company C and its assets are not. What about Company D?   Suppose Ms. A owns 24 percent of Company D through her 60 percent ownership in Company B. She also owns 27 percent of Company D through her 45 percent interest in Company C which totals 51 percent of Company D. So even though Ms. A cannot control Company D, since she doesn’t control Company C, the majority owner, Company D would be blocked as would all of its assets.

How can the US Treasury departments OFAC agency be so seemingly totally unaware of the business realities of the parties it regulates who want to send medical equipment and food stuff to the suffering people of Syria and Iran?   Many in dire need but are being targeted by US-led sanctions for political purposes?  Does the Obama administration even care?

Surely the screening problems that these new rules pose are manifest in a situation like this as is the unfairness of this rule to the other (and majority) owners of Company C if Ms. A is designated after his investment in Company C. The question then is how on earth can this happen? Can the agency be that deaf to the business realities of the parties it regulates? Does it even care or understand its own regulations?

What about the slowly growing Congressional and public concern over the civilian targeting US sanctions and federal sunshine laws allowing for public input when drafting new US Treasury Department  regulations?

Well, AIPAC and OFAC have foreseen that potentially annoying problem.  Near the end of the Federal Register it has been decreed, without any public participation, the following:

“Public Participation. Because these amendments to 31 CFR parts 594, 595, and 597 involve a foreign affairs function, Executive Order 12866 and the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553) requiring notice of proposed rulemaking, opportunity for public participation, and delay in effective date are inapplicable.”

The Obama administration has no interest in public participation or input as it targets the civilian populations of Syria and Iran. And Congress once again is shirking its responsibility.

Why is there not a Congressional or UN delegation visiting Syria for example?  Not a John McCain silly photo-op but a serious delegation arriving to Damascus and Tehran and visiting hospitals and specialized  clines, doctors, health ministry officials, patients and the families of those who need very specialized drugs, for example, with certain diseases such as cancer and in Syria with refugees suffering from malnutrition due to the US-led sanctions.

The US-led sanctions increasingly target the Iranian and Syrian people for purely political purposes in order to ignite civil unrest which the Obama Administration hopes will lead to regime chance.  They are immoral, illegal, ineffective at achieving regime change, and they are doing incalculable damage to millions of innocents while further squandering whatever respect for our country still exists abroad and increasingly even within our own boarders as evidenced by the recent spate of protests on a number of subjects sending the message to Washington that it is time to come home and rebuild our society.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and can be reached c/o fplamb@gmail.com