I encourage you to read this touching tribute to former U.S. Attorney General (USAG) Janet Reno, written by Victoria Cummock, a woman who lost her husband in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 almost 28 years ago this month (December 21, 1988). As many of you know, I’ve covered the tragedy of Lockerbie since day one, and that’s how I met Victoria. While she grieved, she was determined not to be a silent widow, and she doggedly pursued justice. Janet Reno helped her in that quest, which continues to this day.
There is an important part of Janet Reno’s legacy as USAG that most people aren’t aware of. She was a quiet champion, friend, and supporter of American victims of terrorism.
As USAG, her support of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act transformed thousands of American lives by creating two significant and unprecedented provisions. The first established the rights for thousands of American terror victims to have their cases heard in Federal Court. This provision blocked countries that sponsor terrorism from avoiding accountability and prosecution by hiding behind Foreign Sovereign Immunity. The second provision reformed Habeas Corpus by stopping the costly and time consuming consecutive appeals by convicted mass murderers, effectively and endlessly delaying their death sentences.
Over two years, Janet met and listened to terror victims’ families like myself and others representing attacks on Pan Am 103/Lockerbie, Oklahoma City Murrah Building, Korean Air Lines Flight 007, and the World Trade Center basement bombing. She committed to quietly help champion both sides of the congressional aisle and the administration. Unlike most politicians in D.C. who gave access only to powerful special interest groups/lobbyists, Janet always reminded me that if I needed to talk with her, and wasn’t getting anywhere through regular channels, to call her office first thing in the morning. She always answered her own phone prior to her staff arriving.
For both of these provisions there had been a lot of opposition to change, some even by the DOS and the Clinton Administration.
What was even more remarkable was that personally, Janet opposed the death penalty, but felt it was her duty as USAG to uphold all court rulings and agreed that justice delayed was justice denied. Also, that an intentional attack on unarmed men, women, and children by any nation should not be treated like an accidental death.
At times, when terror victim families were on different sides of an issue, she took the time to listen and then patiently and respectfully explain why she disagreed. She was always kind but firm and truthful. She was mindful that I was just one of thousands of average underserved citizens trying to reform an injustice…she never turned us away but encouraged and empowered victims to fight for what we believed was right. In my book of people I have met in Washington, she was an inspiration working tirelessly for the American people, not for her own political/personal gain. She was a quiet hero.
Although the 1996 legislation took years to enact, it wouldn’t have been signed or implemented without Janet’s help, which ultimately gave me the opportunity to pursue justice and accountability in a U.S. Federal Court, and successfully bring my case for restitution against the Gaddafi regime, for the murder of my 38-year-old husband John.
This new access to Federal Court allowed, for the first time in U.S. history, thousands of victims to justly pursue their attackers for restitution, including Cuban Brothers to the Rescue, The Klinghoffer family, and Iranian hostages like Joseph Ciccipio and Terry Anderson, and expedited the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
On November 6th, just hours before Janet passed away, I was fortunate enough to personally thank her and express our gratitude and admiration for the last time. As I spoke to her, her eyes opened slightly and she tried to say something, so I think she understood. A part of Janet Reno’s legacy is alive in the heart of every American victim of terrorism and/or mass murder. Janet Reno was an extraordinary human being and will be greatly missed.