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Pearl Takes Her Case to Congress

The wife of murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl plans to ask Congress to amend the multi billion-dollar reparations fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to permit her to qualify for a death benefit of nearly $2 million.

A month after the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund rejected her formal application because her husband was not killed by the attacks that day, Mariane Pearl has asked a Washington law firm to press Congress to change the eligibility rules for the fund so that she and her son would qualify. Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and killed in Pakistan in early 2002 by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, an Islamic extremist accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

“She asked us to begin to look at the legislative options,” said David Rhemes, a lobbyist and lawyer with Covington & Burling who represents Mariane Pearl.

The lobbying effort by Pearl’s widow is sure to draw new attention to efforts on Capitol Hill by other victims of al Qaeda terrorism who hope to gain access to the $6 billion compensation fund.

But Pearl’s efforts also could threaten legislation sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

Specter hopes to move legislation through the Judiciary Committee next month that would expand the fund to include the 37 Americans killed by al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the USS Cole in 2000.

However, Specter’s legislation excludes financial compensation for other victims of terrorism, including the two U.S. Postal Service employees killed in the unsolved anthrax attacks in late 2001 and — perhaps more significantly — the scores of Americans killed in the Oklahoma City bombings nine years ago this week.

By adding yet another person to the 9/11 Fund, Pearl and her lobbyists could encourage other victims of terrorism to add their own exemptions to the eligibility requirements — including a huge class of victims of the Oklahoma City tragedy.

“Adding Oklahoma City into the bill is tantamount to killing it,” said James Cooper-Hill, a lawyer who represents the 17 sailors who died when al Qaeda operatives in Yemen slammed a boatload of explosives into the Cole. “Once you add in the 168 victims of Oklahoma City then you have a bill that requires a special appropriation — and the bill is dead.”

At an average payout of $1.4 million per victim, supporters of the Specter bill say it would cost the U.S. Treasury about $50 million to cover those included in his legislation. Adding the Oklahoma City victims could increase that cost fourfold — perhaps more if the legislation includes payments for the injured as well as the deceased.

Still, there also are risks that come with leaving the Oklahoma City victims out of the legislation.

The last time the Senate Judiciary Committee tried to approve the legislation it faltered when Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) insisted that it include the victims in his home state.

As a result, Pearl’s new effort has elicited only a tepid response from those pressing the cases of other al Qaeda victims.

“If that bill goes to markup and someone says ‘Let’s add Ms. Pearl,’ you will not hear a word of opposition from me. But I’m not going to bat for her,” Cooper-Hill said.

Karen Hastie Williams, who represents victims of the bombings in Kenya, said she would support including Pearl as long as the legislation is not expanded to include all victims of terrorism.

“I believe that anyone who is a victim of al Qaeda should be able to make a case,” said Williams, a lobbyist with Crowell & Moring. “But I don’t think that it follows that you open it up to any kind of terrorism case. Al Qaeda must be responsible.”

The September 11th Victims Compensation Fund was created by Congress shortly after the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York to head off billions of dollars in lawsuits against the U.S. airline industry.

Nearly all victims of the terrorist attacks or their families applied for the fund’s $6 billion in reparations by the Dec. 31 deadline.

In March, the fund’s administrator, Kenneth Feinberg, rejected Mariane Pearl’s application on the grounds that Congress created the fund to compensate only those who died in New York, Virginia or Pennsylvania as a result of terrorism on Sept. 11, 2001.

Soon after the death of her husband, Mariane Pearl retained Covington & Burling to get her financial house in order and to “help her pursue justice for Danny in terms of investigating the cause of his death and holding those who caused it answerable,” according to her attorney, Rhemes.

“Money was not an issue for her until she had done all she felt she could do, and then she began looking to the future and taking care of her infant son in a situation where she can no longer rely on Danny’s salary,” he added.

Rhemes, who is working pro bono, said he is looking at several legislative options on Capitol Hill.

“At this point we haven’t determined what we will do,” Rhemes said. “We are looking at all of the options.”

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