We have just entered the second year of my so far unsuccessful attempt to obtain a complete set of documents from the State Department regarding the murder of three Americans at Gaza in 2003.
On October 15, 2003, three vans made their way into Gaza, carrying United States diplomats and security specialists to interview Palestinian candidates for Fulbright scholarships in America.
Two miles into the district, an explosive device planted under the road was remotely detonated, destroying the vehicle carrying the security specialists. John Branchizio, Mark Parsons, and John Linde died instantly.
This was not simply the latest in a lengthening list of Palestinian atrocities. On this occasion, Americans on an official State Department mission had been targeted, with sophisticated explosives, in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
The attack came the day after America had vetoed a resolution advanced in the United Nations by Syria and the Palestinians that would have condemned Israel's security barrier. It also came a month after America had vetoed a Palestinian-Syrian resolution forbidding the deportation of Yasser Arafat on grounds that the resolution did not condemn Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade.
The circumstances of the attack made clear it was a direct challenge to America's vetoes and pro-Israel stances. If doubt obtained, a day after the attack a "Palestinian government official" told the Washington Post that had Americans been targeted "it would not be coincidental" that it came a day after the American veto and after other American statements in support of Israel.
President Bush condemned the attack, asserting "Palestinian authorities should have acted long ago to fight terror in all its forms" and calling the failure to dismantle terrorist organizations "the greatest obstacle" to Palestinian statehood. The State Department vowed to "pursue the perpetrators until they are caught." The PA put the head of the Gaza Preventive Security Service in charge of its inquiry, a man who was himself suspected of involvement in prior terror attacks. Like O.J.'s search for the real killers, the inquiry did not get far.
Three months later, the deputy chief of the American embassy met with PA officials to express dissatisfaction with the Palestinian "investigation." He told them "we know that there is not a huge number of people who have the proven capability to carry out an attack like that" and warned that America would offer a reward for information and reduce Palestinian aid if the crime were not solved.
The PA arrested three persons and charged them with "manslaughter" less than 48 hours after the reward was offered. They were subsequently freed after the PA failed to present evidence against them.
In September 2004, the head of PA military intelligence and Yasser Arafat's relative, Musa Arafat, said that "Palestinian security forces know who was behind the killing" certain "Palestinian factions" but he said "clashing with any Palestinian party under the presence of occupation" was an "issue."
After Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the PA, Secretary Rice met with him in February 2005. She told the press she had "been assured by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority's intention to bring justice to those who murdered three American personnel in the Gaza in 2003."
And nothing has happened since at least as far as the public record shows.
On December 28, 2006, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request asking the State Department for all documents regarding the murder of Branchizio, Parsons, and Linde. I sought expedited processing, as a press requester seeking information about an issue of current concern.
The Department denied expedited treatment. They provided a few documents in July and said the search for records in the Tel Aviv Embassy was "continuing." As of last week, it was still continuing, as was a "review" of some documents located elsewhere.
Even a request from a member of Congress has received no response. On September 6, 2007, Rep. William Pascrell of New Jersey, acting on behalf of Mark Parsons' brother whose own 2005 FOIA request received an unsatisfactory reply sent a letter to Ms. Rice, urging her to "bring the full weight of the Department of State to bear in this case." As of last week, the Department had not replied.
It has been more than four years since Americans on State Department business were murdered in Gaza; more than three years since Musa Arafat said the PA knew who organized it; and nearly three years since Mr. Abbas assured Secretary Rice that the killers would be brought to justice. In response to that broken promise, the State Department appears to have done nothing.
On the contrary, American aid to Palestinians increased with another half a billion dollars on tap. Dismantlement of terrorist groups and infrastructure the explicit precondition to final status negotiations under the "Performance-Based Roadmap" was waived to "accelerate" Phase III. After four years, the conclusion seems obvious: the Palestinians got away with murder.
Mr. Richman edits Jewish Current Issues.