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Republican congressman seeks to punish families of Iranian sanctions violators.

A Republican congressman introduced legislation recently to extend the punishment for violators of US sanctions to their Iranian family members--without trial.

The stunning proposal floored members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee since it violates both the US Constitution and the fundamental ethics of justice. After several members of the committee--both Republicans and Democrats--pointed out the "problems" with the proposed legislation, the freshman congressman who proposed the language withdrew it.

The proposal came from Rep. Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas. He introduced it while the committee was working its way through a bill on more Iran sanctions. His language would "automatically" punish family members of people who violate US sanctions against Iran, levying sentences on them of up to 20 years in prison.

The provision was introduced as an amendment to the Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, which lays out strong penalties for people who violate human rights, engage in censorship, or commit other abuses associated with the Iranian government.

Cotton sought to punish any family member of those people, "to include a spouse and any relative to the third degree," including, "parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids," Cotton said.

"There would be no investigation," Cotton explained during last Wednesday's hearing. "If the prime malefactor of the family is identified as on the list for sanctions, then everyone within their family would automatically come within the sanctions regime as well. It'd be very hard to demonstrate and investigate to conclusive proof."

The amendment immediately sparked objections from several members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, who noted that the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees due process rights to anyone charged with a crime under American law.

"An amendment is being offered literally to allow the sins of the uncles to descend on the nephews," Rep. Alan Grayson, Democrat of Florida, said. "The amendment that's being offered doesn't even indicate a requirement of knowing violation.... I really question the constitutionality of a provision that punishes nephews for the sins of the uncles."

The Huffington Post reported on Cotton's amendment and noted that Article III of the Constitution explicitly bans Congress from punishing treason based on "corruption of blood"--meaning that relatives of those convicted of treason cannot be punished based only on familial ties.

Cotton explained that he was concerned that some wrongdoers in Iran might shift financial assets to relatives to avoid forfeiture under US laws, so family members must automatically be guilty of sanction violations as well.

"Iranian citizens do not have constitutional rights under the United States Constitution," Cotton said. "I sympathize with their plight if they are harmless, innocent civilians in Iran. I doubt that that is often the case."

The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution, however, reads: "No person ... shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," and makes no distinctions regarding citizenship. The Huffington Post noted that in Wong Wing v. United States, the Supreme Court found in 1896 that non-citizens charged with crimes are protected by the Fifth Amendment, along with the Sixth and 14th Amendments.

Several members of the Foreign Affairs Committee acknowledged that stashing assets with family members could be a problem. But they noted that other provisions in the bill would ensnare family members who conspired with those who violate the sanctions. Chairman Ed Royce, Republican of California, politely suggested that Cotton withdraw his amendment and he agreed to do so.

Anglo-Saxon judicial philosophy has long banned the ancient practice of punishing the relatives of the guilty, finding it an immoral practice.

The philosophical basis of family punishment is found in one of the Ten Commandments. In the book of Exodus, 20:5, one of the commandments says: "You shall not worship them [other gods] or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me." That applies to worshipping other gods, not to general criminal behavior, however.

The idea of punishing relatives is actually condemned in the Old Testament at Ezekiel 18:20: "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself."

Cotton, 36, was first elected to Congress last November. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.
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Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jun 28, 2013
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