Sister of 9/11 Victim Calls for 'Terror Free Investing'

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:23 PM EDT

( - Charles F. "Chic" Burlingame III was the pilot in command of American Airlines flight 77 - one of the planes hijacked by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001 and crashed into the Pentagon.

Today, his sister, Debra Burlingame, is lending her voice to a national movement that advocates consider the most peaceful means of combating terrorists: calling for states to withdraw their public pension money from companies doing business with Iran.

"One of the things I've done for the last six years is read up on who these people are," she told Cybercast News Service. "I found they are telling us who they are and what they are doing. But a lot of people here and in Western Europe don't want to listen. For me, the divest terror project is a moral imperative."

The initiative is growing in popularity, as Missouri, Florida, Illinois, and Louisiana have approved measures to take public pension money out of Iran and Sudan. Meanwhile, California appears poised to do the same with widespread support in the state legislature and support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Burlingame, a co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America and a board member of the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation, has traveled to Ohio, where the state legislature there is considering a divestment initiative.

She is also traveling around Washington meeting with media and other organizations to raise awareness about the issue.

Burlingame's hope is for a terror free investment index, just as there is an index for people with environmental concerns and those with tobacco concerns.

Such a fund is in the early stages, but Burlingame and others are working to get the word out to people that their retirement savings are going to support companies doing business with terrorist regimes such as Iran.

"I don't think it can initially succeed if people don't know about it," Burlingame said. "People I talked to didn't know" about the investments in Iran. "It never occurred to them this was happening," she added.

Though it is illegal for U.S. companies to do business in Iran or Sudan - designated by the U.S. State Department as state-sponsors of terrorism - foreign companies that often receive investments from U.S. dollars can do business there.

Among the companies doing work in Iran that appear frequently in U.S. portfolios are the French company Total SA, the German-based Siemans AG and the French-based Alcatel-Lucent.

Despite what Burlingame considers a "no brainer," divestment is facing opposition primarily from pension fund administrators and the National Foreign Trade Council, which has questioned the constitutionality of the state laws.

"There are legislators who are afraid of the teacher's pension system," said Chris Holton, director of the Divest Terror initiative at the conservative Center for Security Policy.

"These pension systems send out newsletters. They're afraid a newsletter might say 'Rep. Smith wants to ruin your retirement nest egg.' So we want to do outreach and grass roots education," Holton said.

The National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC), a lobby group, is suing to overturn the Illinois divestment law, contending it is unconstitutional because states cannot conduct foreign policy.

NFTC President Bill Reinsch cited a 1996 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said Massachusetts could not prevent state businesses from working with Burma. The Massachusetts law was intended to pressure the country, which is ruled by a military junta, toward democracy.

Earlier this month, the House passed a measure that would protect states that pass divestment measures from litigation. (See Related Story)

Further, Reinsch and other divestment critics argue that sanctions don't achieve intended consequences. In this case, he has warned, the U.S. would be harming companies in countries whose governments are helping (or could help) America in the war on terrorism.

But Orde F. Kittrie, a law professor at Arizona State University and a divestment expert, said it's necessary to nudge our ally-countries in Europe, where many of the corporations doing business with Iran are based.

"History shows that France and Germany take a mercantile approach to international relations," Kittrie told Cybercast News Service. "Until their loss exceeds their gains from Iran, they won't pull out on their own."

Kittrie continued, "Both in Iraq and in Libya, sanctions helped stop the nuclear weapons programs. Unfortunately we can't get strong enough sanctions from the United Nations on Iran so we need to supplement that by taking steps ourselves."

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