To: 9/11 victims and their families
From: Daniel Pipes
Subject: Compensation from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
You have been engaged in an unfortunate spat with the U.S. government over the money you deserve for your losses on 9/11, prompting anger all around. Here's a solution: Forget Washington and focus on Riyadh.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia bears a heavy responsibility for the disaster. Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban derived their radical ideas mainly from the Wahhabi ideology that rules in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom permitted the recruitment of some 25,000 young Saudis to wage jihad, fully aware of the danger they posed to the United States. And 15 of the 19 suicide hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi royal family and perhaps also the government (the two are difficult to keep apart in a country sometimes called the only family-owned business with a seat at the United Nations) donated large sums of money for years to bin Laden, al Qaeda and the Taliban, and perhaps arms as well.
Even post-September, the kingdom has been unforthcoming about cracking down on the flow of funds to jihad groups. It has not cooperated sincerely with the U.S. investigation, preferring, as one American official complains, to "dribble out a morsel of insignificant information one day at a time."
The fact that Saudi ideology, nationals and money play so large a role in the attacks has two important implications.
First, the Saudis' own legal code is largely based on the compensating the injured party. (Hit a camel with your car and you pay compensation to the camel's owner; hit the camel's owner and you pay his family.) Saudi laws and traditions, in other words, require that the families of those harmed on Sept. 11 be paid. You have a strong moral claim on the Saudis.
Second, you also have a good legal basis to demand payment from the kingdom in a U.S. court. "Although it is generally assumed that U.S. citizens can only sue governments that the State Department officially deems to be sponsors of terrorism," says Allan Gerson, an international law expert and author of the just-published "Price of Terror" (HarperCollins), "that's just not true."
In fact, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 has permitted Americans to bring lawsuits against any foreign state "in cases involving personal injury and death as a result of the tortious conduct of a foreign state occurring in the United States," notes another international legal expert, Leonard Garment. For example, in 1980, one court ruled the Chilean government responsible for a car bombing in Washington, D.C. In 1989, another court ruled the Republic of China (Taiwan) not entitled to sovereign immunity in connection with an assassination in California.
In theory, then, you can bring action against the deep-pocketed Saudi government.
But there's a catch.
The "Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act," rushed into law on Sept. 22, offers you tax-free funds - but only on condition that you give up the right to sue. Accepting government money means that each of you "waives the right to file a civil action (or to be a party to an action) in any federal or state court for damages sustained as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of Sept. 11, 2001."
In short, take money from the "September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001" and you forfeit the possibility of suing the Saudis.
Washington took this unprecedented step mostly to protect the airlines, the airports, the aircraft manufacturers, the towers' owner and the City of New York from going bankrupt. But it also wanted to avert legal actions against foreign states like Saudi Arabia.
That's because State Department poobahs hate it when citizens initiate lawsuits against foreign governments, which they dismiss as interference in the high art of diplomacy. They'd much rather extract $6 billion from the American taxpayer than get Saudi Arabia to pay up.
This is bad policy, and immoral too. You, the victims of 9/11, should have your day in court to prove Saudi responsibility and claim whatever compensation you feel entitled to.
Please think long and hard about signing the waiver. Or, if you have already signed it, consider withdrawing your consent. The greatest service you can render those murdered in September is to establish accountability for their deaths. Pressing civil actions for damages enables you to do what your government will not do.
Apr. 15, 2002 update: I follow up this analysis with news of three important developments at "Make the Saudis Pay for Terror."