The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal on a lawsuit brought by the families of 9/11 victims against Saudi princes whom they accused of helping the terrorists, thereby ending a legal process some seven years in duration. (In contrast, the case against several hundred Saudi commercial banks accused of laundering money for Al-Qaeda continues for they, unlike the princes, cannot hide behind the skirts of "sovereign immunity.")
The origins of the case go back to Jan. 29, 2002, when Allan Gerson, counsel to Jeane Kirkpatrick at the United Nations and the lead lawyer for the Lockerbie families suing Libya
, met me for coffee in Washington. I told him my thoughts about the money trail going back to the Saudi government and how it should be held accountable for the atrocity – ideas I presented publicly a few days later at "Sue the Saudis
Gerson thought I had a good point and he followed up on Feb. 28, 2002 with a confidential memo, "Deterrence Through Accountability," where he wrote that 9/11
presents the central challenge for dealing with international terrorism. A key weapon in this war is the potential use of civil suits against those who helped finance and thus enabled the operation. It would have demonstrated that financial contributions to the Taliban regime was equivalent to contributions to OBL [Osama bin Laden], whose murderous ambitions were clear. Under American and universal principles of tort law, those whose conduct resulted in wrongful death bear responsibility for the consequences. This is also true for donations to charities that could have reasonably been expected to make their way to agents of OBL.
Being connected in the right legal circles, Gerson took the case to the powerhouse lawfirm of Motley Rice, which quickly accepted the case and (with help from other law firms, including Cozen O'Connor, which directly sued the Saudi government) went after the Saudi princes, an effort that culminated in an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Comments: (1) I kept quiet about my role in this law suit, waiting for it to reach a final conclusion, as it did today.
(2) I commend Motley Rice and its partners in pursuing this litigation, I regret that the Obama administration sided with the Saudi princes, and I am proud of having played a small but key role in what came reasonably close to being a landmark decision with vast policy implications. (June 30 2009)
Sep. 8, 2011 update: The Supreme Court notwithstanding, Motley Rice and Cozen O'Connor have not given up, Michael D. Goldhaber writes in the American Lawyer. Indeed, "the plaintiffs, determined to hold private sponsors of terror accountable, refused to walk away." They are pursuing four courses of action:
- They filed a new 9/11 suit against the Kingdom, along with select princes and charities, in the name of a new plaintiff: an insurance syndicate.
- Sen. Charles Schumer will soon reintroduce the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act that pushes aside the unfavorable legal rulings on sovereign immunity and personal jurisdiction, permitting a new suit to be filed against Saudi Arabia.
- Get the Second Circuit "to reconsider its own holdings on sovereign immunity and personal jurisdiction, or, if needed, to see the Supreme Court finally review them."
- Proceeding "with discovery against the fourteen original 9/11 defendants that have survived motions to dismiss, with the aim of a trial in 2012."
Mar. 14, 2012 update: Steven Cozen of Cozen O'Connor will be in court this week, writes Laura Goldman, in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, "to go up against the kingdom and the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which allegedly provided financial and logistical support to Al Qaeda, in a federal courtroom in Manhattan. Cozen is suing on behalf of several insurance companies that suffered economic damages, the brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees on the attack on the World Trade Center, and others."
Related Topics: Daniel Pipes autobiographical, Saudi Arabia, War on terror
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