On September 10, 2003 almost two years to the day after the horrors of 9/11 the Law firm of Cozen O’Connor sued the Saudi Government for funding the Islamist charities which trained and funded the 9/11 terrorists.
The lawyers argued that the Saudis not only had funded and controlled the charities, but had been warned that the charities helped launder money into al-Qaeda. The Royal family countered that there was no evidence that the Saudi government had supported acts of terrorism, and that the kingdom itself had been a victim of extremist groups, including al-Qaida. But Judge Casey dismissed the suit He found the Saudi government immune from being sued because its oversight and financial support for the charities constituted normal government activities.
On Appeal the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, ruling in Manhattan, said Saudi Arabia could not be sued because such lawsuits are barred unless the State Department had officially designated a government as a supporter of terror.
Now the case is being brought up to the Supreme Court, the court asked the President Obama’s Solicitor General to weigh in on whether the Royal Family could be sued and 9/11 victims could have their day in court. Guess who’s side the Obama administration took?
take our poll - story continues below
Justice Dept. Backs Saudi Royal Family on 9/11 Lawsuit
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is supporting efforts by the Saudi royal family to defeat a long-running lawsuit seeking to hold it liable for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The Justice Department, in a brief filed Friday before the Supreme Court, said it did not believe the Saudis could be sued in American court over accusations brought by families of the Sept. 11 victims that the royal family had helped finance Al Qaeda. The department said it saw no need for the court to review lower court rulings that found in the Saudis’ favor in throwing out the lawsuit.
The government’s position comes less than a week before President Obama is scheduled to meet in Saudi Arabia with King Abdullah as part of a trip to the Middle East and Europe intended to reach out to the Muslim world.
Lawyers for the Saudi family said that they were heartened by the department’s brief and that it served to strengthen their hand before the court, which has not decided whether to hear the case.
But family members of several Sept. 11 victims said they were deeply disappointed and questioned whether the decision was made to appease an important ally in the Middle East. The Saudis have aggressively lobbied both the Bush and Obama administrations to have the lawsuit dismissed, government officials say.
“I find this reprehensible,” said Kristen Breitweiser, a leader of the Sept. 11 families, whose husband was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. “One would have hoped that the Obama administration would have taken a different stance than the Bush administration, and you wonder what message this sends to victims of terrorism around the world.”
Bill Doyle, another leader of the Sept. 11 families whose son was killed in the attacks, said, “All we want is our day in court.”
The lawsuit, brought by a number of insurance companies for the victims and their families, accuses members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia of providing financial backing to Al Qaeda — either directly to Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, or indirectly through donations to charitable organizations that they knew were in turn diverting money to Al Qaeda.
A district court threw out the lawsuit, finding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act provided legal protection from liability for Saudi Arabia and the members of the royal family for their official acts.
Solicitor General Elena Kagan said in the brief to the Supreme Court that her office agreed with the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit “that the princes are immune from petitioners’ claims,” although she pointed to somewhat different legal rationales in reaching that conclusion.
Ms. Kagan noted that the Supreme Court had historically looked to the executive branch to take the lead on such international matters because of “the potentially significant foreign relations consequences of subjecting another sovereign state to suit.”
The government said in its brief that the victims’ families never alleged that the Saudi government or members of the royal family “personally committed” the acts of terrorism against the United States “or directed others to do so.” And it said the claims that were made — that the Saudis helped to finance the plots — fell “outside the scope” of the legal parameters for suing foreign governments or leaders.
Justice Department officials declined to address the issue of whether the timing of the brief was related to Mr. Obama’s trip to Riyadh, but other lawyers involved in the case said the timing appeared to be coincidental. They said as a practical matter the department, which was invited to state its views in the case in February, needed to do so by this week if it hoped to influence the court’s decision on whether to accept the case before it leaves for summer recess in June.
William H. Jeffress, a Washington lawyer who is representing Prince Turki Al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States who is one of the princes named in the lawsuit, said the Justice Department came down on the right side of the law in supporting immunity.
Any suggestion that the timing of the brief was influenced by Mr. Obama’s upcoming visit was “baseless,” Mr. Jeffress said, as were the accusations in the lawsuit itself about the Saudi ties to Al Qaeda. “Osama bin Laden is a sworn enemy of the royal family of Saudi Arabia, and the idea that they would be providing financial support to Bin Laden is a little absurd,” Mr. Jeffress said.