U.K. libel laws and courts have been among Saudi Arabia's most successful tools to veil its Islamic proselytization and terrorist funding. The Saudi operator is billionaire Khalid Bin Mahfouz, who has sued or threatened to sue some 36 U.S. and U.K. publishers and authors and was given default judgments in all of them.
But there is a new fly in bin Mahfouz' Saudi ointment—an U.S. legal precedent established by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on June 8, 2007. In 2003, U.S. investigative reporter and director of the American Center for Democracy, Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, published Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed--and How to Stop It.
Among other things, Funding Evil reported bin Mahfouz' well-documented terror funding. As always after such reports, bin Mahfouz sued Ehrenfeld for libel in Britain. In the High Court, bin Mahfouz' attorneys informed Justice David Eady that former CIA director R. James Woolsey had written the foreword for Funding Evil. "Say no more," declared Eady. "I award you a judgment by default, and if you want, an injunction, too."
Justice Eady then ordered Ehrenfeld to apologize, retract, pay bin Mahfouz $225,913.37 in damages and destroy copies of her book.
A fearless U.S. citizen, published in the U.S., Ehrenfeld ignored the British default judgement. Rather than respond to false claims of libel, never tried on their merits, Ehrenfeld applied to the Southern District Court of New York to rule the U.K. court judgment unenforceable in the U.S.
On June 8, 2007, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals justices unanimously found that Ehrenfeld's case merits hearing in an U.S. federal court--and that the case has implications for all U.S. authors and publishers, whose First Amendment rights are threatened by foreign libel rulings.
The Second Circuit justices also took the unusual step of referring the matter of jurisdiction over bin Mahfouz to the New York Court of Appeals, the state's highest court --and underscoring its importance to other New York and U.S. authors.
The Second Circuit panel slammed bin Mahfouz again on June 27, 2007--unanimously denying his request to reconsider their decision on the merit of the case for trial in the U.S. And on June 28, the New York Court of Appeals agreed to hear the arguments on jurisdiction this autumn.
These rulings have already weakened bin Mahfouz' ability to conduct legal terrorism against U.S. authors and publishers.
In his latest libel case – against Cambridge University Press concerning Alms for Jihad (2006) – the Saudi billionaire did not even mention the book's U.S. authors, J. Millard Burr or Robert O. Collins. Much less did he threaten or sue Burr (a former U.S. State Department official) or Collins (a University of California history professor, emeritus). He sued only the British publisher.
Bin Mahfouz' attorney Laurence Harris explained, the Saudi sued Cambridge University Press in the U.K, "because the book was published in this jurisdiction."
Exactly. As Ehrenfeld's U.S. case against bin Mahfouz has clearly established, the U.K. High Court no longer has carte blanche to intimidate U.S. journalists.
The former owner of Saudi Arabia's biggest bank, the National Commercial Bank, bin Mahfouz objected to statements in the Burr and Collins book, that he and his family had reportedly supported Osama Bin Laden and funded terrorist activities.
However, Alms for Jihad is properly sourced, with hundreds of references. And Burr and Collins provided Cambridge University Press with all their materials on bin Mahfouz' al Qaeda and Hamas financing, contrary to the false statements by both bin Mahfouz' and Cambridge University Press attorneys.
Incredibly, the publishing arm of the world's second oldest English speaking university (est. 1209), completely capitulated to bin Mahfouz, offering a comprehensive apology and substantial damages, according to an agreement read in the U.K. High Court on July 30, 2007. Cambridge University Press also promised to pulp the books, publish a detailed apology on its website and contribute to bin Mahfouz' legal costs.
As in Ehrenfeld's Funding Evil, these authors' statements and data were all previously well documented by the media and U.S. Congressional, Court, Treasury Department and other official statements.
These reports were further corroborated by French intelligence officials at the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), and published in the French daily, Le Monde. The DGSE reported that in 1998, they knew bin Mahfouz to be an architect of the banking scheme built to benefit Osama bin Laden; both U.S. and British intelligence services knew it, too.
In short, Cambridge University Press had nothing for which to apologize. Thus, while they have also asked more than 200 major libraries to remove Alms for Jihad from their shelves, U.S. libraries should ignore the demand, based on bin Mahfouz' false claims of innocence.
The pre-existing British intelligence knowledge of bin Mahfouz' terrorist ties render the British High Court announcement all the more appalling an infringement of free speech, to the extent that Britain's parliamentary democracy protects it.
Mr. Justice Eady accepted Cambridge University Press' apology, as well as its denial of previously proven facts.
But the U.S. authors of Alms for Jihad, like all U.S. journalists, are now protected by the precedent set in Ehrenfeld's case, argued by Daniel Kornstein of Kornstein, Veisz, Wexler and Pollard. They no longer need fear the British courts, or the very biased Justice Eady.
Ehrenfeld's case, says American Civil Liberties Union heavyweight, Harvey Silverglate, "is one of the most important First Amendment cases in the past 25 years."
Alyssa A. Lappen is a Senior Fellow at the American Center for Democracy.