AUGUST 2, 2007 (Los Angeles, CA) -- Jeffrey A. Stern, President and Publisher of Los Angeles-based Bonus Books, Inc., is speaking out about this week's decision by Cambridge University Press to destroy all unsold copies of their 2006 book, "Alms for Jihad," by American authors Robert Collins and J. Millard Burr, in response to a libel action brought against them in British courts by Saudi billionaire Khalid Salim A. Bin Mahfouz. In just one of a series of heavy-handed libel suits against American and British journalists and publishers filed in British courts in recent years, Mahfouz claimed that "Alms for Jihad" wrongly implicates him as having had a significant role in aiding terrorism.
In a similar attempt to halt the distribution of such claims, Bin Mahfouz also filed a libel action in British courts against Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, after Bonus Books published her 2003 book FUNDING EVIL: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It. Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for Democracy , also alleged Bin Mahfouz of backing organizations with alleged ties to terrorism, a charge that Mahfouz, formerly president of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, continues to deny. But Ehrenfeld stands behind her research, and publisher Stern stands by his author.
"I find it utterly appalling that any publisher—let alone one with the history and perceived credibility of Cambridge University Press—would allow themselves to be bullied into making such a decision," Stern said. "Clearly they must have supported the material before they agreed to a publishing deal with (U.S. authors) Collins and Burr. It's only now, after being slapped with a suit in the U.K. by the likes of Bin Mahfouz, that they have suddenly decided to concede to demands to pull the book. What's worse, they have not only agreed to pay damages but they have even gone so far as to issue a formal apology on their website , completely discrediting their authors as having made ‘defamatory allegations' to which there was 'no truth whatsoever.'"
"Alms for Jihad" authors Robert O. Collins, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and J. Millard Burr, a retired employee of the U.S. State Department, who were not personally named in the libel action, have refused to endorse their publisher's settlement.
"What happened to freedom of the press?" Stern said. "We're talking about two very credible American writers here. The very idea that these authors could be silenced in the U.S. by a British court is not only outrageous and fraught with frightening journalistic implications, it's simply un-American."
After several copies of the U.S.-released FUNDING EVIL happened to be purchased online by UK buyers, Bin Mahfouz filed suit against Ehrenfeld in Great Britain, where outdated libel laws still put the burden of proof on the defendant. Ehrenfeld was ordered to pay £114, 386.52 in fines and expenses, publish an apology and physically destroy her books. Because she is a U.S. citizen who writes and lives in New York City, Ehrenfeld did not acknowledge the British court. Instead, she filed suit in New York, seeking to block enforcement of the judgment, citing it as contrary to the free speech protections that Americans enjoy. In June, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor, finding that Ehrenfeld's claim CAN be brought before a U.S. court. The decision was hailed by prominent U.S. civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate as one of "the most important First Amendment cases" of the last quarter century. As a result, every American-based writer and publisher in similar "libel tourism" situations can now seek a U.S. court decision, requesting that a foreign decision not be enforceable in this country.
In a recent Washington Times editorial about the Ehrenfeld case, scholar and Jihad Watch director Robert Spencer noted the release of a September 13, 2001 note from France's foreign intelligence agency, the DGSE (General Directorate of External Security). He stated that French news site Geopolitique.com obtained the note in late June, revealing that in 1996, Bin Mahfouz was known to be one of the architects of a banking scheme constructed for the benefit of Osama bin Laden. The report also claims that both U.S. and British intelligence services had knowledge of this. "This is just the latest addition to the mountain of evidence from which Miss Ehrenfeld constructed her case in ‘Funding Evil,'" Spencer writes. "Even if this evidence is all mistaken, the British libel judgment against Ehrenfeld appears all the more fantastic and unjustifiable in light of the fact that French intelligence agents had documents allowing them to come to the same conclusion she did."
Ehrenfeld is also a Member of the Board of Directors of the Committee on the Present Danger (www.fightingterror.org) along with former Secretary of State George Schulz and former CIA Director James Woolsey. In an interview with the Chronicle of Higher Education on Monday, Ehrenfeld herself described Cambridge's decision to settle this week as "despicable," and that as she understands it, press officials "caved immediately." If and when the New York Court of Appeals decides that there is jurisdiction over Bin Mahfouz, Ehrenfeld's case would proceed on its merits—allowing Ehrenfeld to conduct pre-trial "discovery" of Bin Mahfouz's financial activities to further confirm the accuracy of her claims against him.
"We commend Rachel Ehrenfeld for being strong-willed on this issue," Stern said. "Allowing this sort of 'libel tourism' to continue stands to negatively impact every writer and publisher and the U.S.—not to mention the public, who is effectively being forced to fall victim to an insidious and unacceptable form of censorship."