Frontpage Interview's guest today is Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, director of the American Center for the Democracy and author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed- and How to Stop It. She has written several other books and hundreds of articles. A frequent guest on radio and TV programs, she is the incentive for new legislation to protect Americans free speech rights from foreigners who sue them overseas, to silence them. Visit her site at acdemocracy.org.
FP: Rachel Ehrenfeld, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
RE: Thank you, Jamie.
FP: We're here today to discuss your success in getting "Rachel's Law"—The Libel Terrorism Protection Act— passed by the New York Legislature last May, and the Free Speech Protection Act, about to be introduced to Congress. In fact, Libel Tourism is the topic of a Congressional hearing being held this week by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN). Please remind us what Libel Tourism is.
RE: Libel Tourism is forum shopping. It is common for lawyers to choose favorable legal venues for their clients. The "libel tourism" phenomenon is associated mostly with the frequent use of British courts by foreigners to silence criticism. This use of the British courts became so prevalent that it is known as the Mecca for libel suits, and even the U.N. committee on human rights last summer criticized Britain's libel laws for serving "to discourage critical media reporting on matters of serious public interest, adversely affecting the ability of scholars and journalists to publish their work."
FP: What is happening in the U.S. to counter this problem?
RE: Last May, a new law—the Libel Terrorism Protection Act—was signed into law in New York State. The law protects New Yorkers who write and publish from enforcement of foreign libel judgments. In other words, New York writers and publishers need no longer feel intimidated by Saudi billionaires or other wealthy foreigners who choose British or other foreign jurisdictions to sue for libel when they object to the truth published about them in New York – the publishing capital of the U.S. Illinois, joined NYS last August and hopefully, Congress will soon adopt a similar but more effective law, the Free Speech Protection Act, proposed by Rep. Peter King and Senators Chuck Schumer, Arlen Specter and Joseph Lieberman, with bi-partisan support in the House and Senate and most free speech organizations in the nation, including the Association of American Publishers, the Library Associations, the ACLU, PEN, and Reporters Without Borders, to name just a few.
I congratulate Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) for holding oversight hearings on Libel Tourism this coming week, and hope that he, too, joins the widely supported bi-partisan Free Speech Protection Act.
FP: How did "Rachel's Law" and the proposed "Free Speech Protection Act" came about? And why are they necessary?
RE: The legislation is the result of my efforts to expose how the Saudis have funded al Qaeda, Hamas, and other radical Muslim organizations. Shortly after my book Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It was published in the U.S., I was sued in England by Khalid bin Mahfouz. The Saudi billionaire and former banker to the royal family says he never "knowingly" funded terrorism, thus, he claimed my allegations supposedly damaged his reputation as an international businessman. However, I never wrote that he "knowingly" did anything.
But he seemed very eager to sue me in London, where British libel laws favor plaintiffs and permit foreigners to sue other foreigners if they claim they were somehow defamed in England. Although my book was published only in the U.S., the British judge David Eady, decided that the 23 copies that had entered England probably through amazon.com were enough to give Mahfouz the jurisdiction to sue me in London.
FP: Writing about terror financing cannot be easy. How can you document your allegations?
RE: In Funding Evil, I've done what I always do: use public records and at least 2 independent sources to back any statement I make. That's what I have done with my previous books: "Narcoterrorism" and "Evil Money", and with hundreds of articles and interviews over the last two decades.
FP: Were you the only one Mahfouz sued in England?
RE: Far from it. By now, Mahfouz, who is the quintessential "libel tourist", forced more than 40 retractions, or apologies, and/or judgments against those who linked him to terrorism. He started suing his critics after al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11, because families of the victims sued him in New York for funding the terrorists. If found liable for funding al Qaeda, Mahfouz faces a damages award in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Not surprisingly, he uses lawfare in British courts to silence his critics. And it is important to note that none of his legal actions in Britain were tried on the merits.
FP: So in fact the Saudis, through bin Mahfouz, enforced an international code of silence. Why do they do that?
RE: Because they fear the truth. The Saudis fund the spread of radical Islam as a totalitarian socio-political alternative to Western democracy and freedoms. An oppressive and secretive regime, they do not like any exposure, particularly one that can cost them dearly.
FP: If he sued you in England, what led to the change in the law in the U.S.?
RE: My refusal to recognize the authority of the British court and my decision to fight Mahfouz in NY, led to new U.S. laws; the New York courts ruled that the existing law did not allow me personal jurisdiction over Mahfouz, therefore I could not be protected from the foreign judgment, which violates my free speech rights. These rights are unique to the U.S. After this decision, the New York legislature stepped in and in record time passed the groundbreaking, bipartisan law to protect authors and publishers in New York from foreigners, not only Brits, who sue for libel abroad to undermine Americans' First Amendment rights.
FP: Lawsuits are expensive. Did you receive help?
RE: I have been fighting this battle for the last five years with many compliments for my efforts, and with some financial support for which I'm grateful. But the litigation is expensive and I need more help in order to win this battle once and for all, for all Americans.
It is important to understand that my success, and the passage of the Free Speech Protection Act will enable every responsible American writer to publish freely, even on the internet, without fear of intimidation by wealthy Saudis or others suing abroad.
In fact, my case and the law passed in NY, and the Free Speech Protection Act now under consideration in Congress have led to serious debate in the British Media and even Parliament, calling to change the British libel law. Alas, I gather, that for now, the English Bar is considering changes only to the fee-structure of defendants in libel suits, but no substantial changes in the law itself. However, none of these would have happened without my efforts to stop Mahfouz and his likes and protect my - and every American writer's free speech rights.
FP: I understand that with the New York law on your side, you plan to reopen the case, to win your suit against Mahfouz. This will be an important test of the new law.
RE: Indeed, it is very important to prove in NY the supremacy of American free speech over British libel laws and jurisdiction. Unfortunately, this is a very costly endeavor for which I will need public support.
FP: For further information about this important effort, and to contribute to Dr. Ehrenfeld's efforts to protect our freedom of speech, and to contact Dr. Ehrenfeld, please, go to acdemocracy.org.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz's Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev's Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.