On May 17, the Senate passed legislation that would enable private citizens to sue the government of Saudi Arabia and other Saudis possibly connected to al-Qaeda for damages incurred in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that took nearly three thousand lives.
Predictably, the Saudis took an apocalyptic view of the bill. Before it passed the Senate, the Saudi foreign minister reportedly threatened to pull hundreds of billions of dollars of investments from the United States. One Saudi newspaper headlined it as a "satanic bill" that would "open the gates of hell." In truth, the bill would open a window on the Saudis' involvement in the 9/11 attacks that they, and our government, have made extraordinary efforts to conceal.
President Obama has threatened to veto the measure.
Famous by now are the twenty-eight pages of the 9/11 Commission's report that reportedly describe the connections between the Saudi government (including the Saudi royals and other Saudi citizens) and bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. The Obama administration says it's considering releasing the pages, but it's a good bet it won't because of Obama's obsequious relationship with the Saudis.
What else do we know that could justify lawsuits against the Saudi government, and Saudi individuals, banks, and charities?
A December 30, 2009 State Department cable labeled "Secret/No Forn" (meaning no disclosure to foreign governments) published by WikiLeaks, says that, "...Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qa'ida, the Taliban, LeT, and other terrorist groups, including Hamas, which probably raise millions of dollars annually from Saudi sources..."
If a nation that pretends to be our ally is still funding al-Qaeda eight years after 9/11, we have to ask are they still?
Equally valuable information, and a ton of it, is contained in Alms for Jihad by J. Millard Burr and Robert Collins. It details the enormous and complex web of Islamic charities and banks, many funded by prominent Saudis, that are directly involved in funding terrorism.
Almost immediately after its publication in 2006, the book's publisher, Cambridge University Press, was sued in Britain by Saudi financier Khaled bin Mahfouz under the Brits' inside-out libel laws. Mahfouz, according to the book, had funded al-Qaeda through charitable donations.
In England, authors have to prove the truth of what they wrote rather than, as in the U.S., the person alleging libel having to prove its falsity. Cowed by the litigation, the publisher pulled the book from stores and destroyed most of those printed.
I have one of the surviving copies. It contains a lot more information that would be sufficient basis for lawsuits against the Saudi government as well as Saudi individuals, charities, and banks.
The Saudi government is indistinguishable from its royal family. In Alms for Jihad, chart 2.1 shows that Prince Talal bin Abd al-Aziz Saud was Secretary General of the International Islamic Relief Organization. The book describes IIRO as one of the most important Saudi charitable organizations and says, it "... used its charitable outreach to move funds not only to the Taliban and al-Qaeda but also to Jama'at al-Islamiyya and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines."
Chart 2.2 shows charitable entities connected to or even belonging to al-Qaida. Among them are Al-Haramain, its Foundation and its "Islamic Foundation Benevolence International Foundation." Back on Chart 2.1, Prince Sultan Abd al-Aziz is listed as "Regulator, Al Haramain Foundation."
Another part of Alms for Jihad tells us that after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Saudis supposedly set up a regulatory regime to monitor charitable donations that was passed to a "Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs" (of which Prince Sultan is a member) to supervise the distribution of charitable aid.
Which brings us back to the 2009 State Department cable. In another "Secret/NoForn" paragraph it says that in 2002 the Saudi government promised to set up a "Charities Committee" that would address this issue, but as of 2009 hasn't done so. The cable goes on to say that the Saudis have neither acknowledged the scope of the problem nor promised to take decisive action against it.
If that were proved, it could weigh heavily with an American jury.
Beyond this, there is an enormous wealth of information in Alms for Jihad that could be graphically outlined in a civil complaint against Saudi individuals, charities, banks and the Saudi government. So there clearly is enough information — and obviously damage in the 3,000 lives lost on 9/11 — to justify a lawsuit. But for any plaintiff to get a judgment and collect damages admissible proof is required. Nothing in the 9/11 Commission report, the State Department cable or the Alms for Jihadbook would be admissible in evidence without corroboration.
After about thirty years of trying civil cases in federal and state court, I'm certain that getting such proof will be exceptionally hard. Federal rules providing for pre-trial discovery require parties to divulge information that might be relevant evidence or lead to the production of such evidence. But that's no guarantee that it will be produced, especially in the case of foreign parties and a foreign government that are sure to stall and stonewall. But that's no reason for Congress to not pass the bill, nor is Obama's threat to veto it.
Before the Senate passed the bill one of its authors, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), obtained an amendment essentially nullifying the possibility of any lawsuits being brought. The House should pass the bill quickly and insist on deleting the Schumer language in a House-Senate conference.
The purpose of the bill, and of releasing the 28-page classified portion of the 9/11 Commission's report, is to expose publicly that nations such as Saudi Arabia have — and almost certainly still are — funding terrorism. Two administrations have tolerated it. Unless the facts are exposed, there's no chance of stopping Saudi funding of Islamic terrorism.