By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
In a decision largely unreported by the national media, the U.S. Supreme Court last week denied Saudi Arabia’s appeal that it be dropped as a defendant in a civil lawsuit alleging it bankrolled al Qaeda in the years before 9/11.
The justices ruled without comment. The long-running case, brought by thousands of 9/11 victims, relatives and others, now proceeds toward trial against Saudi Arabia and other defendants.
Plaintiffs attorneys were heartened by the high court’s decision that keeps the Saudis on the hook for potentially billions of dollars in civil damages.
“We are excited about the opportunity to pursue the first meaningful public inquiry into the evidence of possible direct involvement of agents of the Saudi government in the September 11th attacks, and concerning the involvement of Saudi government charities in channeling financial and logistical support to al Qaeda throughout the world,” said Philadelphia attorney Sean Carter.
“Based on what we have seen thus far, we expect that both inquiries will ultimately point back to the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, an arm of the government largely under the control of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi religious clerics.” Carter said.
Michael K. Kellogg, a Washington, D.C. attorney who led Saudi Arabia’s appeal effort, did not respond to requests for comment. The Kingdom, however, has called the lawsuit’s allegations “categorically false.”
Multiple lawsuits asserting a variety of claims were originally filed against hundreds of defendants – including Saudi Arabia, members of the royal family, banks and charities. The lawsuits were consolidated in federal court in New York City and a number of defendants, including the Kingdom, were dismissed in 2005 under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
But last December, in what amounted to a reversal of its own prior opinion, a Manhattan appeals court restored Saudi Arabia as a defendant, citing legal error. The ruling also restored as a defendant the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a government agency the plaintiffs contend funneled tens of millions of dollars to terrorist fighters across the globe.
With the U.S. government as a courtroom ally, the Kingdom appealed. The Justice Department filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief arguing that both the Kingdom and its officials were immune from suit for their governmental acts.
Sharon Premoli, who survived the collapse of the World Trade Center’s North Towner, is co-chair of the activist group 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism.
“The US Government unfortunately chose not to stand by the families and survivors of 9/11. All we can say is that we were very, very disappointed,” she said.
The same day the Supreme Court allowed 9/11 victims to proceed with their case against Saudi Arabia, it also refused to hear a related plaintiffs’ appeal that had sought the reinstatement of their claims against dozens of banks and individuals.
The ruling was in the case of O’Neill v. Al Rajhi Bank. The plaintiffs include the family of former FBI agent John P. O’Neill Jr., a counterterrorism expert who died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Ironically, O’Neill was among the first to focus attention on threats issued by Osama bin Laden.