WASHINGTON — Documents gathered by lawyers for the families of Sept. 11 victims provide new evidence of extensive financial support for Al Qaeda and other extremist groups by members of the Saudi royal family, but the material may never find its way into court because of legal and diplomatic obstacles.
Tags: 9/11, 9/11 families, al-Qaeda, doj, foi, freedom of information, George Bush, house of saud, islamic relief, justice department, obama administration, Osama bin laden, roger hollander, saudi arabia, saudi hijackers, saudi royal family, saudi terrorism, Taliban, world trade center
add a comment
The case has put the Obama administration in the middle of a political and legal dispute, with the Justice Department siding with the Saudis in court last month in seeking to kill further legal action. Adding to the intrigue, classified American intelligence documents related to Saudi finances were leaked anonymously to lawyers for the families. The Justice Department had the lawyers’ copies destroyed and now wants to prevent a judge from even looking at the material.
The Saudis and their defenders in Washington have long denied links to terrorists, and they have mounted an aggressive and, so far, successful campaign to beat back the allegations in federal court based on a claim of sovereign immunity.
Allegations of Saudi links to terrorism have been the subject of years of government investigations and furious debate. Critics have said that some members of the Saudi ruling class pay off terrorist groups in part to keep them from being more active in their own country.
But the thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents compiled by lawyers for the Sept. 11 families and their insurers represented an unusually detailed look at some of the evidence.
Internal Treasury Department documents obtained by the lawyers under the Freedom of Information Act, for instance, said that a prominent Saudi charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization, heavily supported by members of the Saudi royal family, showed “support for terrorist organizations” at least through 2006.
A self-described Qaeda operative in Bosnia said in an interview with lawyers in the lawsuit that another charity largely controlled by members of the royal family, the Saudi High Commission for Aid to Bosnia, provided money and supplies to the terrorist group in the 1990s and hired militant operatives like himself.
Another witness in Afghanistan said in a sworn statement that in 1998 he had witnessed an emissary for a leading Saudi prince, Turki al-Faisal, hand a check for one billion Saudi riyals (now worth about $267 million) to a top Taliban leader.
And a confidential German intelligence report gave a line-by-line description of tens of millions of dollars in bank transfers, with dates and dollar amounts, made in the early 1990s by Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz and other members of the Saudi royal family to another charity that was suspected of financing militants’ activities in Pakistan and Bosnia.
The new documents, provided to The New York Times by the lawyers, are among several hundred thousand pages of investigative material obtained by the Sept. 11 families and their insurers as part of a long-running civil lawsuit seeking to hold Saudi Arabia and its royal family liable for financing Al Qaeda.
Only a fraction of the documents have been entered into the court record, and much of the new material is unknown even to the Saudi lawyers in the case.
The documents provide no smoking gun connecting the royal family to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. And the broader links rely at times on a circumstantial, connect-the-dots approach to tie together Saudi princes, Middle Eastern charities, suspicious transactions and terrorist groups.
Saudi lawyers and supporters say that the links are flimsy and exploit stereotypes about terrorism, and that the country is being sued because it has deep pockets and was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers.
“In looking at all the evidence the families brought together, I have not seen one iota of evidence that Saudi Arabia had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks,” Michael Kellogg, a Washington lawyer representing Prince Muhammad al-Faisal al-Saud in the lawsuit, said in an interview.
He and other defense lawyers said that rather than supporting Al Qaeda, the Saudis were sworn enemies of its leader, Osama bin Laden, who was exiled from Saudi Arabia, his native country, in 1996. “It’s an absolute tragedy what happened to them, and I understand their anger,” Mr. Kellogg said of the victims’ families. “They want to find those responsible, but I think they’ve been disserved by their lawyers by bringing claims without any merit against the wrong people.”
The Saudi Embassy in Washington declined to comment.
Two federal judges and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals have already ruled against the 7,630 people represented in the lawsuit, made up of survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks and family members of those killed, throwing out the lawsuit on the ground that the families cannot bring legal action in the United States against a sovereign nation and its leaders.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide this week whether to hear an appeal, but the families’ prospects dimmed last month when the Justice Department sided with the Saudis in their immunity claim and urged the court not to consider the appeal.
The Justice Department said a 1976 law on sovereign immunity protected the Saudis from liability and noted that “potentially significant foreign relations consequences” would arise if such suits were allowed to proceed.
“Cases like this put the U.S. government in an extremely difficult position when it has to make legal arguments, even when they are the better view of the law, that run counter to those of terrorist victims,” said John Bellinger, a former State Department lawyer who was involved in the Saudi litigation.
Senior Obama administration officials held a private meeting on Monday with 9/11 family members to speak about progress in cracking down on terrorist financing. Administration officials at the meeting largely sidestepped questions about the lawsuit, according to participants. But the official who helped lead the meeting, Stuart A. Levey, the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, has been outspoken in his criticism of wealthy Saudis, saying they have helped to finance terrorism.
Even if the 9/11 families were to get their trial in the lawsuit, they might have difficulty getting some of their new material into evidence. Some would most likely be challenged on grounds it was irrelevant or uncorroborated hearsay, or that it related to Saudis who were clearly covered by sovereign immunity.
And if the families were to clear those hurdles, two intriguing pieces of evidence in the Saudi puzzle might still remain off limits.
One is a 28-page, classified section of the 2003 joint Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks. The secret section is believed to discuss intelligence on Saudi financial links to two hijackers, and the Saudis themselves urged at the time that it be made public. President George W. Bush declined to do so.
Kristen Breitweiser, an advocate for Sept. 11 families, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center, said in an interview that during a White House meeting in February between President Obama and victims’ families, the president told her that he was willing to make the pages public.
But she said she had not heard from the White House since then.
The other evidence that may not be admissible consists of classified documents leaked to one of the law firms representing the families, Motley Rice of South Carolina, which is headed by Ronald Motley, a well-known trial lawyer who won lucrative lawsuits involving asbestos and tobacco.
Lawyers for the firm say someone anonymously slipped them 55 documents that contained classified government material relating to the Saudi lawsuit.
Though she declined to describe the records, Jodi Flowers, a lawyer for Motley Rice, said she was pushing to have them placed in the court file.
“We wouldn’t be fighting this hard, and we wouldn’t have turned the material over to the judge, if we didn’t think it was really important to the case,” she said.
Obama Plays Hamlet; Shredders Hum April 23, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in 9/11.
Tags: 9/11, Abu Ghraib, Alberto Gonzales, bin Laden, bruce jesen, CIA torture, Dennis Blair, doj, geneva conventions, George Bush, george tent, Guantanamo, international red cross, interrogation, james elmer mitchell, john d. rockerfeller, justice department, kathleen rockerfeller, lawrence wilkerson, leon panetta, office of legal counsel, olc, ollie norh, president obama, ray mcgovern, richard reid, roger hollander, shoe-bomber, torture, torture justification, torture memos, torture techniques, War Crimes, zacarias moussaoui
add a comment
Published on Thursday, April 23, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
Well, well. The New York Times has finally put a story together on the key role played by two faux psychologists in helping the Bush administration devise ways to torture people. We should, I suppose, be thankful for small favors.
Apparently, a NY Times exposé requires a 21-month gestation period. The substance of the Wednesday’s lead story on torture had already appeared in an article in the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair. http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/07/torture200707
Katherine Eban, a Brooklyn-based journalist who writes about public health, authored that article and titled it “Rorschach and Awe.” It was the result of a careful effort to understand the role of psychologists in the torture of detainees in Guantanamo.
She identified the two psychologists as James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who she reported were inexperienced in interrogations and “had no proof of their tactics’ effectiveness” but nevertheless sold the Bush administration on a plan to subject detainees to “psychic demolition”-essentially severing them from their personalities and scaring them “almost to death.”
|”The aim of torture is to destroy a person as a human being, to destroy their identity and soul. It is more evil than murder… ” — Inge Genefke – (1938-) Danish Doctor & Human Rights Activist|
In Wednesday’s Times, reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti plow much of the same ground. Please don’t misunderstand. They deserve considerable praise for finally pushing their article past the Times’ timorous censors, but let’s not pretend the startling revelations are new.
The Times ought to allow the likes of Shane and Mazzetti to publish these stories when they are fresh. Alternatively, the once-known-as “newspaper of record” might at least report the findings of the likes of Eban, rather than ignoring them for nearly two years.
It’s pretty much all out there now, isn’t it? Not only the Times’ better-late-than-never exposé, but also:
- The (leaked) text of the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the torture of “high-value” detainees;
- The too-slick-by-half “legal opinions” under Department of Justice letterhead;
- The findings of the 18-month investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee highlighting that it was President George W. Bush’s dismissal of Geneva (in his executive order of February 7, 2002) that “opened the door” to abuse of detainees.
The North/Gonzales Memorial Shredder
One issue of some urgency has been overlooked in the media, but probably not by those complicit in torture by the CIA and other parts of the government. That issue is the need to protect evidence from being shredded. There has been no sign that either Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair or CIA Director Leon Panetta has proscribed the destruction of documents/tapes/etc. relating to torture, while decisions on if and how to proceed are being worked out.
Many will remember how Oliver North (when the crimes of Iran-Contra were being uncovered) and Alberto Gonzales (when White House involvement in the Valerie Plame affair was becoming clearer) made such good use of the days of hiatus between the announced decision to investigate and the belated order to safeguard all evidence from destruction.
One would think that Attorney General Eric Holder, or President Barack Obama himself, would have long since issued such an order. Indeed, the absence of such an order would suggest they would just as soon avoid as many of the painful truths about torture as they can. The issue would seem particularly urgent in the wake of Obama’s gratuitous get-out-of-jail free card issued to CIA personnel complicit in torture. They might well draw the (erroneous) conclusion that they have been, in effect, pardoned by the president and thus are within the law in destroying relevant evidence-to the degree that being within the law matters any more.
Better Shred Than Dead
And what about the president’s decision not to prosecute those in CIA who engaged in torture? What is going on here?
Retired U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, told Frontline on December 13, 2005 that “up to 100 detainees had died while in detention. Of that 100, some 27 have been declared officially homicides.” Those running Bush administration interrogations are no doubt aware by now that the War Crimes Act (18 U.S. Code 2441) passed by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 provides that the death penalty can be given to those responsible for the deaths of detainees.
And yet, the President Obama struck not an angry, but rather a defensive tone on the recent release of the four torture documents issued by the Mafia-style lawyers of the Justice Department. This seems rather odd coming from a professor of constitutional law. The president and his advisers have appeared almost apologetic in explaining/justifying the release.
In the face of Rush Limbaugh/Dick Cheney-type charges that the revelations endanger national security, the White House explains that most of the information was already in the public domain (in the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, for example). Hey, Mr. constitutional law professor and now president, how about the fact that the Freedom of Information Act requires your administration to release such information. How about acknowledging that you are just doing your sworn duty to enforce the law-or is that notion quaint, obsolete, or somehow passé these days?
Misplaced Loyalty or Fear?
It is highly unusual for the president to feel it necessary to visit CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Vivid in my memory is the visit by President George W. Bush on September 26, 2001, just two weeks after intelligence/defense/policy failures permitted the attacks of September 11.
For some time it remained something of a puzzle why the president felt it prudent to appear at CIA with his arm around then-CIA Director George Tenet, endorsing his leadership without reservation and bragging about having the best intelligence service in the world. In retrospect, it was a Faustian bargain.
Former CIA Director and Medal of Freedom winner, George Tenet, can be forgiven for being somewhat apprehensive these days-especially in the wake of the article by Shane and Mazzetti. But let’s leave aside for now the obviously heinous misdeeds-like running George W. Bush’s global Gestapo complete with secret prisons and torture chambers, a criminal enterprise that Tenet shoe-horned into the operations directorate of the CIA.
Let’s pick a case of simpler, more familiar white-collar crime-Scooter Libby-style perjury and obstruction of justice. Those who remember Watergate and other crimes will be aware that the cover-up constitutes an additional-and often more provable-crime, especially when it involves perjury and obstruction of justice.
Until now, Bush has managed to escape blame for his outrageous inactivity before 9/11 because his subordinates-first and foremost, Tenet-have covered up for him. Faustian bargain? Call it mutual blackmail, if you prefer the vernacular.
Tenet gave the president enough warning to warrant, to compel some sort of action on his part. But Tenet’s lackadaisical management of the CIA and intelligence community was at least as important a factor in the success of the attacks of 9/11.
Tenet should have been fired after 9/11. But President Bush needed Tenet, or at least Tenet’s silence, as much as Tenet needed Bush, or at least Bush’s forgiveness.
What developed might be described as a case of mutual blackmail disguised as bonhomie. Bush was keenly aware that Tenet had the wherewithal to let the world know how many warnings he had given the president and that this could reduce Bush to a criminally negligent, blundering fool.
George W. Bush would have had to kiss goodbye the role of cheerleader/war president-and so much else. Thus, Tenet had become critical to Bush’s political survival. And Tenet? All he needed was not to be blamed – not to be fired.
The bargain: I, George Bush, will keep you on and even praise your performance; you, George Tenet, will keep your mouth shut about all the warnings you gave me during the spring and summer of 2001. Tenet, it is clear, agreed.
On Sept. 26, 2001, the president motored out to CIA headquarters, puts his arm around Tenet and told the cameras, “We’ve got the best intelligence we can possibly have thanks to the men and women of the CIA.”
Tenet Goes Bush One Better
In his sworn testimony of April 14, 2004, before the 9/11 Commission, Tenet outdid himself trying to honor his bargain with Bush. The commissioners were interested in what the president had been told during the critical month of August 2001.
Answering a question from Commissioner Timothy Roemer, Tenet referred to the president’s long vacation (July 29-Aug. 30, 2001) in Crawford and insisted that he did not see the president at all in August.
“You never talked with him?” Roemer asked.
“No,” Tenet replied, explaining that for much of August he, too, was “on leave.”
That evening, a CIA spokesman called reporters to say that Tenet had misspoken, and that he had briefed Bush on Aug. 17 and 31, 2001. The spokesman played down the Aug. 17 briefing as uneventful and indicated that the second briefing took place after Bush had returned to Washington.
Funny how Tenet could have forgotten his first visit to Crawford. In his memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” Tenet waxed eloquent about the “president graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup and me trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna.”
But the visit was not limited to small talk. In his book Tenet writes: “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.”
The Aug. 6, 2001 President’s Daily Brief contained the article “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the US.” According to Ron Suskind’s The One-Percent Doctrine, the president reacted by telling the CIA briefer, “All right, you’ve covered your ass now.”
Clearly, Tenet needed to follow up on that. Was Tenet again in Crawford just one week later? According to a White House press release, President Bush on Aug. 25 told visitors to Crawford, “George Tenet and I” drove up the canyon “yesterday.”
If, as Tenet says in his memoir, it was the Aug. 6, 2001, PDB that prompted his visit on Aug. 17, what might have brought him back on Aug. 24? That was the day after Tenet had been briefed on Zacarias Moussaoui training to fly a 747 and other suspicion-arousing information.
The evidence is very strong that Tenet told Bush chapter and verse. The extraordinary lengths to which Tenet has gone to disguise that has the former CIA director skating very close to perjury – if not over the line.
Real Terrorists: Moussaoui and Reid
A note on Moussaoui: despite strong encouragement from FBI special agent/attorney Coleen Rowley at the time, the government never interviewed Moussaoui for information on a possible “second wave” of 9/11-type attacks.
Moussaoui knew Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber who almost downed an airliner on its way from London to the U.S., and might have provided forewarning, if he were asked in the three months between 9/11 and Reid’s attempt in December 2001. Given what amounted to a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, there is no telling, so to speak, what intelligence might have been elicited from Moussaoui.
It gets worse: it appears Reid was not effectively interviewed either. The nonchalant handling of Moussaoui and Reid greatly diminishes the credibility of arguments that torture was felt to be necessary because of the overweening fear of follow-up attacks. The administration claims it had to pull out all the stops-while in reality it failed to take rudimentary steps to acquire information from known terrorists already in U.S. custody.
Obama’s Faustian Bargain?
In a recent article on torture, http://www.consortiumnews.com/2009/041409a.html, I asked what might be holding the Obama administration back from appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate all this, so that as a nation we could hold to account any proven guilty and put this shameful chapter of American history behind us once and for all.
A reader replied in an email offering this answer to what is holding the administration back: “John D. Rockefeller, IV, and the Democrats who knew [about the torture] and did nothing.” The sender signed the email: “Kathleen M. Rockefeller Uncowardly Cousin.”
The disclosures in the Shane/Mazzetti article, and plenty of other evidence suggest that this may not be far off the mark. The fact that so many Democratic leaders had complicit knowledge of the torture is no doubt one of the powerful forces working on our president.
Maybe, just maybe, the president insisted on releasing the torture memos with a view toward determining whether Americans really care, whether we would be appropriately outraged-so outraged that we would put inexorable pressure on him to hold everyone, repeat everyone, accountable.