Saturday, May 30, 2009

US Justice Dept. Backs Saudi Royal Family on 9/11 Lawsuit

From The new York Times, May 30, 2009, by ERIC LICHTBLAU:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is supporting efforts by the Saudi royal family to defeat a long-running lawsuit seeking to hold it liable for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Justice Department...said it saw no need for the court to review lower court rulings that found in the Saudis’ favor in throwing out the lawsuit.

The government’s position comes less than a week before President Obama is scheduled to meet in Saudi Arabia with King Abdullah as part of a trip to the Middle East and Europe intended to reach out to the Muslim world. members of several Sept. 11 victims said they were deeply disappointed and questioned whether the decision was made to appease an important ally in the Middle East. The Saudis have aggressively lobbied both the Bush and Obama administrations to have the lawsuit dismissed, government officials say.

“I find this reprehensible,” said Kristen Breitweiser, a leader of the Sept. 11 families, whose husband was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. ...Bill Doyle, another leader of the Sept. 11 families whose son was killed in the attacks, said, “All we want is our day in court.”

The lawsuit, brought by a number of insurance companies for the victims and their families, accuses members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia of providing financial backing to Al Qaeda — either directly to Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, or indirectly through donations to charitable organizations that they knew were in turn diverting money to Al Qaeda.

A district court threw out the lawsuit, finding that the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act provided legal protection from liability for Saudi Arabia and the members of the royal family for their official acts.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan ...noted that the Supreme Court had historically looked to the executive branch to take the lead on such international matters because of “the potentially significant foreign relations consequences of subjecting another sovereign state to suit.”

...Justice Department officials declined to address the issue of whether the timing of the brief was related to Mr. Obama’s trip to Riyadh...
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