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A Battle Worth Fighting on September 12th

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New Hope is on the Horizon

The losses of September 11th are now carved in stone, literally. The families, survivors and the public finally got a memorial, an homage to the victims after the ten long years it took to imagine and build it. One cannot conceive of what it felt like for the families to enter this overwhelming place of finality that marks the end of just one of the many battles they have fought to honor their loved ones.

Yes, over the last ten years, there have been many battles: personal battles of grief; bureaucratic battles of every stripe; battles fought for the truth before Congress as it tried to piece together what went wrong that beautiful day and before the 9/11 Commission as it tried to draw a roadmap to greater security for our nation in the future. And through it all, the families have shown enormous fortitude in the face of utter grief and hopelessness and much dignity on matters deeply personal and very painful to them.

On one particular battlefront, they are joined by survivors in a much underreported lawsuit, Thomas Burnett Sr., et. al. vs. Al Baraka Banking and Investment, et al, brought by six thousand five hundred plaintiffs and joined by thousands of other individual and business plaintiffs in consolidated litigation against a number of defendants including members of the Saudi royal family, Saudi government officials, ostensible charities, banks and other persons and entities whose unambiguous financial and logistic support provided the 9/11 hijackers with the full capability to carry it out successfully.

Given a day in court, I believe the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that, without these benefactors, Osama bin Laden and his brethren would have likely not been able to manage such a 'global operation.'

Over the last eight years, the massive consolidated litigation, termed by the courts as In re Terrorist Attacks, has wound its way under the radar, through the courts and two judges and now a third, with a jury trial possibly scheduled for 2012. The lawsuit alleges complicity by the various Saudi financiers and others, who basically acted as bankrollers of hitmen-for-hire, holding them responsible for the deaths of 2,977 innocent people. This was a hit of 2,977 people and "should" be very meaningful for our government.

But, evidently, it's not meaningful enough. (See History/Precedence Box below.)

However, now, an opportunity is arising for that to change in the U.S. Senate where new legislation being introduced any day now by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) may help in the struggle for accountability. Because, in spite of the diligently researched and validating evidence in support of these allegations by plaintiffs attorneys at Motley Rice LLC (Ron Motley, Jodi Flowers, Robert Haefele), the courts have consistently removed accountability for many of the alleged terrorist sponsors by granting the Saudis et al. the protection of "diplomatic immunity" under the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act (FSIA) and by refusing to exercise jurisdiction over others (including U.S. and U.N.-designated terrorists) for terrorist acts directed at the United States.

The result is that they are left free and clear without ever having to address the issue of their accountability. Even more outrageous in this no-fault circus, was that even the U.S. government acknowledged in pleadings before the Supreme Court that the original court decision that gave the defendants a free pass misinterpreted the FSIA. But the misinterpretation continued in the ongoing paring down of culpable defendants and became an enabler of future terrorist supporters. (Again, see History/Precedence Box below.)

The drip, drip effect of government and judicial denial has not in any way deterred either lawyers or their plaintiffs and the case continues today in a federal courtroom in New York City. And, now, there is new hope. Senators Schumer and Graham are reintroducing a reinvigorated version of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), first introduced in a bi-partisan initiative in 2009. (see http://www.justiceagainstterrorism.net). This definitive piece of legislation would close the hole and essentially reverse all decisions protecting financiers of terrorist acts in the United States, regardless of where the support was given or of their oil production capabilities. As a survivor of 9/11, I cannot thank these two Senators enough or any member of Congress who joins them.

The attacks and murders of 9/11 were carried out callously and flawlessly by nineteen men (fifteen of whom were Saudis) whose backers probably felt a pang of pride at hearing the news of the thousands dead, yet they have never lost a night of sleep thinking they might suffer for their complicity. Remember, on September 11, 2001, there was celebration in the many parts of the world from which the financing came. It was a job well done.

Now it's time for the Congress to do its job well and put the terrorist enablers back on the hot seat.

HISTORY BOX:

If we take a step backward, we can see that government resistance to this lawsuit actually began with the Congressional Joint Intelligence Committees Inquiry into the Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, with its now famous missing 28-pages¹ in 2004, preventing the families and the plaintiffs from seeing what government already knew about the Saudi financing of 9/11.¹ The Bush administration refused to let these pages see the light of day. During the next presidential campaign in 2008, the then candidate Obama promised to release the 28 "classified" pages but subsequently reneged on his promise. He has never reversed course on this matter.

Adding salt to the wound was the government's opposition to the 9/11 families position as revealed in its Amicus Curiae brief filed in May of 2009 by the U.S. Office of the Solicitor General, an office then held by Elena Kagan, who has since become a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. In that brief, then-General Kagan, speaking for the U.S, administration, contended that even though the decision on appeal was flawed in nearly all respects, the Supreme Court should not hear the 9/11 Families' appeal and the Saudi princes -- who were in the case for allegedly financing terrorism, something they presumably did on their own time -- should be immune from prosecution. And, of course, that is exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, among the myriad of problems created by leaving the decision standing is a big hole allowing anyone to finance terrorist acts on American soil as long as they are outside the U.S. That's right. One interpretation of the court's decision that stands in place as a result of our government's decision to protect the Saudis in that appeal, instead of us, leaves open a gaping hole large enough to drive a bomb-laden bus through (or at least a missile). Consider this -- one interpretation of the court's decision would allow for this result: A terrorist on the Mexican or Canadian side of the border could arrange for a rocket to be launched into a U.S. passenger plane landing or departing from the U.S. -- and not be held accountable in the U.S. simply because his role in the rocket launching was done from outside the U.S. border. Not a very comforting thought.

¹ Further validated in Sen. Bob Graham's recent book "Keys to the Kingdom" and the Anthony Summers/Robbyn Swan recent book "The Kingdom and the Towers".