NYT: DOJ Ordered Leaked Intel on Saudis Destroyed
By Mary Jacoby | June 23, 2009 11:58 pm

I get it. We all get it. When it comes to the Saudi government, there are certain lines the U.S. absolutely won’t cross, even when it means compromising our principles.

I’m talking about the eight years of litigation by family members of 9/11 victims who have tried to recover damages from prominent Saudis alleged to have financed terrorist front groups. The South Carolina law firm Motley Rice, which spent millions of dollars financing the civil suit, has been screwed at every turn. Its document intensive case was originally assigned to a blind — yes, blind — judge, who has since died. The Bush administration opposed the lawsuit, arguing it violated the Saudis’ sovereign immunity, even though some of the alleged terrorist financiers were just prominent businessmen, not official members of the royal family. Two federal judges and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the lawsuit based on the sovereign immunity claim. It’s now up for review before the Supreme Court, in the 9/11 family members’ last chance to keep it alive.

The 9/11 family members’ had hoped that the Obama administration wouldn’t oppose the lawsuit going to trial. But that was naive, or wishful, thinking. Last month, the Obama DOJ agreed with the Bush administration, filing a brief with the Supreme Court siding with the Saudis and arguing against allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

Well, now in the ninth inning, Motley Rice has thrown up its hands and given the New York Times a trove of previously undisclosed documents linking Saudis to terrorist financing. Read Eric Lichtblau’s story here. View 109 pages of the documents given to the NYT by Motley Rice here

As the NYT says, there’s no “smoking gun” in the lawsuit linking the Saudi royals directly to 9/11. And the Saudis have denied the allegations. But there’s a lot of other interesting new material in the NYT story:

  • A sworn statement from a witness in Afghanistan who said in 1998, he saw a representative of Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal hand a check worth about $267 million to a top Taliban leader. (Prince Turki is a former Saudi intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to the U.S.)
  • Internal Treasury Department documents showing the U.S. believed the International Islamic Relief Organization, a charity supported by members of the Saudi royal family, had showed “support for terrorist organizations” at least through 2006. (A U.S. office of the IIRO was investigated by the Treasury Department in an operation dubbed “Greenquest” that culminated in massive raids on Islamic charities in Northern Virginia in 2002 – another big case that has so far gone nowhere).
  • Statement from a self-described al-Qaeda member who told the lawyers that another Saudi royal family gave money and supplies to Qaeda terrorists in Bosnia in the 1990s.

But the most incredible news in the NYT piece is this: the Justice Department had Motley Rice destroy copies of U.S. intelligence documents describing Saudi finances that were leaked to the lawyers anonymously, and is trying to prevent a judge from ever reviewing them. 

I have no doubt that DOJ line prosecutors and investigators at Treasury are dispirited by the cover up. The diplomats and the pragmatists have won out. This is a big victory for the State Department over the DOJ.

Good thing Motley Rice had so much money from its tobacco and asbestos cases in the 1990s. It sure did pour a lot of those winnings down a rathole here. At least it did a public service in gathering so much material on al-Qaeda – most of which is now part of the public record in some form, even if it hasn’t been entered into the record of the lawsuit.

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