Plain­tiffs face ob­sta­cles in bid for 9/11 repa­ra­tions

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Laura King

Last month, Congress cleared the way for the fam­i­lies of peo­ple killed in the 9/11 ter­ror at­tacks to sue the Saudi Ara­bian govern­ment for any role it may have played.

Congress en­acted a law al­low­ing Amer­i­cans to pur­sue lit­i­ga­tion over losses re­sult­ing from acts of ter­ror car­ried out on U.S. soil, start­ing with the 2001 at­tacks that killed nearly 3,000 peo­ple. Claims against Saudi Ara­bia had been stalled in ap­pel­late court by a 1976 law grant­ing for­eign gov­ern­ments “sovereign im­mu­nity” from U.S. le­gal ac­tion.

Plain­tiffs lauded pas­sage of the bill — and Congress’ de­ci­sion to over­ride Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s veto of it — as a land­mark vic­tory.

“I’m look­ing for truth, ac­count­abil­ity and jus­tice for the bru­tal mur­der of my hus­band and nearly 3,000 other in­no­cent men, women and chil­dren,” said Terry Strada, a mother of three whose hus­band, Tom, died in the north tower. “That’s what seems to be get­ting lost here. That bru­tal mur­der took place.”

De­spite the more fa­vor­able le­gal land­scape, the 9/11 plain­tiffs — some 9,000 of them — still face for­mi­da­ble ob­sta­cles in their fight to win repa­ra­tions from the con­ser­va­tive desert king­dom, the home­land of 15 of the 19 hi­jack­ers. And even their lawyers ac­knowl­edge that fam­i­lies will prob­a­bly never get what many say they want most: a for­mal Saudi ad­mis­sion of com­plic­ity.

The first ob­sta­cle is that there is likely to be con­tin­ued po­lit­i­cal bat­tles over the bill. Some law­mak­ers are al­ready look­ing for ways to soften it.

Obama op­posed the bill be­cause it could open up To win a judg­ment, plain­tiffs must make the case that the Saudi govern­ment played a direct role in the 9/11 at­tacks. U.S. com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­ual U.S. of­fi­cials to le­gal ac­tion in for­eign courts over con­duct­ing pri­vate or govern­ment business.

In much of the Arab world, the new law was greeted with scorn, as Ara­bic-lan­guage on­line com­men­tary ques­tioned why the United States had not been held ac­count­able for death and de­struc­tion re­sult­ing from its mil­i­tary ac­tions in the re­gion.

The Saudi govern­ment has hinted that it might di­vest it­self of bil­lions of dol­lars in U.S. as­sets to pre­vent them from be­ing seized. Other pos­si­ble re­tal­i­a­tion could in­clude scal­ing back co­op­er­a­tion in coun­tert­er­ror­ism ef­forts and ac­cess to cru­cial air bases.

“Weak­en­ing … sovereign im­mu­nity will af­fect all coun­tries, in­clud­ing the United States,” the king­dom’s in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, Adel Al-To­raifi, said in a state­ment car­ried ear­lier this month by the Saudi state news agency.

A big­ger dif­fi­culty for the 9/11 plain­tiffs will be pre­vail­ing in court.

In or­der to win a judg­ment, the fam­i­lies and their lawyers would have to make the case that the Saudi govern­ment played a direct role in the at­tacks — some­thing the king­dom has al­ways ve­he­mently de­nied.

There has been no find­ing by the 9/11 Com­mis­sion, FBI or any other of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­gat­ing body that se­nior Saudi of­fi­cials played a part in the plot.

The clos­est any of them comes is am­bigu­ous lan­guage by the com­mis­sion that was widely in­ter­preted as leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity of lower-rank­ing Saudi of­fi­cials’ in­volve­ment.

Fam­i­lies were heart­ened ear­lier this year when Congress re­leased 28 for­merly clas­si­fied pages from one of its in­ves­ti­ga­tions, which found ev­i­dence that some of the hi­jack­ers “were in con­tact with, and re­ceived sup­port or as­sis­tance from, in­di­vid­u­als who may be con­nected to the Saudi govern­ment.”

As at­tor­neys em­bark on dis­cov­ery pro­ceed­ings, the roles of some in­di­vid­u­als — as well as the king­dom’s in­di­rect sup­port for al-Qaida — will come un­der re­newed scru­tiny, lawyers say

Terry Strada said that what the fam­i­lies wanted most was a full ex­am­i­na­tion of the facts. Strada strongly be­lieves that Saudi Ara­bia bears re­spon­si­bil­ity for 9/11. “All we want is our day in court,” she said.

SHAWN BALD­WIN/AP 2001

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