Obama administration sides with Saudis, seeks to deny 9/11 families their day in court

It’s no secret that members of the Saudi royal family have provided extensive financial support to al Qaeda. But now, as Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times reports, thousands of pages of previously undisclosed documents provide a detailed look at this disgusting phenomenon.

The documents have been compiled by lawyers for the Sept. 11 families and their insurers who are suing the Saudi government and the individual Saudi princes who personally gave money to Muslim charities they knew would be funding al-Qaeda’s jihad against America. Some of the documents are classified American intelligence material that was leaked anonymously to lawyers for the families. Others were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. For example, Treasury Department documents show that a prominent Saudi charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization, heavily supported by members of the Saudi royal family, supported terrorist organizations at least through 2006.

Unfortunately, this material may never find its way into court. That’s because the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the victims of 9/11 and their families may not sue either the Saudi government or even the individual princes who gave money to terrorists in their private capacities.

The 9/11 plaintiffs have petitioned the Supreme Court to have the case reviewed. Action was expected on the petition (a grant or a denial of review next term) this week, but as far as I know, the Court did not rule.

If review is granted, it will be no thanks to the Obama-Holder Justice Department. It has filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to deny the plaintiff’s petition.

The main issue here is whether the Saudi government is protected from being sued by the doctrine sovereign immunity. I’m no expert on this doctrine, but David Yerushalmi, writing for NRO, persuasively argues that, whatever the merits, the Justice Department was wrong in urging the Supreme Court not to reach them.

For one thing, the Department concedes that the circuit courts of appeal are divided on the question of sovereign immunity presented in the plaintiffs’ petition. For another, the Department concedes that the Second Circuit got the law wrong, though it claims that the court reached the right result. As Yerushalmi points out, these are precisely the two situations in which the Supreme Court is most likely agree to review a court of appeals ruling.

To be sure, the Supreme Court is not required to grant review under these circumstances. Still, it seems odd for the Justice Department to oppose review where review could correct a ruling it concedes is erroneous while clarifying the law on an issue of major importance.

To make matters worse, the Obama-Holder Justice Department’s seeks to protect not just the Saudi government, but also the Saudi princes. As to the princes, DOJ relies not on sovereign immunity but rather on its view that the evidence against them is insufficient. But, according to Yerushalmi, the Second Circuit pointed to abundant evidence to show that these princes knowingly funded al-Qaeda’s terrorism via Muslim charities. And, as noted above, a wealth of documents supports this conclusion.

Moreover, it’s one thing for the Justice Department to opine (as the Supreme Court asked it to) on the issue of sovereign immunity. It’s quite another for it to opine on the wholly unrelated issue of whether there was sufficient evidence presented in the complaint to justify allowing the case to go forward against the defendants.

Of course, these aren’t just any defendants; these are Saudi princes. But then, these aren’t just any plaintiffs; these are the victims of a terrorist attack on the Unitied States by groups funded by Saudi princes.

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