Obama Saudi suit stance irks 9/11 families


By Tom LoBianco | Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Family members of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks say they have been blindsided by the Obama administration's opposition to their lawsuit seeking damages from top members of the Saudi Arabian government over suspected financial links to the 9/11 attackers.

A series of closed-door meetings between the relatives' groups and Justice Department officials, arranged as an update on Mr. Obama's plan to close the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, turned instead into a sharp clash over the Saudi legal action, The Washington Times has learned.

"Physically, President Obama has done what previous presidents have done for a long time, which is bow down," said Debra Burlingame, co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America.

The relatives of the victims have signed onto a lawsuit seeking damages from four Saudi princes, saying they have been financing al Qaeda and thus are responsible in large part for the attacks that killed their loved ones.

The family members demanded to be be heard on the White House's stance during a series of closed-door meetings at the State Department and the Justice Department last week.

The Supreme Court is expected to meet Thursday to decide whether to take the families' case, which was rejected by a federal appeals court last year. The administration's opposition to a Supreme Court review has dampened hopes among the 11 families for a reversal.

"Myself and the other family members are unanimously upset," said Doug Connors, whose older brother was killed in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. "We feel that our government hasn't supported us as victims."

A U.S. district court dismissed the suit against the princes, a Saudi banker and a Saudi-based charity in 2006, and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling in August 2008.

But lower courts have split in other cases on how to apply the sovereign immunity rules set by the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, and the Supreme Court justices asked Solicitor General Elena Kagan to weigh in on the 9/11 case in February. The brief was filed last month.

U.S. law makes it extremely difficult for citizens to sue foreign governments in U.S. courts, and the lower court ruling noted that Saudi Arabia is not listed on the State Department's official list of state sponsors of terrorism.