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Prof. Allan Gerson
November 20, 2002
I am very appreciative of the invitation to appear here today to contribute to the important goal that this Committee has set for itself: assessing the tools needed to fight the financing of terrorism. Surely, the standard by which these tools can be assessed must, in large measure, revolve the progress that has been made in securing for the families of the victims of 9/11 the rights guaranteed to them under recent US anti-terrorism legislation. It is through these initiatives that they seek to hold accountable those responsible for enabling the murder of their loved ones, beginning with the proposition that the root of the problem lies in the financing of terrorism. First, however, I would like to express gratitude to this Committee, on behalf of the over 3600 individual family members that I and my partner in this endeavor, Ron Motley, have the honor to represent. They understand that your continuing interest and involvement in the justice of their cause will enable them to play the important role carved out for them in the war against terrorism.
9/11 was the work of terrorists that preach global jihad. The mass rallies of the Nazis, fanning bigotry and hatred, have been replaced by their use of the internet and the click of a computer mouse. And yet I fear, Mr. Chairman, that we are still using antiquated and obsolete techniques to deal with today's threats.
The victims of 9/11 were predominantly civilians. Yet today their families have the capacity to strike back. But if, and only if, their hands are not tied. They must be allowed to invoke the full force of our laws. As Secretary of State Powell recently noted: "The coalition against terrorism must advance on all fronts - political, financial, legal and military - to root out terrorists wherever they live and plot." Indeed, President Bush, almost immediately following the September 11th attacks, proclaimed: "Our goal is to deny terrorists the money they need to carry out their plans." He went on to say: "Our weapons are military and diplomatic, financial and legal." Today, the families of the 9/11 victims are in the front ranks of those fighting the war on the financial and legal fronts. Their weapon is the legal process. Their principal target is terrorism's financial underbelly. It is no accident that the organized 9/11 families call themselves Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism. They are essentially acting, through their lawyers, as Harvard's Professor Alan Dershowitz has characterized it, as "private
Our legal team has assembled highly experienced investigators to scour records in thirteen countries on behalf of the suit we have filed, Burnett, et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corp., et al in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. This suit names over 100 defendants in a complaint that spans 1,000 pages, with the third amended complaint to be filed this Friday. In addition, a more recently filed case in New York, Ashton, et al. v. al Qaeda, et al., names many of the same defendants on behalf of approximately an additional one thousand 9/11 family members. The defendants in the Burnett suit are primarily Saudi banks, charities, institutions, wealthy contributors and individuals associated with the Government of Saudi Arabia. In this effort, we have the active assistance of the governments of Russia, Uzbekistan, Israel, and Bosnia, to name but a few. We have the active cooperation of the judiciary and the governments' prosecutorial arms in Spain and in Germany. Indeed, in Germany we are preparing, as I speak, to appear on behalf of the families as
For all of these reasons, I believe we are making good progress in using the tools that the Congress has already made available to us. Accordingly, I am not here to ask for new
Today, recourse to the courts by American citizens against the perpetrators of terrorism is a Constitutional right. It cannot be taken away or suspended without violating the due process and taking of property provisions of the Fifth Amendment. But, Senators, what is needed is more than grudging acceptance of this principle. What is needed is an affirmative statement that there will be no interference in the 9/11 families' efforts to seek redress. Beyond that, we would hope that, where
Together we can act effectively to protect our citizens and our country. In the past, whenever we were faced with a serious challenge to our national security, new advances in public-private partnerships always arose to utilize the skills of all Americans. For example, as is surely pertinent to our
Former US National Security Advisor Richard Allen was on target when he said that the 9/11 families' lawsuit against foreign interests should be supported by the United States government because it will provide important opportunities for learning about the workings of terrorism, and this will enhance
Congress's courageous initiatives in its anti-terrorism legislation thus operates not only for the benefit of individual citizens seeking compensation for past wrongs, but for all American citizens by helping to make them safer. If the reach of our enemy is global, then our response must surely be global. One thing is clear. International terrorists look for any opportunity to take advantage of the increasing porousness of international boundaries in order to find the best venue for their clandestine work, for places where it is easiest to launder money and hide assets. A counter-attack must necessarily use the same tools of globalization. It can begin with the criminal law process. In this regard, it is worth giving closer attention to a case instituted in the immediate aftermath of the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg: the US prosecution of Carl Rasche of the Dresdner Bank, in "The Banker's Case". He was convicted for giving financial assistance and financing the
But it is not the criminal track alone that can lead us to the results that we seek. I have already mentioned the example of the bankrupting of the Ku Klux Klan. And it is worth noting that it was in that same spirit of recognizing the role of private citizens that the US Congress, in passing the 1991 and
In this context, cooperation and the sharing of documents between courts, involvement of private plaintiffs all along the way, making sure that evidence does not turn stale, and allowing them to go into areas where for economic or other reasons governments are loathe to tread are all the essential
If the 9/11 families need the help of the US government in the prosecution of their law suit, it would also be true to say that the government needs their help. To be sure, dealing with foreign governments has traditionally been considered the exclusive prerogative of the State Department and the US government. Over the years, the 19th century concept of sovereign immunity, despite changing times, developed to the point that any foreign government would be immune from accountability in our
That critical victory was followed after 9/11 by passage of the 2001 American Patriots Act which specifies the intent of Congress to accord broad latitude to all anti-terrorism legislation, including the 1991 and 1993 Anti-Terrorism Acts which provide for civil remedies against individuals perpetrating
On May 15, 1990, that Commission issued a lucid and tough-minded 182 page report which, if heeded, might well have prevented 9/11. It made scores of recommendations about aviation security measures, but only some were actually incorporated into law or administrative recommendations. The Report's most strongly worded recommendation of all -- that terrorism cannot be defeated without the national will and moral courage to implement "a more vigorous US policy that not only pursues and punishes terrorists but also makes state sponsors of terrorism pay a price for their actions" -- went all but unheeded.
The 9/11 families want an independent commission with teeth, one which includes individual family members and whose recommendations will be respected. They understand that the work of this Committee in enabling them to proceed in the courts as well as through such independent commissions are flip sides of the same commitment to achieving accountability and, through that, deterrence.