Summary of the Proceedings
In 2003, Cozen O’Connor filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of dozens of insurers who paid out billions in compensation for property damage and other injuries resulting from the Sept. 11 attacks, seeking to hold accountable alleged material sponsors and supporters of the al Qaeda terrorist organization. Several thousand family members of those killed in the attacks and injured survivors also filed parallel suits. The lawsuits were consolidated into a multi-district litigation proceeding captioned In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001, Civil Action No. 03-MDL-1570. Cozen O’Connor was appointed by the Court to Co-Chair the Executive Committee established to prosecute the litigation on behalf of all plaintiffs.
Among other claims advanced in the sprawling litigation, the 9/11 families and victims have alleged that agents and employees of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided assistance to certain of the 9/11 hijackers and plotters. The 9/11 plaintiffs have further alleged that al Qaeda’s development into a sophisticated terrorist organization was fueled principally by financial and operational support from “da’wa organizations” established and sponsored by the Saudi government – commonly described as alleged “charities.”
The case has been pending for more than a decade. The procedural history is labyrinth. There are more than 3,000 docket entries or court filings, all of which are readily available to the public in the form of PDFs linked to the docket entries at pacer.gov.
After recent months of intense advocacy by the families of the victims, the Senate is nearing a vote on a bill to deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, and for other purposes. The Act, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or JASTA, would clarify existing law by confirming that foreign states do not enjoy sovereign immunity in cases arising from their alleged involvement in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, and must instead answer the evidence on the merits.
The purpose of the Act is to provide civil litigants with the broadest possible basis, consistent with the Constitution of the United States, to seek relief against persons, entities, and foreign countries, wherever acting and wherever they may be found, that have provided material support, directly or indirectly, to foreign organizations or persons that engage in terrorist activities against the United States. The bill does not determine liability in any way – it merely provides that U.S. courts have jurisdiction to hear the claims.
But, the stakes are high. According to the New York Times, the White House told members of Congress that the Kingdom had to dispose of $750 billion of its U.S. assets if JASTA becomes law, a threat economists thereafter described as implausible and hollow, and from which the White House then retreated. Pressure is also growing on our government to release the still classified “28 pages” of a 2002 Report of the Congressional Joint Inquiry concerning evidence of possible Saudi involvement in the attacks, as well as documents pertaining to the further investigation of the separate 9/11 Commission into the issue. John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan and member of the 9/11 Commission in a sworn Affirmation filed in the MDL (#2927-3 on the docket) said: “In my view, the release of those pages would in no way implicate or harm our national security interest. To the contrary, I believe the disclosure of those 28 pages of the Joint Inquiry report would greatly assist policymakers and the public in better understanding many of the threats we now confront.”