New York Post
August 8, 2007 -- THE Saudis' efforts to keep a veil of secrecy over their sup port for al Qaeda and Hamas got a shot in the arm last week, as a British publisher opted to suppress a controversial book on the financing of terror.
Facing the mere threat of a lawsuit from Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, Cambridge University Press agreed to pulp all the unsold copies of "Alms of Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World," issue a public apology to Mahfouz and pay his legal expenses and substantial undisclosed damages.
The prestigious publisher - the world's oldest publishing house - had carefully vetted the book before publishing it last year. Yet now it has asked more than 200 libraries worldwide to pull the work off their shelves.
Bin Mahfouz never sued the authors, J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins, both U.S. citizens, who had provided their publisher with all the sources to back their allegations that bin Mahfouz, his family and his former bank, the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia, funded Hamas and al Qaeda. Yet Cambridge University Press still caved - and even asked the authors to join its apology to bin Mahfouz. (They rightly refused.)
Since March 2002, bin Mahfouz has sued or threatened suit in England at least 36 times against those who've linked him to terrorism, including many American authors and publications. Everyone settled with bin Mahfouz - except me.
He sued me in London in January 2004, shortly after my book "Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It" was published in the United States. I refused to acknowledge a British court's jurisdiction over a book published here; the court then ruled in bin Mahfouz's favor by default. It enjoined British publication of "Funding Evil," awarded bin Mahfouz $225,900 in damages and expenses and ordered that I publicly apologize and destroy the book. I still refuse to acknowledge the British Court and its ruling.
The data in both "Alms for Jihad" and "Funding Evil" is all well-documented by the media and the U.S. Congress, courts, Treasury Department and other official statements. Further corroboration comes from French intelligence officials at the General Directorate of External Security (DGSE), as reported in the French daily, Le Monde. For example, the DGSE reported that, in 1998, it knew bin Mahfouz to be an architect of the banking scheme built to benefit Osama bin Laden, and that both U.S. and British intelligence services knew it, too.
British libel law favors suits such as bin Mahfouz's, so I chose to fight his false claims here in America. I've sued him in a New York federal court, seeking a declaration that his English default judgment is unenforceable in the United States and repugnant to the First Amendment.
Prominent civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate described it as "one of the most important First Amendment cases in the past 25 years."
On June 8, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously declared my case is "ripe" for hearing in a U.S. court, noting that the case has implications for all U.S. authors and publishers, whose First Amendment rights are threatened by foreign libel rulings.
That ruling thus established that all U.S. writers and publishers sued in the United Kingdom for libel can ask U.S. courts to rule the foreign decisions unenforceable here - provided they have jurisdiction over the person who sued for libel overseas. (The New York Court of Appeals will hear arguments on that issue in my case this fall.)
These important legal rulings have weakened bin Mahfouz's ability to threaten or sue U.S. authors and publishers; they're likely why bin Mahfouz failed to sue Burr and Collins in London.
Bin Mahfouz and fellow Arabs alleged as terror financiers, known as "libel tourists," have made the English libel bar rich, leading the London Times to declare Britain the "libel capital of the Western world." English lawyers now refer to the "Arab effect" to describe the surge of English libel actions by wealthy, non-resident Arabs accused of funding terrorism.
Of course, U.S. legal actions can't change British laws. But judging by the impact my case has had already, one can hope that U.K. writers and publishers would demand changing their libel laws, to allow the freedom of responsible publications without the fear of intimidating, expensive lawsuits.
Rachel Ehrenfeld is the director of the American Center for Democracy.
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