A Saudi Bomb

This story from the Guardian seems to be a deliberate threat-by-leak from the Saudi royals: Make nice to us or we’ll go nuclear. No response from the White House, as far as I can tell.

The timing couldn’t be better if Wesley Clark wants to make the Saudi issue against Bush.

Truth and Lies about 9-11

David Plotz at Slate [*] has more about the revelations in Gerald Posner’s new book, Why America Slept. The fact that most Americans still blame Iraq and not Saudi Arabia for 9-11 is one of the things that make it hard to maintain a decent amount of democratic piety.

Saudi Princes, Pakistani Intelligence, and 9-11

According to this Time Magazine story [*], based on forthcoming book by Gerald Posner, the Bush Administration continued to insinuate that Iraq was somehow responsible for the 9-11 massacres long after a top al-Qaeda captive had named the names of top Saudi and Pakistani officials who knew about the attacks in advance.

I don’t know how reliable Posner is, but the story, if true, calls for somebody in Washington to do some serious explaining.

With Friends Like These…

Good news: a quarter of the Americans who thought that Saudi Arabia was an “ally” or a “friendly” country in October of 2001 no longer think so. Bad news: that drop only brings the total down to 45%. That’s more than the 38% who think that the Kingdom is “unfriendly” or an “enemy;” 17% don’t know.[*]

More on Conflicts of Interest

Beldar, a blogger who is also a practicing lawyer, defends Jamie Gorelick’s service on the 9-11 Commission (here and here) as creating only a de minimus conflict with her firm’s representation of a Saudi prince accused of having helped finance and organize the massacre. He is confident that “Chinese Wall” procedures will keep anything Gorelick learns as a Commission member from leaking to whichever of her partners are defending the prince, and observes correctly that the contribution of the case to Ms. Gorelick’s personal finances isn’t going to be very large. His posts are worth reading as a clear exposition of the ethical rules pertaining to conflict, as lawyers deal with that issue.

But Beldar’s analysis leaves in place the fact that Gorelick is in a position, as a commission member, to directly and significantly help or harm her partner’s client’s case. As Beldar points out, the same is likely to be true of any Washington lawyer with enough stature to serve on the 9-11 Commission. But that’s exactly the point that Dwight Meredith *, Glenn Reynolds *, and I * (along, as Dwight notes, with most of the left blogosphere, which doesn’t seem nearly as indifferent to scandals involving Democrats as the right blogosphere is to scandals involving Republicans) have been making: the world of the big Washington (and national) law firms, whose denizens are, collectively, a major force in American public life, is intolerably permeated with Saudi money.

When Saudi Arabia was merely one of the many nasty third-world tyrannies with which the United States does business, and the leader of the OPEC conspiracy to expropriate the world’s oil consumers, that was merely objectionable. But now, when — as I believe — Saudi Arabia is actually waging undeclared war on the United States, its penetration of our power centers constitutes a significant national problem.

Pots and Kettles: Should the Universities Take Saudi Money?

A reader who is also a member of one of the big law firms I excoriated for taking Saudi money * points out that both my current employer, the University of California, and my former employer, Harvard, have accepted of the Kingdom’s bounty for professorial chairs. He wants to know what I think about that.

Three answers:

1. I’m against it.

2. It isn’t the same.

3. If it happens again, I want to know about it so I can make a fuss.

That I’m against it should go without saying. People who give you money have influence over you. No one should voluntarily put himself in the position where the enemies of his country can influence him.

As it happens, some months ago a close friend who is also a highly distinguished professor with a needy research enterprise had an opportunity to raise Very Big Bucks from Saudi Arabia. He asked me what I thought about it, and I strongly advised him not to go that way, despite my regard for the importance of the work he and his group do.

That the Harvard and UC cases aren’t the same as the Baker Botts and Jones Day cases is true on two levels.

First, a university’s norms and processes are all about independence, while the lawyer-client relationship is based on the lawyer’s duty of zealous advocacy. In particular, a university can and should take money from people on both sides of most disputed issues, while the conflict-of-interest rules mean that a lawyer who takes a retainer from one party can’t represent the other party, even in a different action.

Second, disloyalty, like its relative, treason, sometimes is what Talleyrand said it was: a matter of dates. Taking Saudi money before 9-11 (or before the public record contained what it now contains in the way of evidence of Saudi complicity in 9-11) was not the same thing as taking that money today. Unlike the retainers I criticized, the UC and Harvard transactions were both pre-9-11.

I didn’t like those deals when they happened; the Kingdom has done, and continues to do, enough nasty things other than financing al-Qaeda to make it worthy of sustained criticism, and taking its money must tend to reduce the volume and severity of the criticism it gets. Moreover, American universities employ substantial numbers of Jews, and the Kingdom is openly and consistently anti-Semitic.

Surely it is not far-fetched to suspect that a country that, as a matter of law, does not grant visas to Jews will, as a donor, tend to make the places to which it gives money less hospitable to the people it hates and despises. (“C’mon, Jim. Can we really afford to have a Director of Development named Katzenberg? How far is that going to get with Prince Bandar?”)

Be that as it may, now that we know that the Saudi government has waged, and is waging, war on the United States, it would be in my view utterly despicable for any university to take Saudi money, or to provide the usual quid pro quos in the form of named chairs, named buildings, named programs, or honorary degrees. I’d be happy to help publicize any incidents of such academic prostitution that come to my attention.

Conflict of what?

A story is told — a canonical one, I believe — of an insurance agent who served as the chair of the Insurance Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates. When a reporter dared to inquire about possible conflicts of interest, the legislator replied: “Whaddaya mean? It don’t conflict with my interest at all.”

Dwitght Meredith notes * that one could easily staff a blue-ribbon commission on relations with Saudi Arabia with members of law firms that are defending Saudi Arabia against the 9-11 victims’ families. He’s especially upset that Jamie Gorelick, who serves on the actual 9-11 Commission, is a partner in a firm that represents one of the Saudi defendants in the families’ suit. Dwight asserts that, as a matter of legal ethics, Gorelick must resign.*

I agree, but I wouldn’t advise Dwight to hold his breath.

My earlier post * does not seem to have convinced many of my lawyer friends. They are taught in law school that the ethics of an adversary legal system trumps the ethics of common sense, which holds that:

–doing a skilled job for someone constitutes helping that person;

–helping people do evil things is wrong; and

–helping the enemies of one’s country is disloyal.

I refer them to the chapter called “Professional Detachment” in Arthur Applebaum’s masterful Ethics for Adversaries *.

The decision to take a client shouldn’t be, and isn’t in fact, automatic. It’s an exercise of judgment, for which lawyers ought to be held morally accountable. I’m virtually certain that none of the white-shoe firms defending the Saudis would have taken a case, civil or criminal, for one of the Mafia families. And I’m quite certain that the strong need, under the adversary system, for everyone to be represented in court does not keep those same firms from refusing clients who can’t pay their bills.

Here’s a hypothetical for the advocates of adversary ethics to ponder: would you have represented a slaveholder in an action under the Fugitive Slave Act, given a good-faith belief that the person in question was, in fact, the lawful property of your potential client? If so, then I’ll have to agree that you really believe in the adversary system.

If not, there must be some times when a lawyer shouldn’t take a legally meritorious case. Perhaps defending the financiers of mass murder — the operators of a system of finance that is still educating the mass murderers of tomorrow in Wahhabbist madrassas — against a tort action by the relatives of the victims is different in some relevant way, but I’d like to hear someone explain precisely how, rather than just reciting mantras about how the adversary system magically leads to justice being done.

Whose side are they on, anyway?

Newsweek reports (*) that Baker, Botts — James Baker’s law firm — is defending Prince Sultan, the Saudi defense minister, against a lawsuit filed by families of the 9-11 victims. (Thanks to Tapped for the pointer.) Baker was last seen, you will recall, making sure that the votes didn’t get counted in Florida. One of Baker’s former partners, who was George W. Bush’s personal lawyer, is now Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

It seems the defense is going to be that whatever aid Prince Sultan gave to the terrorists was part of his official duties.

Apparently the Administration has decided that it can’t take the political heat that would come from having the Justice Department intervene on the Saudi side of this dispute, and some national-security officials are sufficiently fed up with Saudi stonewalling to be helping the plaintiffs. We can hope for a series of interesting revelations coming out of the lawsuit; the Baker, Botts filing already has lots of detail about how the Saudi government funneled money to various Islamic “charities.”

The Newsweek story doesn’t raise the question that pops into my mind: Do the plaintiffs have standing to ask to see the 28 pages of censored material from the 9-11 report?

On the one hand, this suit may change some people’s view of the plaintiffs’ tort bar. If you think about capping Saudi liability for 9-11 to direct financial losses plus $250,000 a victim, “tort reform” suddenly doesn’t sound so enticing. On the other hand, in case you wanted to know why people make lawyer jokes, just read the list of top law firms that have decided to back the perpetrators against the victims: Wilmer, Cutler; Jones, Day; Ropes & Grey; White & Case; King & Spalding; Akin Gump ; and Fulbright & Jaworski. And I haven’t heard of a single lawyer resigning from one of those firms in protest. Just backs up my long-held belief that almost all the major law firms are actually subsidiaries of a single institution, the Platonic Form of a law firm: Pig, Pig & Pig.

I was glad to see that one Clinton Administration alumnus at a major firm — both unnamed in the story — decided that $5 million wasn’t enough money to make him take the case.

Update Conrad, the Gweilo Diarist, challenges me (*) on two points, one factual and one ethical. Ethically, he wonders whether I think unpopular defendants should be denied legal representation. Factually, he wants to know why I’m sure the 9-11 report demonstrates the Saudis’ guilt, since obviously I haven’t read it.

Second things first: I base my evaluation of what’s in the report on what Senator Bob Graham, one of its authors, has said, and on a report in the New Republic based on a conversation with someone who has read it (*). [If you don’t want to bother with NR’s sign-in, here’s my summary.] (See also this report by Conrad on a speech by Ashcroft, which doesn’t speak to what’s in the report but does speak to the truth of the accusation in the victims’ lawsuit.)

As to the ethical question, everybody’s entitled to a lawyer. But no particular lawyer is required to take on the ethical burden of “zealous advocacy” for any particular client in any particular case.

If, as I believe, the Saudi government knowingly contributed to and otherwise supported al-Qaeda, with the knowledge that al-Qaeda had attacked, and was planning to continue to attack, the United States, that support constituted an act of war. Countries who make war on us are our enemies. Citizens who voluntarily work for the enemies of our country — especially rich, influential citizens — can, I think, justly be criticized for disloyalty, even if they undertake those acts of disloyalty in the course of the practice of law.

If respectable, skilled, connected lawyers such as those at the firms I named refused to take this case, the Saudi defendants would wind up being defended by less respectable, less skilled, less connected lawyers, to their detriment and our benefit. Remember, “zealous advocacy” doesn’t mean just in the courtroom: part of what Prince Sultan is buying here is Baker’s influence in Washington.

[I concede that the ethical issues would be somewhat different in a criminal case. But the defendants in this case have nothing to lose but their honor and some of their excessive supplies of money.]

Really, Conrad: how hard is it to figure out that the former Secretary of State of the United States shouldn’t be carrying water for the foreign power responsible for the largest massacre of Americans ever carried out?

More here *

Free the Capitol Hill 28!

Jane Galt objects to the release of the 28 censored pages about Saudi involvement in the 9-11 massacres on the grounds that, once we acknowledge publicly that the Saudi Royal Family was directly responsible for the murder of 3000 Americans, we will have no alternative but to go to war, conquer the Kingdom, and then face the rage of the “Arab street” at the spectacle of infidel boots marching through Mecca and Medina.

I don’t agree with her analysis, but she deserves credit for putting the real issue on the table; the Administration’s “protecting sources and methods” story just won’t wash.

I think we can face the facts without going to war. No doubt, Saudi participation in that attack, if verified, would constitute a casus belli; but the existence of a casus belli does not obligate the injured state to go to war. The Iranian hostage-taking of 1979,, for example, was a casus belli.

Perhaps Jane means only that releasing the information would make war politically inevitable in terms of domestic U.S. politics. I doubt it. It would make it politically necessary for the Bush Administration to do change its stance toward the Saudi monarchy and its support for the worldwide Wahhabbi movement, but “doing something” could and would stop far short of invasion.

After all, who but the neocons and radio talk show hosts and warbloggers would actually support invading Saudi Arabia? Not the Bush team, not the corporate sector, not the Democrats, not the mass media, and not the majority of the people, in the absence of the kind of all-out propaganda drive that led up to the invasion of Iraq.

Now an argument could be made — and it’s one I’m not professionally competent to judge — that the US national interest is best served by appeasing the Saudis rather than confronting them. That argument would be politically very unpopular if the report were released; that is why the Bush team is so intent on not releasing it.

But if this President is so incapable of leadership that his only means of restraining popular fury is to keep the public in the dark about who attacked us on 9-11, that’s the best argument I’ve heard yet for getting ourselves a new President.

Why are the Bushies covering up for the Saudis?

Forty-six senators have signed a letter to the President (*) asking for release of the famous 28 pages of the 9-11 report

Many of the signatures are illegible, but the ones I can read are all those of Democrats (including Kerry, Edwards, and Graham), except for Sam Brownback, who co-sponsored the letter with Chuck Schumer.

Meanwhile, John Judis and Spencer Ackerman report in TRO Online (*) that:

…an official who has read the report tells The New Republic that the support described in the report goes well beyond [Saudi contributions to charities with links to al-Qaeda]: It involves connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family. “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities,” says this official. “They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.”

[snip]

For his part, Bush has insisted that revealing the 28 pages would compromise “sources and methods that would make it harder for us to win the war on terror.” But the chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time of the joint inquiry, Florida Democrat Bob Graham and Alabama Republican Richard Shelby, rejected that argument, contending that perhaps only 5 percent of the 28 pages would compromise national security if made public. Graham and Shelby are leading a drive in Congress to force the government to declassify the documents.

[snip]

The official who read the 28 pages tells The New Republic, “If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to Al Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to Al Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.” He adds: “If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.”

There’s been a virtual news blackout on the letter, which may explain why Glenn Reynolds still thinks (*) that the Democrats aren’t pushing the issue. (Why he imagines that the Bush Administration is eventually going to do the right thing about its friends in Riyadh is a different question.) The good news is that Senate procedures give the proponents of declassification many ways of forcing a vote on the question.

If the country can be made to understand that the Bush Administration is soft on the sponsors of terrorism, and if the Democrat who runs against him can credibly promise to be tougher, Bush could be in real trouble.

Update Kevin Drum (*) relays some thoughts from Greg Palast on why GWB might have a soft spot in his heart for the Kingdom.