Judge expected to make decision on dismissal motion in lawsuit regarding 9/11 attacks

Katie Aguilera

A long-running lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia brought by families of victims of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 may be dismissed before it goes to trial.  In August 2017, Saudi Arabia filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs “could not show that any Saudi official, employee or agent planned or carried out the attacks.”

On January 18, 2018, Judge Daniels “sparred with an attorney representing insurance companies and businesses seeking damages from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., which took the lives of almost 3,000 people, over whether or not plaintiffs could bring claims against the Saudi government under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA,” according to this New York Law Journal article by Andrew Denney.

That article goes on to say that Judge Daniels “questioned if the plaintiffs proved that providing funding to the group [Al Qaeda] specifically caused it to carry out the 9/11 attacks and if the Saudi government could be held liable for all attacks conducted under the banner of Al-Qaeda.”

Judge Daniels previously dismissed claims against Saudi Arabia in September 2015.  Daniels said that “Saudi Arabia had sovereign immunity from damage claims by families of nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks, and from insurers that covered losses suffered by building owners and businesses.”  However, the passage of JASTA, which narrows the scope of foreign sovereign immunity, enabled the families to sue the Saudi government.  This allowed the case to move forward.

The 9/11 Commission report stated that, “It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda’s fundraising activities.  Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.  (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda).”

The commission report also stated, “to date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.  Ultimately the question is of little practical significance.”

If the case goes to trial, it will give the families of victims of the attacks the opportunity to seek some justice for what happened.  It will also hopefully bring attention to, and connect, information that has come out in the years since the attacks that often gets little coverage.

*****************

If you would like to support my work, please click here.

US national security focus to shift

Katie Aguilera

In an address at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on January 19, 2018, US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, discussed details of the first National Defense Strategy to be drafted in a decade.  Mattis stated that terrorism will no longer be the main focus of US security.

“…with great power competition between nations becoming a reality again, though we will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we’re engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security.”

The unclassified summary of the National Defense Strategy, or NDS, makes it very clear who these great powers are.  It states “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors. As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability. Despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.”

The NDS is peppered with language that demonstrates the desire for US global dominance.  It states that the Department of Defense will “be prepared to defend the homeland, remain the preeminent military power in the world, ensure the balances of power remain in our favor, and advance an international order that is most conducive to our security and prosperity.”

Apparently, the war hawks are feeling the need to remind the world that the US is the mightiest great power, and is willing to do whatever it takes to defend its empire.  After all, these competing great powers have been building up their strength for years while the US has been eroding its own in Afghanistan and Iraq (and everywhere else).  Mattis warned, “if you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day.”

What could go wrong?

******************

If you would like to support my work, please click here.

What the Stand Off in Oregon is Distracting Us From

DSC_1330

Katie Aguilera

On April 24, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act into law.  This act was introduced by Senator Bob Dole, and it had bi-partisan support.  It passed the Senate with a vote of 91 to 8 and passed in the House of Representatives with a vote of 293 to 133.  Not unlike the Patriot Act, this act was introduced and passed in response to terror attacks, both the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred Murrah building in 1995. The stated purposes of the act are to “deter terrorism, provide justice for victims, provide for an effective death penalty, and for other purposes.”

In the years between the two bombings, the panic-inducing rhetoric was in full swing over home-grown, right-wing extremist, anti-government terrorism (not unlike today).  Of course, Timothy McVeigh played into that perfectly with a Ryder truck with home-made fertilizer bombs in the back.  It is easy to see, after that bombing, how law makers on all sides would want to be viewed as doing their part to fight terrorism.

Since 1996, the existence of this law, and its use, seems to have been largely under-reported.  I have not been able to find out just how often it has been used in prosecution to date.  David Cole, lawyer and Georgetown University Law Professor, in an interview on Democracy Now discussing possible revisions to the Patriot Act in 2009 said:

This law was passed, as you indicated, in 1996, but it really was left unenforced until September 11th. Since September 11th, however, it’s been a favorite tool of the government. There have been over a hundred prosecutions. And the reason it’s the favorite tool is precisely because it doesn’t require the government to prove up that an individual actually is connected to any kind of terrorist activity. It allows them to paint with a broad brush.

It is a very broad brush indeed.

In 2012, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) filed charges against Dwight and Steven Hammond, a father and son and long time residents and ranchers in Harney County, Oregon.  The Hammonds were prosecuted under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.  What was this act of terror committed by the Hammonds?  Well, Dwight and Steven Hammond were charged with, and they admitted to, setting two fires on their land which subsequently spread to federal land.   Admittedly, there is a lot of background to this case, including questions surrounding the two fires and a long history of protests and threats, and I am working on another post that will go into greater detail on those.  But, for now, lets look at the two fires in question, and consider how these acts qualified the Hammonds for prosecution under this broad law.

The first fire was lit in 2001.  According to the Western Livestock Journal, it was a prescribed burn that spread to 139 acres of BLM land.  From court documents:

At trial, historical data and testimony established a long-standing plan between the Hammonds and their BLM range conservationist to burn off invasive species on the “School Section” of the Hammonds’ property. ER-316-18. Fire is a tool regularly used by the BLM to rehabilitate grazing lands.
Defendants had acknowledged intentionally setting a fire on September 30, 2001 to burn off invasive species on the School Section, which then spread to approximately 139 acres of adjacent public land (the “Hardie-Hammond Allotment”). ER-287, 243.
At trial, the government presented evidence that the fire was set in
a manner designed to spread on to the public land, and had endangered members of the Hammonds’ party.
The “endangered members” part is referencing testimony during the trial of Dwight and Steven Hammond by Dusty Hammond, Dwight Hammond’s grandson.  This OPB article says:

Nearly 11 years after the fact, Dusty Hammond recalled for a jury Wednesday in a U.S. District Court how he stumbled through juniper and sagebrush to escape a fire bearing down on him, a fire he helped set.

Hammond, 24, softspoken and clean cut, explained how his first-ever deer hunt near Frenchglen turned to arson after his uncle Steve Hammond passed out boxes of strike-anywhere matches to the four-man hunting party.

“Light the whole countryside on fire,” Dusty said his uncle told him. “I started lighting matches.”

Afterwards, he said, over lunch his grandfather and uncle instructed him to “keep my mouth shut; nobody needed to know anything about the fire.”

It has been reported that this fire was started to cover up evidence of poaching on federal land by the Hammonds.

The second fire that plays a role in the Hammonds’ case was lit in 2006.  This fire is said to have been started as a back burn to protect the Hammond’s winter feed from fires that were ignited by lightning.  Court documents say:

The facts of this fire are straight forward. The Ninth Circuit stated:
In August 2006, a lightning storm kindled several fires near where the Hammonds grew their winter feed. Steven responded by attempting back burns near the boundary of his land. Although a burn ban was in effect, Steven did not seek a waiver. His fires burned about an acre of public land.
So there you have it.  Poaching deer and destroying the evidence with fire, lighting fires without the proper notification in an attempt to save property in what may well have been an emergency response, burning a total of 140 acres of federally held land.  Regardless of the Hammond’s history of conflict with the BLM and the federal government (I’ll get into that in my upcoming post), it seems like a stretch to say that these are crimes that should be prosecuted under the anti-terrorism act.  Also, as I will get into here, the Hammonds were not prosecuted for the charges related to their previous threats and actions against federal employees, which could arguably be considered terrorism under the legal definition:
(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
According to this report in 2010, the Hammonds were originally indicted on 19 counts, “charges that include conspiracy, arson, depredation of federal property, threatening federal officers, and tampering with a witness.”
Two years later, according to this article, they were brought to trial, now facing nine counts.

A federal indictment charges the pair with nine counts, including conspiracy and setting illegal fires on federal grazing land, fires that coincided or contributed to the Hardie Hammond, Lower Bridge Creek and Krumbo Butte fires.

One count alleges witness tampering, a charge Papagni [prosecutor in the Hammonds’ case] said stems from a confrontation in Frenchglen between Steve Hammond and Joe Glascock, a rangeland conservation manager who suspected the Hammonds of setting rangeland fires. Hammond in 2006 told Glascock: ‘This could get ugly, and this could be a sticky situation,’ the prosecutor told jurors. ‘You set those fires, not me.’

This July 2015 article states:

BLM pressed charges for the above-mentioned fires, citing endangerment of human lives and damage to federal property. However, the district court found that no one had been endangered by the fires, and that the fires had caused minimal damage. In fact, the court found, the fire had arguably increased the value of the land for grazing.

The jury deliberated, and agreed that the Hammonds were guilty on two of the nine counts, for the 2001 Hardie-Hammond fire and the 2006 Krumbo Butte fire, but could not agree on the remaining seven charges.  A plea agreement was made, the Hammonds would not contest the two charges if the remaining charges were dropped.  Again from the July 2015 article:

In determining the Hammonds’ sentences, Judge Hogan had decided that applying the “mandatory minimum” of five years cited in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act would ‘shock the conscience…’ He referenced the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which states, ‘Excessive bail shall not be required…nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.’

To call for five years’ imprisonment, he said, ‘would result in a sentence which is grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses here…’ He said that Hammonds’ actions ‘could not have been conduct intended under [the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act]…’ Judge Hogan used his discretion under the Eighth Amendment to sentence Dwight (now 74) to three months in prison, followed by three years’ “supervised release.” Dwight’s son Steven (45), father of three, was sentenced to one year and one day in prison—also to be followed by three years’ “supervised release.”

The Hammonds were ordered to surrender their firearms, and Dwight Hammond’s pilot’s license was revoked.  In a separate settlement, they were fined $400,000.00 by the BLM for damages and they had their grazing permits withheld.  However, for the US Department of Justice, this wasn’t enough.

Judge Hogan’s decision to sentence the Hammonds to prison time of less than five years challenged the federal government’s mandatory minimum sentencing structure.  It challenged the use of the anti-terrorism act to prosecute the ranchers.  The prosecutor in the case, Assistant US Attorney Frank Papagni, said this:

“Congress decided that this particular offense should carry a mandatory, statutory minimum term of five years,” Papagni wrote in the government’s sentencing memo.  “The evidence of defendants’ guilt was substantial. The jury’s verdict of guilt for this particular offense mandates imposition of the required statutory minimum term, as the statute constrains this court’s discretion.”

In the comment section of the same article, I found the following two comments to be especially interesting.

Has an appellate court ever decided that a particular sentence under the USSG [United States Sentencing Guide] is grossly disproportionate to the crime? I don’t think so. It would open a huge can of worms and possibly undermine the entire federal sentencing scheme. I think that it being the judges last day and that these were decent white ranchers had more to do with this decision than anything else.

and:

From the government’s point of view, assuring that judges obey MM’s [mandatory minimum] is a paramount interest. That’s why it will appeal this. To do otherwise is to virtually send the other district judges a gold-plated invitation to deviate from the MM when they want to.

The US Department of Justice appealed the ruling, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case back to the Oregon US District Court.  In the appeal, according to this article, the government admits it doesn’t have to prove that someone is committing acts of terror when they state:

“the fact that they are ranchers who set fire to rangeland and not terrorists adds nothing to the analysis.”

 Also in the appeal, the government uses the following disturbing examples of mandatory minimum sentences as justification:  25 years for the theft of three golf clubs; 50 years to life for stealing nine videotapes; 40 years for possession of nine ounces of marijuana with the intent to distribute; life sentence for obtaining $120.75 under false pretenses (what?!); 430 months for using arson in commission of a felony; and so on.  Because let’s see, one, two, three…many wrongs make a right, right?

Chief Judge Ann Aiken over-ruled Hogan’s sentence, and declared the Hammonds would have to return to prison and serve what remained of the mandatory minimum sentence of five years.

Dwight and Steven Hammond have returned to prison, but the re-sentencing sparked a protest rally in Burns, Oregon on Saturday, January 2, 2016.  The peaceful protest was subsequently over-shadowed by a takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters by non-local militia members who claim to have done so to demand that the Hammonds be released and the refuge lands be returned to the area ranchers.  You can read my thoughts on this take-over and stand off here, as well as a similar perspective here.

In the vast majority of the reporting and social media noise about this situation, very few are talking about the use of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty law in the prosecution of the Hammonds.  In my opinion, this case has demonstrated the government’s willingness to expand the use of this law in its efforts to shut down dissent of federal policies.  Ranchers angry over the increasing restrictions on their livelihood, pushed to the point of what has sometimes been destructive and threatening protest, can effectively be sentenced as terrorists.  And, as we know, terrorists are very, very scary.

The take-over of the Malheur refuge has created a distracting and extremely divisive debate here in America. In public opinion it seems that protests over police killings, which have also involved arson in the past, are acceptable because it involves racism and is a matter of authorities violating the rights of African Americans (and I 100% agree that rights are not just being violated, but entirely obliterated, racism is a problem, and I do support those protest movements) while the protests of frustrated ranchers over perceived violations of their land use rights by Federal authorities is unacceptable and labeled as terrorism.  In fact, both are about the violations of the rights and freedoms of Americans.  Consider a comparison different than the one the media is currently pushing with this quote from a 2001 article:

“They [rural land owners] are neglected by the state and by the federal government, and they’re mad,” says Eric Herzik, a political scientist at the University of Nevada. “They’re out of the loop; decisions get made for them. It’s not unlike inner cities, whose needs don’t get heard until there’s violence.”

While we argue and call names loudly over this stand off and those involved in it, the government has quietly set a precedence of using its very broad anti-terrorism law and its ability and willingness to set and enforce mandatory minimum sentences under that law.  Regardless of who is sentenced, and for what.

Consider the following from an ACLU report as you think about that.

There is a pall over our country. In separate but related attempts to squelch dissent, the government has attacked the patriotism of its critics, police have barricaded and jailed protesters, and the New York Stock Exchange has revoked the press credentials of the most widely watched television network in the Arab world. A chilling message has gone out across America: Dissent if you must, but proceed at your own risk.

Government-sanctioned intolerance has even trickled into our private lives. People brandishing anti-war signs or slogans have been turned away from commuter trains in Seattle and suburban shopping malls in upstate New York. Cafeterias are serving “freedom fries.” Country music stations stopped playing Dixie Chicks songs, and the Baseball Hall of Fame cancelled an event featuring “Bull Durham” stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, after they spoke out against the war on Iraq.

Compounding the offense is the silence from many lawmakers. There is palpable fear even in the halls of Congress of expressing an unpopular view.

No matter how you feel about the presence of those scary guns at the Malheur Refuge, and no matter how you feel about environmental stewardship, and no matter how you feel about inner city people or rural people or race or racism, it is time to look beyond all that and look at the underlying problems we are all facing.  It is past time to admit we have allowed our government to step way out of its boundaries. Each time we ignore cases like the Hammonds’, every time we give up rights of our own or others, we slide a little closer to fascism.

 

If you liked the article and would like to support the author, click here.

A History Lesson (Part Two) The Assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Katie Aguilera

In the early hours of July 28, 1914, the man who was then first in line to take the throne of Austria, along with his wife, left Philipovic army camp of Bosnia in a line of automobiles, on a drive that would end with death, and start a cascade of events that led to world war.  An initial attempt at killing Archduke Franz Ferdinand that morning by throwing a bomb at his car failed, but later that day, the Archduke and his wife, Sophie, were fatally shot in their car in front of Moritz Schiller’s food store on Franz Joseph Street in Sarajevo, Bosnia.  It was an assassination that would trigger global conflict, four years of unprecedented death and destruction.

I think that most Americans, like me, were taught very little about World War I in school.  Just a quick, passing overview, the gist of which was something about Germany attempting to take over the world, lots of men dying in trenches, and Americans swooping in at the last minute to save the day, to save the world.  And there was a little something about some duke or something who was killed.  But there was never any explanation, there was no understanding of just how the assassination of one man and his wife could launch the entire world into such a bloody, devastating war.

World War I, known mostly as the Great War before World War II, began a month after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and then invaded.  There had been increasing tensions between these countries, and surrounding countries, for decades.  Several treaties and agreements had been struck, creating a divisive and increasingly hostile atmosphere throughout Europe and Russia.  Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Kingdom of Italy had formed a Triple Alliance, agreeing to militarily support each other in the event that either of the three was attacked by any other powerful nation.  The Russian Empire, the French Third Republic, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland answered with an agreement of their own, the Triple Entente.  The dominoes were lined up in place, just waiting for the proper catalyst.

When Ferdinand’s car came to a stop outside the store where Gavrilo Princip had just stopped in to buy a sandwich after his fellow assassin, Nedjelko Cabrinovic, had attempted to kill the archduke with a bomb, Princip reacted quickly, and fired two shots.  He hit both the Archduke, and his wife Sophia, who sat next to him in the open car.  Both died shortly thereafter.  This gave Austria-Hungary the excuse it wanted to issue an ultimatum with several demands to Serbia, an ultimatum that was not expected to be agreed upon.  When Serbia agreed to all the demands except for one allowing Austria-Hungary’s participation in an internal investigation into the Archduke’s assassination, the dominoes fell and war was declared.  The countries of the world lined up and took their places in the battle, based on the alliances previously formed.

Over 70 million military personnel were mobilized during the Great War.  More than 9 million combatants were killed, and at least 7 million civilians died as well.  It was one of the deadliest conflicts in the history of the world.  So, just who was this man, Gavrilo Princip, who fired those two shots in Sarajevo that set the world aflame?  What led him to do it?

Gavrilo Princip was born on July 25, 1894 to Serbian parents whose family had been in Bosnia for centuries, according to Wikipedia.  His father was a farmer who earned additional income by transporting mail through the mountains between Bosnia and the Dalmatia region of Croatia.  Gavrilo was a good student, and at the age of 13 he moved to Sarajevo to be enrolled in school there.  In 1911, Gavrilo joined an organization known as Young Bosnia that wanted Bosnia freed from Austria-Hungary’s control and united with Serbia.  In 1912, Gavrilo was expelled from school after involvement in a demonstration against the Austro-Hungarian authorities.  He traveled to Belgrade, Serbia and volunteered to join the guerrilla groups under the leadership of Major Vojin Tankosic that were fighting the Turks.  He was rejected because he was small, and he returned to Sarajevo, humiliated, but traveled back and forth to Belgrade and eventually he met one of the founders of the Serbian Chetnik Organization, Zivojin Rafajlovic, who had him sent to Vranje where the Chetnik training center was located.  There Gavrilo trained to fight and use weapons.  This made him a good candidate for the assassination plot against Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Major Vojin Tankosic, who had rejected Gavrilo for his small size and would later admit to supplying the weapons used in the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, was a member of an organization known as Union or Death, commonly referred to as the Black Hand.  This group formed on May 9, 1911, and by 1914, when Gavrilo Princip would cross paths with them, they had several hundred members, possibly thousands.  Their goal was to bring about the creation of a Greater Serbia, in any way necessary, including the use of guerrilla fighters and saboteurs, and terrorism.  Many Black Hand members were also leaders in government positions, and as a result, the Black Hand had influence over government appointment and policy.  Even Crown Prince Alexander was a supporter.  The Black Hand decided to kill Archduke Ferdinand after learning of his planned visit to Sarajevo, and Gavrilo was recruited for the job, along with two other Young Bosnian members, Nedjelko Cabrinovic and Trifko Grabez.

The assassins were trained, and a short time before Ferdinand’s scheduled visit, they traveled back to Sarajevo with the help of Serbian military personnel, and were joined by four more men.  They were supplied with bombs and army pistols from Serbian arsenals.  It seems apparent that they had plenty of support from authorities, and the Black Hand’s activities were not very secret to the Serbian government, given its large number of government and army members.  Eventually, Prime Minister Pasic learned of the plan, and in hopes of avoiding conflict with Austria-Hungary by keeping the involvement of the Black Hand secret, a rather lack-luster attempt was made to stop the assassins with a recall order.  The essay, The Assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand: Trigger For War says this:

This ‘recall’ appears to make Apis (Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic) look like a loose cannon, and the young assassins as independent zealots. In fact, the ‘recall’ took place a full two weeks before the Archduke’s visit. The assassins idled around in Sarajevo for a month. Nothing more was done to stop them. The extensive network of contacts that smuggled them into Sarajevo, fed and housed them, was not utilized to stop them. This calls into question the Black Hand’s and the Serbian government’s desire that the plot truly be cancelled.

Pasic then decided to warn the Austrians.  Like the recall order, this was basically an effort to cover himself and the Serbian government, giving them a measure of deniability.  But it was a very vague and empty warning.  Jovan Jovanovic, the Serbian Minister in Vienna, simply said to Dr. Leon von Bilinski, the Austrian Minister of Finance, that Ferdinand should not go to Sarajevo because, “some young Serb might put a live rather than a blank cartridge in his gun and fire it.”  The implied warning was missed or ignored, and no further warnings were given.

Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were murdered in Sarajevo, and the event was used to trigger the armed conflict that had been brewing for some time, that had in fact already been occurring in some areas.  It was just the excuse that was needed.  And it was delivered to the leaders of these countries through the hands of a young, idealistic man who believed he was fighting for his people, and was willing to die for that effort.

It can be easy, looking back, to speculate that the Black Hand, the Young Bosnia group, any of these secret societies, may have been manipulated and used in order to create desired events, to create the necessary trigger.  After all, this has occurred repeatedly throughout history.  There are enough examples to keep me busy writing history lessons for some time.  But, speculation aside, it is known that members of the Serbian military, and government knew of the assassination plan, and in fact, assisted in various ways to ensure that at least one of the seven assassins would succeed.  And for me, that is the most important lesson to be learned from this piece of history.

 

If you liked the article and would like to support the author, click here.