The September 11, 2001 attacks on the US continue to be ground in the mills of the American courts. My local newspaper reports on a local suit to obtain information from the FBI concerning its investigation of a Saudi family that had been living in Sarasota, FL prior to the attacks. The article also notes ongoing suits in New York trying to find a lever to sue the Saudi government and some of the charities it established. Congress, meanwhile, is seeking the release of 28 pages that had been redacted from the official report on 9/11.
Judge waits for FBI’s Sarasota Saudi documents
Michael Pollick | Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Relatives of 9/11 victims are eagerly watching the legal struggle over information held by the FBI concerning a Saudi Arabian family in Sarasota with possible ties to terrorists, even as calls in Congress ramp up for more disclosure about how the attackers were funded.
On Friday, a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale was expected to receive FBI documents pertaining to the agency’s investigation of the Saudi family that abruptly left Sarasota just before the September 2001 attacks.
Late Thursday, the government asked for more time to submit the records, saying the materials that need to be searched comprise 23 boxes totaling 92,000 pages in the agency’s Tampa field office.
Government lawyers proposed a May 2 deadline.
A new mayor and a new commissioner of police have led to changes in which the New York Police Department operates. The controversial “Demographics Unit”–or “Zone Assessment Unit” as it had been renamed–of the NYPD is being disbanded as an inefficient means of detecting terrorist activity, Associated Press reports in an article carried by Saudi Gazette. The move has been welcomed by American Muslim groups who believed they were being ethnically profiled purely on the basis of their religion. The program, set up in 2003 with assistance of the CIA, has been the subject of several suits, some still ongoing, that claim violation of constitutional rights to privacy, assembly, and freedom of speech and religion.
NEW YORK — Muslim groups and civil liberties advocates applauded the decision by New York Police Department officials to disband a controversial unit that tracked the daily lives of Muslims as part of efforts to detect terror threats, but said there were concerns about whether other problematic practices remained in place.
The Demographics Unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons and catalogued Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames. NYPD spokesman Stephen Davis confirmed Tuesday that detectives assigned to the unit had been transferred to other duties within the department’s Intelligence Division.
Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, said she was among a group of advocates at a private meeting last week with police at which the department’s new intelligence chief, John Miller, first indicated the unit — renamed the Zone Assessment Unit — wasn’t viable. She applauded the decision but said there’s still concern about the police use of informants to infiltrate mosques without specific evidence of crime.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the US and head of the Kingdom’s intelligence agency has stepped down from his office. The reasons most cited in analytical pieces is that he’s retiring for health reasons. Some, however, see it as possibly signaling some change in Saudi policies on Iran and/or Syria. I think the health reasons more plausible.
Prince Bandar steps down from intelligence chief post
Replaced by his deputy, Lt. Gen. Yousif Bin Ali Al-Idrissi
London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The chief of Saudi Arabia’s national intelligence agency, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, was relieved of his post “at his own request” on Tuesday, according to a royal decree published by the Saudi Press Agency.
The royal decree by King Abdullah Bin Abdelaziz appointed Prince Bandar’s deputy, Lt. Gen. Yousif Bin Ali Al-Idrissi, as the new head of intelligence on an interim basis.
Prince Bandar took over as chief of the Kingdom’s intelligence service in July 2012, after serving for several years as head of the Saudi National Security Council. The decree did not specify if he would continue in this role.
Prior to 2005, he spent more than two decades as ambassador to the US.
Al Arabiya TV runs analysis by Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE, on how alliances within and outside the Middle East are now taking place. The shifts are not yet tectonic, but might be considered fore-shocks, signaling that the potential for major changes in cooperative agreements — both formal and informal — is in process.
It’s clear that current alliances are under pressures that could, if left alone, lead to a reshaping. Reappraisals of national interests as well as partnerships are going on. Those countries that wish to play a role in the shaping of the future need to be aware of what’s happening and take steps to ensure that the map looks like what they want it to look like.
Shifting sands and shifting security alliances in the Gulf
Changes are afoot in security alliances in the Near East. Egypt, Saudi, UAE and Jordan appear to be forming a new regional security group. At the same time, Qatar, Iran, and Turkey are establishing another alliance. The ramifications on the GCCs future are enormous as Oman may join the Qatar group. What can we expect from these new alliances? What are the impacts on Syria and the Iranian negotiations? Where will Western states, Russia, and China fit into the new regional security dynamic?
Will the Shanghai Cooperation Organization find itself expanding to the Gulf via Iran? Will there be more trouble ahead or will these alliances clash on the political level and through proxies?
The ties between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE signal a grouping that agrees on the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as the major threat to their stability. Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco are likely to be part of this emerging security group to provide monarchal protection and stability across the region against the Muslim Brotherhood threat. Shuttle diplomatic and military missions are increasing between all states.
The Washington Post reports that Abdulrahman Alharbi, a Saudi student who was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is suing American conservative commentator Glenn Beck for defamation. Beck, a little crazy, somewhat bigoted, a rather conspiratorial in his thinking, claimed that Alharbi played a role in the bombing and was an “Al-Qaeda coordinator” behind it, the “money man”. The FBI thought differently, however, and saw Alharbi as an unlucky, but innocent victim of the bombs.
On a mid-April day last year, Glenn Beck was in a full lather. Less than one week had passed since a pair of bombs had exploded at the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring hundreds more. The FBI had just identified the Tsarnaev brothers as primary suspects behind the attack. But to Beck, cloaked in a gray button-down and a sheen of indignation, this wasn’t enough.
In attendance at the marathon had been a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian student named Abdulrahman Alharbi. He was on a full ride to study at the nearby New England School of English. He’d been injured at the marathon, later questioned by police and ultimately cleared of wrongdoing.
Beck, however, had suspicions. The radio host urged the U.S. government to release information on Alharbi or Beck would “expose” him. “Let me send this message very clear,” said Beck, who left Fox News in 2011. ”We know who this Saudi national is…. We know who this man is and, listen to me carefully, we know he is a very bad, bad, bad man.”
Reports and analyses of President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia and meeting with King Abdullah are now coming in. Not much seems to have resulted from the visit beyond a repair of the relationship.
According to a piece from Al Arabiya TV, expectations were too high that something substantive would have (could have) resulted from the visit. There was no new announcement of a joint policy concerning Syria, for example, nor was there any new tocsin concerning Iran. Human rights was not an issue of discussion, to the regret of some, though Obama did present an award to Maha al-Muneef for her work — within a government-sponsored NGO — against domestic violence.
Expectations were too high for Obama’s Saudi visit
While the content of the two-hour meeting between Saudi King Abdullah and U.S. President Obama was in many regards quite ordinary, some critics were disappointed by the outcome of the meeting. Ultimately, there was an expectation that crucial decisions regarding Syria would be determined during Obama’s diplomatic visit to the kingdom.
The Saudis and the U.S. have taken different courses when it came to dealing with Syrian revolutionaries, and, according to some analysts, that difference had been one of the reasons of the apparent downfall of their close relationship.
The Americans had claimed that the way the Saudis are supporting the Syrians is counterproductive and empowers the more militant and radical forces. The Saudis claim that the Americans had a soft policy on Assad and were not doing enough to support his overthrow. The facts of course are more complicated.
The White House offered its own debrief of the meeting between the president and the king. This emphasized that the point of the meeting was to reassure the Saudis that they and they US were in the same chapter, if not on the same page when it comes to international affairs.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My colleague will go ahead and give a readout of the meeting, and then we’ll take your questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President had an excellent, more than two-hour meeting with King Abdullah. And it was really an opportunity for the President to sit down face-to-face with the King and, more than anything, do two things: One is underscore the importance of the bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia, and the other was to talk about some of the key regional issues that affect both of our interests so profoundly.
The President underscored how much he values the strategic relationship. The United States has had an important relationship with Saudi Arabia for decades on security, energy, economics, and regional security issues. And the President wanted to make clear that he believes that continues to be the case.
There’s sometimes a perception out there of differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and the two leaders spoke frankly about a number of issues and what might be or might have been tactical differences or differences in approaching some of these issues, but they stressed, and President Obama made very clear that he believes that our strategic interests remain very much aligned.
Arab News focused on the mutual alignment of the two countries:
Saudi Gazette turned its view toward the award to Maha Al-Muneef:
President Obama is undertaking his second visit to Riyadh during his two terms of office. Reporting on the substance of the visit will come out later today or tomorrow. At the moment, it’s all pre-visit chatter about expectation and setting the parameters of discussions with Saudis. I don’t expect anything earth shattering to come from the talks.
Al Arabiya TV had a brief pre-visit interview:
The White House held an informal press conference (“gaggle”) en route to Riyadh:
The White House also provided a fact sheet on US-Saudi relations:
Reporting on Pres. Obama’s meeting with King Abdullah, Al Arabiya TV casts the visit as ‘fence-mending’:
Saudi Arabia is sending a preemptory message to Pres. Obama that he need not bother himself with trying to mediate the issues between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Pres. Obama, scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia later this month, is expected to discuss Iran’s nuclear issues, Syria, and Egypt. The squabble between GCC members, though, is something the Saudis believe can be handled regionally, without any assistance from Washington. Asharq Alawsat reports:
Saudi foreign minister: No US mediation over Qatar
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat— Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal told Asharq Al-Awsat that there was no American mediation to resolve the crisis with Qatar, following the recalling of the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain from Doha earlier this month.
This comes ahead of the scheduled visit to the region by US President Barack Obama at the end of March, with Saudi Arabia being one of the main stops of the tour.
Following a meeting in Riyadh with Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa on Monday, Prince Saud said there were no signs of a breakthrough in the crisis with Doha, and that the situation was unlikely to be resolved until the policies of “the state which caused the crisis” were revised, in reference to Qatar.
He added that recent events have shown the importance of cooperation and solidarity among the Gulf states, and that the idea of a closer Gulf union should not be dismissed.
The injunction issued by the 9th Circuit Court requiring YouTube to take down the offensive “Innocence of Muslims” video based on copyright law is being challenged. Google — which own YouTube — has filed an emergency motion to stay the enforcement. Eugene Volokh has more…
While you probably weren’t looking, the obnoxious film “Innocence of Muslims”, the film that caused rioting and discord across wide stretches of the Islamic world, has been removed from YouTube.
The removal was not because people complained about it in general, nor because it was insulting. And, sadly, there’s no way simply stupid stuff can be taken down from the Internet.
Its removal resulted from a very particular complaint, made by an actress in the film, who has succeeded in convincing the 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeal that the presence of the film on YouTube violated her personal copyright in her performance.
Eugene Volokh, writing at his Volokh Conspiracy law-blog, explains…
From today’s Ninth Circuit decision in Garcia v. Google, Inc. (9th Cir. Feb. 26, 2014):
[A] writer and producer, Mark Basseley Youssef — who also goes by the names Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Sam Bacile — cast [Cindy] Garcia in a minor role. Garcia was given the four pages of the script in which her character appeared and paid approximately $500 for three and a half days of filming. “Desert Warrior” [the title of the film as Youssef described it to Garcia] never materialized. Instead, Garcia’s scene was used in an anti-Islamic film titled “Innocence of Muslims.” Garcia first saw “Innocence of Muslims” after it was uploaded to YouTube.com and she discovered that her brief performance had been partially dubbed over so that she appeared to be asking, “Is your Mohammed a child molester?”
These, of course, are fighting words to many faithful Muslims and, after the film aired on Egyptian television, there were protests that generated worldwide news coverage. An Egyptian cleric issued a fatwa, calling for the killing of everyone involved with the film, and Garcia soon began receiving death threats. She responded by taking a number of security precautions and asking that Google remove the video from YouTube.
Garcia’s theory is that (1) she owns the copyright to her own performance, (2) Youssef never properly acquired the rights to that performance — for instance, because there was no express assignment of rights — and therefore (3) a court should order Google to take down the video that infringes Garcia’s copyright. The Ninth Circuit held for Garcia, by a 2-1 vote. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Judge Ronald Gould. Judge N.R. “Randy” Smith dissented.
Note, though, that the court’s action is only an injunction. It can be appealed. As Prof. Volokh notes in his article, a Fair Use argument could be made in any suit on the matter. And would likely succeed. That would allow YouTube (or a user) to re-post the video.
UPDATE: Prof. Volokh has a follow-on post noting something unusual about the court order…
The UAE’s Gulf News runs a report on the rise of Prince Mohammad Bin Naif, Minister of the Interior, as a replacement for Prince Bandar Bin Sultan as the point-man for Saudi efforts in Syria. Mohammad, who established the Saudi rehabilitation program for returned/captured jihadists, has been working to separate Syrian rebels battling the Al-Assad regime from the extremists who are also fighting, but for entirely different reasons. The mixing of the two groups has been a serious impediment to US efforts in Syria as the US is simply unwilling to provide support if it ends up in the wrong hands.
The article notes that among those looking at Saudi succession issues, Mohammad is rated as being very much in the game.
Riyadh (Reuters): Saudi Interior Minister Mohammad Bin Nayef, perhaps the most powerful younger prince in the ruling Al Saud family, is shaping Riyadh’s new emphasis on protecting the kingdom from a fresh wave of Islamist militancy inspired by the war in Syria.
The United States pulled out the stops for him when he visited Washington last week to prepare for President Barack Obama’s fence-mending trip to Riyadh next month.
Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Central Intelligence Agency chief John Brennan, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and National Security Agency director Keith Alexander all sat down with the 54-year-old, a veteran of Saudi Arabia’s fight against Al Qaida.
Prince Mohammad seems likely to be a central figure in the world’s top oil exporter for decades to come. Many Saudis say he is a strong candidate to become king one day.
“He’s now playing not only the role of Interior Minister, but also that of a senior diplomat and adviser to the king,” said Robert Jordan, US ambassador to Riyadh from 2001-03.
Prince Mohammad, btw, escaped being killed by a suicide bomber back in 2009 who carried his bomb within his own body.
Eugene Volokh, professor of constitutional law at UCLA and among the writers at the eponymous Volokh Conspiracy (now part of the The Washington Post‘s online presence), has an article in the Oklahoma Law Review that looks at how American law and religious law intersect. He finds that US courts are not subject to ‘creeping Shariah’ — a meme that is well-planted within the Islamophobe community, but has also led to several misguided attempts by American states to limit religious freedom.
While church and state are separate within American governance and law, religion and religious issues still play some part in American law. These laws, whether concerning contracts, arbitration, comity, or even exemptions from generally applicable law are of long standing in America. The earliest of religious accommodations dates to not long after the signing of the US Constitution, in fact. The point is that the laws apply equally to all religions, with no special preferences given to Islam.
The law review article is clear and easily read. If the subject matter is of interest, I strongly recommend it to you.
Many people worry about the possible encroachment of Sharia—Islamic law—into the American legal system. Oklahoma voters banned the use of Sharia and other religious law, though the Tenth Circuit struck down the ban precisely because it singled out Sharia by name. Other state legislatures have considered similar bans.
But in many of the instances that critics see as improper “creeping Sharia,” it is longstanding American law that calls for recognizing or implementing an individual’s religious principles, including Islamic principles. American law provides for freedom of contract and disposition of property at death. Muslims (like Christians, Jews, and the irreligious) can therefore write contracts and wills to implement their understanding of their religious obligations. American law provides for arbitration with parties’ consent. Muslims can use this to route their disputes to Muslim tribunals, just like Christians, Jews, and the irreligious often route their disputes to private arbitrators of their choice.