The government of Sudan, three members of the Saudi royal family, seven banks and dozens of Islamic charities and organizations got a wake-up call from one of GW’s professors this summer.
Professorial lecturer Allan Gerson is currently leading a multi-trillion dollar lawsuit on behalf of families of September 11 victims.
Gerson is seeking compensation from the defendants for financing various terrorist attacks against Americans, including those on September 11.
“The defendants that we name gave money in a systematic way to terrorist entities knowing or having reason to know they were responsible for terrorist attacks,” Gerson said. “As I began to do my own research, increasingly the leads pointed to Saudi interests. We just followed the evidence where it led.”
The multi-trillion dollar figure was based on settlements courts have used in similar suits, he said.
“If you just take the figures that the D.C. circuit has used against Iran and others and you multiply it by 3,000 families (who were affected by the September 11 attacks), that is what you get,” he said.
The 259-page complaint was filed Aug. 15 in U.S. District Court in D.C., but a court date has yet to be set.
Gerson, who is co-counseling the case with attorney Ron Motley, said he hopes Americans feel more secure after the suit is over.
“We are bringing the suit to deter future acts of terrorism,” Gerson said. “In the past there was no penalty for it. We want to make sure that those who support terrorism pay a price.”
Gerson became involved with the case after several World Trade Center attack victims’ families approached him last January.
He said he received “a number of phone calls” from family members of “victims of terrorists” who read his book, “The Price of Terror,” about the lawsuit he successfully argued against the Libyan government. The suit claimed Libya’s government and leader were directly involved in the planning and financing of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Experts said they thought the lawsuit could negatively affect U.S.-Saudi relations.
Walter Reich, an International Affairs professor, said the lawsuit is an “interesting approach” to punishing terrorists, and although it might succeed it would probably damage U.S.-Saudi relations.
“It obviously is not going to improve relations,” Reich said. “I don’t think that is necessarily an issue for those bringing the suit, but it is an issue for the State Department and the White House.”
A State Department official, who wished to remain anonymous, said U.S.-Saudi relations remain strong.
“The United States and Saudi Arabia have a solid relationship featuring cooperation on a number of important national security interests,” he said.
Gerson said the lawsuit should not harm relations.
“I don’t expect that it will do anything negative, unless the Saudis make it do something negative,” he said “We have not sued the Saudi government. They have indicated elsewhere that those (who support terrorism) should be held accountable.”
Some students agreed with Gerson’s position.
“We need to decipher whether we are going after them because they came out and said they are for terrorism or if it is because they are Muslim countries,” said junior Brandy Kelly.
Other students said they did not understand the logic behind the case.
Freshman Natalie Shriber said it is “insulting” and unnecessary to sue the Saudi officials in question, when the United States really needs to “sit down” and compromise.
Last semester Gerson was a research professor at the Elliott School and taught a course on joint economic and political reconstruction of war-torn countries.
Harry Harding, dean of the Elliott School, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Gerson said he will be back on campus next semester leading a conference on privatizing peace and justice based on two of his books, “Privatizing Peace” and “Privatizing Justice,” about joint political and economic approaches to peace.
-Julie Gordon contributed to this report.