WASHINGTON -- A magistrate
judge in the District Court of Washington, D.C. has dismissed a
lawsuit by the survivors and families of victims of the June 25, 1996
Khobar Towers bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that sought millions
of dollars in damages against the government of the Islamic Republic
In an opinion handed down June 6, 2006, Judge Deborah A. Robinson asserted that the plaintiffs "offered no evidence regarding the action of any official, employee or agent" or the Iranian regime, its intelligence ministry (MOIS), or the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, IRGC.
The opinion comes at a delicate time in U.S.-Iranian relations, just a European negotiator, Javier Solana, was in Tehran to present a joint U.S.-European offer to the Iranian regime, aimed at getting Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program.
An advocate for the victims, Michael Engelberg, told Newsmax he believes the State Department intervened to get the case dismissed as a sop to the Iranian regime.
"This is more than coincidental," he said. "The timing of this, just as Solana goes to Tehran, makes me feel uncomfortable."
In her 45-page ruling, Judge Robinson rejected testimony presented by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and his deputy, Dale Watson, on grounds that they "confined their testimony regarding the involvement of the government of Iran in the bombing of Khobar Towers to their opinions – in the words of Mr. Watson – ‘as private citizen[s].'"
However, trial transcript of the Dec. 18, 2003 hearing at which Freeh and Watson testified shows clearly that both sought to describe the FBI investigation into the bombing, but that Judge Robinson actively thwarted their testimony.
At one point, lawyers for the victims asked Freeh, "Did the FBI learn of the involvement of any foreign government in the attack?" Judge Robinson struck the question, and insisted on directing the questioning herself after that.
Freeh went on to testify that six suspects, arrested by the Saudi authorities and interviewed by the FBI – including by him personally – "admitted to us that they were members of Saudi Hezbzollah . . . They implicated several Iranian officials in funding and planning the attack."
Freeh named Iranian government officials who organized the attack, provided funds, and assisted in the logistics of preparing the bomb.
"My own conclusion was that the [Khobar Towers] attack was planned, funded and sponsored by the senior leadership of the Government of Iran," he said. "All the training and the funding was done by the IRGC with support from senior leaders of the Government of Iran."
But Judge Robinson found that evidence from the former FBI Director uncompelling.
At key points during the hearing, the Judge called the court into recess, disappeared into her chambers, then re-emerged to read out long lists of questions, apparently dictated to her by others, that sought to impeach the testimony of both Freeh and Watson.
A long-time observer of the DC District court who himself has tried terrorism cases repeatedly called Judge Robinson's courtroom behavior "disingenuous," "out of line," and "in violation of federal rules of evidence."
Michael Engelberg, whose American Center for Civil Justice sponsors lawsuits on behalf of victims of state-sponsored terrorist attacks, said he suspected the judge was having "ex-parte communications" during the recess, and was calling State Department lawyers for instructions.
Ex-parte communications by judges with the executive branch are normally barred under the Constitution.
However, State Department attorneys who submitted an amicus curiae brief to the court that supported the position of the Iranian Government, told a reporter they had only done so "because the Court explicitly asked us to intervene."
"It's outrageous for the United States government to make an appearance in court to defend the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Engelberg said.