JudgeDismisses Khobar Towers Case AgainstIran

Kenneth R. Timmerman

Friday, June 9,2006

 WASHINGTON -- A magistratejudge in the District Court of Washington, D.C. has dismissed alawsuit by the survivors and families of victims of the June 25, 1996Khobar Towers bombing in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that sought millionsof dollars in damages against the government of the Islamic Republicof Iran.

 In an opinion handed down June 6, 2006, Judge Deborah A.Robinson asserted that the plaintiffs "offered no evidence regardingthe action of any official, employee or agent" or the Iranian regime,its intelligence ministry (MOIS), or the Islamic Revolution GuardsCorps, IRGC.

 The opinion comes at a delicate time in U.S.-Iranian relations,just a European negotiator, Javier Solana, was in Tehran to present ajoint U.S.-European offer to the Iranian regime, aimed at gettingIran to halt its nuclear weapons program.

 An advocate for the victims, Michael Engelberg, told Newsmax hebelieves the State Department intervened to get the case dismissed asa sop to the Iranian regime.

"This is more than coincidental," he said. "The timing of this, justas Solana goes to Tehran, makes me feel uncomfortable."

 In her 45-page ruling, Judge Robinson rejected testimonypresented by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and his deputy, DaleWatson, on grounds that they "confined their testimony regarding theinvolvement of the government of Iran in the bombing of Khobar Towersto their opinions – in the words of Mr. Watson – ‘asprivate citizen[s].'"

 However, trial transcript of the Dec. 18, 2003 hearing at whichFreeh and Watson testified shows clearly that both sought to describethe FBI investigation into the bombing, but that Judge Robinsonactively thwarted their testimony.

 At one point, lawyers for the victims asked Freeh, "Did the FBIlearn of the involvement of any foreign government in the attack?"Judge Robinson struck the question, and insisted on directing thequestioning herself after that.

 Freeh went on to testify that six suspects, arrested by theSaudi authorities and interviewed by the FBI – including by himpersonally – "admitted to us that they were members of SaudiHezbzollah . . . They implicated several Iranian officials in fundingand planning the attack."

 Freeh named Iranian government officials who organized theattack, provided funds, and assisted in the logistics of preparingthe bomb.

 "My own conclusion was that the [Khobar Towers] attackwas planned, funded and sponsored by the senior leadership of theGovernment of Iran," he said. "All the training and the funding wasdone by the IRGC with support from senior leaders of the Governmentof Iran."

 But Judge Robinson found that evidence from the former FBIDirector uncompelling.

At key points during the hearing, the Judge called the court intorecess, disappeared into her chambers, then re-emerged to read outlong lists of questions, apparently dictated to her by others, thatsought to impeach the testimony of both Freeh and Watson.

 A long-time observer of the DC District court who himself hastried terrorism cases repeatedly called Judge Robinson's courtroombehavior "disingenuous," "out of line," and "in violation of federalrules of evidence."

 Michael Engelberg, whose American Center for Civil Justicesponsors lawsuits on behalf of victims of state-sponsored terroristattacks, said he suspected the judge was having "ex-partecommunications" during the recess, and was calling State Departmentlawyers for instructions.

 Ex-parte communications by judges with the executive branch arenormally barred under the Constitution.

 However, State Department attorneys who submitted an amicuscuriae brief to the court that supported the position of the IranianGovernment, told a reporter they had only done so "because the Courtexplicitly asked us to intervene."

 "It's outrageous for the United States government to make anappearance in court to defend the government of the Islamic Republicof Iran," Engelberg said.