Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Dangers of "Libel Tourism"

In a November 7th Boston Globe op-ed, Samuel A. Abady and Harvey Silverglate address an example of how Islamists and others have successfully exploited English libel law to try to silence critics here in America:

Rachel Ehrenfeld, an adviser to the Defense Department and director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy , pioneered investigation into the financial roots of terrorism, first in her 1990 book "Narcoterrorism" and, most recently, in "Funding Evil -- How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It." She argued, controversially, that dollars from drug traffickers, corrupt state leaders, and wealthy Arab financiers, especially Saudis, fund terrorism.

One target of Ehrenfeld's work is Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz, former owner of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia and former chief operating officer of the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International. In 1992, he paid $225 million after his indictment in New York for his role in the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Bin Mahfouz responded to Ms. Ehrenfeld's accusations by suing her for libel in a UK court. This is part of a pattern for Bin Mahfouz, as Abady and Silverglate point out:

Bin Mahfouz has sued or threatened suit in England 33 times against those who linked him to terrorism. He runs a website boasting of his victories. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post all have settled with him. The English court enjoined publication of "Funding Evil" in Britain and awarded bin Mahfouz 60,000 pounds ($109,470), even though the merits of his allegations were never tried.

Rather than confront bin Mahfouz on England's libel-friendly turf, Ehrenfeld sued him in a New York federal court seeking a declaration that his English judgment is unenforceable in the United States as repugnant to the First Amendment.

Abady and Silverglate eloquently sum up the stakes as follows:

Writers are now subject to intimidation by libel tourists. Little wonder that the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the Association of American Publishers, and 14 other media groups have filed a "friend of the court" brief to support Ehrenfeld's quest to raise her First Amendment defense now. Until she is able to do so, she will have problems finding American publishers willing to risk publishing her research and writing.

England's libel laws have provided the means by which Bin Mahfouz and others can employ the power of the British state to silence their critics. Their ability to do so should not be allowed to let them threaten First Amendment rights here in the US. I fervently hope that Ms. Ehrenfelt's lawsuit is successful.


Blogger Angel, librarian and educator said...

I always find it interesting how Islamists want to pretty much deprive everyone else of things like our Freedom of Expression and our laws, but then they go "avail" themselves of those same laws to achieve their goals. I do hope Ms. Ehrenfeld wins her suits as well. I may have to go find her book too. Best, and keep on blogging.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous professor ed said...

Through fear and intimidation the "Islamo-faciest" (I just love that applicable phrase!) will continue to make every effort to muzzle press/speech with which they disagree. In a sense we see history repeating itself (surprise?) as these radicals attempt to subvert western civilazation through the use of the already in place democratic institutions of the nations these "characters" hope to one day totally control. Yes, I too, hope this lawsuite is successful. I am sure, as I type this message, that our beloved ALA is preparing to likewise support this author's effort.

11:31 AM  

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