Monday, October 22, 2007

The Wall Street Journal vs Jameel

A very important comment was left on a recent post of mine about efforts to sue free speech out of existence.

The post quoted a work entitled Chilling free speech, by Ilan Weinglass, editor of The Terror Finance Blog. The comment is reproduced here in its entirety:

JMD said...
I’m afraid, I need to take exception to Ilan Weinglass's reference to The Wall Street Journal in The Washington Times and on blogs. The Wall Street Journal is the one major Western publication that has not succumbed to Saudi libel litigation efforts and deserves credit for that. I would be happy to make available a 63-page ruling by the House of Lords in the UK from October last year, which has changed British libel law albeit insufficiently and has enhanced protection of journalists and writers in the UK. It was achieved after a 4.5 year, GPB 4 million legal battle.

The case was the Wall Street Journal vs Jameel and involved a story of mine over funding of terrorism, in which among others Khaled Bin Mahfouz was among five Saudis mentioned alongside Mohammed Abdellatif Jameel and Al Rajhi. The House of Lords ruled that the story was an example of a story in the public interest and a model of reporting and editing. A second case brought against the Journal over this story by Al Rajhi was settled out of court in the Journal’s favor.

Ironically, Bin Mahfouz did not sue the Journal despite being mentioned in the story. There have been in recent years two major allegations against Bin Mahfouz that have been contested: that there is a relationship through marriage between Khaled Bin Mahfouz and Osama Bin Laden and that Bin Mahfouz is a financier of terrorism. The Wall Street Journal on May 29, 2002 ran a correction to a story it published that said there was a marital relationship. That relationship has never been proven and consistently been denied by Bin Mahfouz. It is now generally acknowledged that it is incorrect. The WSJ contrary to others, to the best of my knowledge, did not correct or apologize for any suggestion that Bin Mahfouz may have been involved in terror financing.

James M. Dorsey

October 21, 2007 5:54 PM

I looked into this a little, and it jumped right out at me. In an article entitled 'Victory is sweet' over at, Mr. Dorsey, who is a journalist with impressive credentials, wrote the following (I have, as usual, interspersed some comments):

James M Dorsey
Monday October 16, 2006

The Guardian

In February 2002 I published a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal Europe on efforts to crack down on terrorist financing. Lawyers for a Saudi businessman named in the story swiftly sought a correction. At the time, their demand seemed a storm in a teacup.

"At the time, their demand seemed a storm in a teacup."

That's hilarious!

I had reported that accounts belonging to Mohammed Jameel and other prominent Saudis were being monitored by Saudi authorities at the request of the US. The story did not claim that these men had broken any laws; only that authorities were watching their finances. I had assumed Jameel would settle for us publishing a letter from him stating that he had done nothing wrong.

What ensued was a four-and-a-half-year multimillion-dollar legal battle that had repercussions far beyond my article. The fight ended last week with a landmark House of Lords judgment describing the reporting and editing of the story as a model of "responsible journalism" in the public interest. Media lawyers say the case will boost investigative journalism in Britain. The victory was sweet. But to clinch it my reporting was subjected - in court and outside - to the toughest scrutiny in my 30-plus years as a foreign correspondent.

And I would like to congratulate you on doing such a fine job that your work withstood the scrutiny in the UK's court system, where, it seems, the deck was very much stacked against you!

Threatening phone calls

The story behind my article begins shortly after the attacks on America of September 11, 2001. Most of the attackers were Saudi. I managed to enter the kingdom in early October 2001, thanks to reformers who aided my application. Reporting in Saudi Arabia was no easy matter. My assignment was sensitive: to help piece together the witting or unwitting role of Saudis in the funding of terrorism, and to look into Saudi cooperation in 9/11.

If you really want to endear yourself to those in power over there, make sure you carry a Cross or a Star of David with you everywhere you go while you are doing something like that!

Threatening phone calls from the security services were par for the course. My phone calls were monitored; participants in a dinner held for me were arrested and sentenced to prison terms and flogging.

The liberties that we take for granted!

Let me point out where the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gets such a progressive interpretation of freedom. Quoting from the website of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C.:

Article l :

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a sovereign Arab Islamic State. Its religion is Islam. Its constitution is Almighty God's Book, The Holy Qur'an, and the Sunna (Traditions) of the Prophet (PBUH). Arabic is the language of the Kingdom. The City of Riyadh is the capital.


Article 7:

Government in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia derives its authority from the Book of God and the Sunna of the Prophet (PBUH), which are the ultimate sources of reference for this Law and the other laws of the State.

Article 8:

Governance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on justice, shura (consultation) and equality according to Islamic Sharia.

Continuing now with Dorsey:

To prove that the Saudis were cooperating with the post-September 11 probes, I needed to confirm the names of those being investigated. In social settings, names of prominent businessmen, including that of Jameel, were mentioned, but the information was uncorroborated and insufficient to justify a story.

In early December 2001, a prominent Saudi businessman told me his banker had shown him a list of 150 leading businessmen whose accounts were being watched by the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (Sama) at the behest of the US, because of witting or unwitting association with the funding of terrorism. The businessman recalled some names, including the family name Jameel. He later said his banker had refused my request to meet with him.

Nonetheless, that gave me enough leads to dig deeper. My search was bolstered in late January 2002, when the Sama governor told a conference that Sama was monitoring 150 bank accounts, and would act against the accounts of those "suspected of funding terrorism or having links with outlawed organisations".

Meanwhile, my search led me to another Saudi businessman. He introduced me to a banker, who confirmed Sama had asked financial institutions to monitor accounts of prominent Saudis - including names the first businessman had mentioned.

Next, I approached a US diplomat involved in US-Saudi discussions on terrorism funding. He too confirmed that some 150 Saudi accounts were being monitored. At times pausing to consult his files, he confirmed the names of those given to me by the first businessman and by the banker as being among those monitored by Sama. The American diplomat said the monitoring did not mean that an account holder had funded terrorism, but could mean that he may have had a past association with someone suspected of funding terrorism. Another diplomat in the US embassy in Riyadh also confirmed the names I had been given.

I was far advanced but I needed confirmation from a credible Saudi government official; official comment from Sama and from those I intended to identify as having accounts that were being monitored; and confirmation from the US Treasury in Washington. The last step was achieved by my Journal colleague, Glenn Simpson.

I met a high-ranking Saudi official at his home. I told him the names I had had confirmed, and he said that they were accurate. But he refused to comment on the name of a member of the royal family. I decided not to include the royal in my story, as the name had only been authenticated by four of my five sources.

"...only been authenticated by four of my five sources."

I could make a great many comments here, very offensive to the Kingdom and to Islam, but I will restrain myself.

I then twice phoned Sama for comment, and was twice promised a call back but was never contacted. A report Sama had submitted to the United Nations that was available on the internet provided some confirmation, by saying that "Sama had sent a circular to all Saudi banks to uncover whether those listed in suspect lists have any real connection with terrorism".

Of those I intended to name, all except Jameel's spokesman denied for the record that their accounts were being monitored or that there was any reason why they should be monitored. Jameel's spokesman expressed a similar denial but forbade me to use this comment until he had spoken with Jameel, who was travelling. Because the spokesman had waited some hours, contacting me only shortly before deadline, we agreed I would write that Jameel was not available for comment.

Within days of publication of the story, Jameel's lawyers demanded a correction and payment of damages and costs. Simpson and I reviewed our reporting with the Journal's lawyer, Stuart Karle, and we agreed the reporting stood up. While declining to run a correction or make any payment, the Journal offered Jameel an opportunity to reply in a letter to the editor.

Jameel refused and instead sued us in London. As a libel defendant in the UK, the burden was on the Journal to prove what it had published. But we knew that if we called on my sources at trial, consequences would have been grave.

Tough spot -- do you jeopardize the lives of your sources to prove yourself right?

Remember, some of Dorsey's work "...had only been authenticated by four of [his] five sources." And here I am going to make one of the comments that I didn't make above:

Wouldn't it be nice if the Kingdom could be so thorough with its investigations before its hatchetmen lop off the heads and limbs of "criminals"?

Journalistic principle

The Saudi government was not going to cooperate because it did not want hardliners in its homeland - many of whom were still denying that most of the hijackers had been Saudis - to realise how willing it was to cooperate with the US. The US government had agreed not to publicly confirm the list or the monitoring.

I suspect that motivation. I suspect there are many elements in the Saudi government that barely conceal their support of the radicals and terrorists.

There's an article from Friday at the Saudi Embassy's website proudly advertising how much the Kingdom is cooperating with us infidels: President Bush certifies Saudi Arabia as anti-terror ally.

The Saudi government has survived by walking a thin line between the radicals and the West. I think it's time to make them get off the fence.

But Bush will never do that to his bosom buddies and business partners -- and people around the world die because of Bush's duplicity in the War on Terror, a war that would be over if Bush had the honesty and integrity to deal with Riyadh.

Back to Dorsey:

And so we were left with "Reynolds privilege" - named after a former Irish prime minister - a concept which the Lords had created the year before to protect "responsible journalism". Essentially, if our story was of public importance - and in our view, how could it not be? - and our reporting and editing were professional and appropriate under the circumstances, we should not be obliged to prove the article true.

We first encountered the "Reynolds Defence" in a previous post that only peripherally mentioned The Wall Street Journal.

What is more, I firmly believed my story was true, just as I did when I wrote it. I am equally sure that Jameel was in no way involved in terrorism, but then, my story did not allege or imply that he was.

The Journal decided to embark on a defence of journalistic principle, and so we went to court. Jameel hoped for a decision condemning the Journal for what he deemed an inaccurate story. Initially he got what he wanted: we lost in the high court and then again in the court of appeal.

Last week, the Law Lords overturned those rulings. And they added something Jameel probably never bargained for: new protections for the British press to publish stories that are in the public interest and responsibly reported, even if they are potentially defamatory. Exactly the goal the Journal had hoped to achieve.

If I'm not mistaken, Mr. Dorsey was a senior correspondent at the WSJ when that original article was published in 2002. That link, by the way, shows his website as Blue Gold, European Water Partnership Blog, which is off-topic for this blog, but looks interesting.

Mr. Dorsey, thank you for visiting Stop Islamic Conquest, and for calling attention to this important matter.

I congratulate you on your hard work, and the victory you have won for us all.

Since I did that post here on Friday, Ilan Weinglass has posted Chilling free speech at The Terror Finance Blog, addressing the matter that Mr. Dorsey raises.

1 comment:

JMD said...

appreciate your comments