Mon, Oct 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Saudi Arabia gives legal help to terror suspects in the US


In a move that has raised the eyebrows of US investigators, Saudi Arabia has doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide lawyers and cover bail for Saudis detained or questioned in the US during the crackdown on terrorism.

The Saudi government acknowledged concerns by the Justice Department and FBI, but said it was essential that Saudi citizens who are unfamiliar with the American legal system be provided with good lawyers to defend themselves.

"Our view is give them lawyers and let the process take its course, and if they are found guilty of crimes they will pay their price and would have had fair representation. If not, they should be released," said Adel al-Jubeir, Crown Prince Abdullah's foreign policy adviser.

John Pistole, assistant director of the FBI's counterterrorism division, told a Senate hearing recently that the bureau has raised concerns with the Saudi government that paying legal bills and bond for Saudis being questioned in the terror probe could influence their testimony.

"To us, that is tantamount to buying off a witness, if you will. So that gives us concern if the government is supplying money for defense counsel," Pistole said.

The US does not provide its citizens with lawyers and bail money when they are detained in foreign countries, although US embassies often will intervene to ensure they are treated fairly.

Immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, suicide attacks, US law enforcement focused heavily on Saudis after learning 15 of the 19 hijackers were from the kingdom.

Saudi officials say several hundred of their citizens were detained in the weeks immediately after Sept. 11 on immigration violations or terrorism suspicions, but the number detained today has dwindled to around a dozen.

A recent Justice Department investigation concluded that many immigrants rounded up after the terror attacks were improperly detained for unnecessarily long periods of time and some endured mental or physical abuse during detention. A small number of Saudis have been charged with crimes.

The Saudis also are paying for lawyers for any citizens who are detained or questioned by the FBI and are sometimes providing counsel to students as they apply, renew or comply with their visas to ensure they don't get in trouble. Saudi-paid lawyers have sat in on hundreds of interviews by FBI and immigration agents.

The US lawyer hired by the Saudi Embassy to coordinate the hiring of attorneys across the country for Saudi citizens said she is mystified by the criticism.

"I am fascinated that the FBI is unhappy with it. Isn't the right to counsel a bedrock of the American court system?" asked Malea Kiblan, an immigration attorney who is lead counsel for the Saudis on immigration cases.

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