Judge Awards $104M to Kin of 9-11 Victims

A federal judge Wednesday awarded nearly $104 million in damages to the families of two victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, finding the plaintiffs had provided some evidence that Iraq provided support to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

Judge Harold Baer outlined the damages against bin Laden, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi government in a written decision in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Baer said he had concluded that lawyers for the two victims "have shown, albeit barely ... that Iraq provided material support to bin Laden and al-Qaida."

He said lawyers relied heavily on "classically hearsay" evidence, including reports that a Sept. 11 hijacker met an Iraqi consul to Prague, Secretary of State Colin Powell's remarks to the United Nations about connections between Iraq and terrorism, and defectors' descriptions of the use of an Iraq camp to train terrorists.

Baer said the opinions of the lawyers' experts was sufficient to show that Iraq collaborated in or support bin Laden's terrorist acts on Sept. 11.

The judge noted that the experts provided few actual facts that Iraq provided support to the terrorists.

But he said the experts "provide a sufficient basis for a reasonable jury to draw inferences which could lead to the conclusion that Iraq provided material support to al-Qaida."

The case was being closely watched by lawyers for plaintiffs in other lawsuits filed after the Sept. 11 attacks against Iraq, al-Qaida and others because it was the first to reach the damages phase.

James E. Easley, the lawyer who brought the case, said it was unclear how much in frozen Iraqi and al-Qaida assets could be available to satisfy the judgment. To help pay for Iraq's revival, the Bush administration has started to use roughly $1.7 billion Iraqi funds frozen in 1990.

Still, Easley called the ruling a "significant victory."

The judge heard evidence for two days in March to help him determine damages. In January, he had issued a default order against the Taliban, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and the Republic of Iraq.

The default judgment was granted by Baer after public announcements of the lawsuits failed to attract a response from any of the defendants.

The ruling stemmed from cases brought on behalf of the estate of George Eric Smith, 38, a senior business analyst for SunGard Asset Management and Timothy Soulas, a senior managing director and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald Securities.

The lawsuits relied in part on legal principles contained in a 1996 law that permitted lawsuits against countries identified by the State Department as sponsors of international terrorism.