No one?s ever tried anything quite like it. Ehrenfeld is hoping to get the U.S. District Court in Manhattan to rule that whatever damages bin Mahfouz wins in Britain will be unforceable in the United States. Her argument is sound: the Saudi billionaire is forum-shopping by suing in Britain?a country where neither he nor Ehrenfeld resides and where Funding Evil wasn?t even published or widely available?because there?s no way he?d win a libel case in America.
Ehrenfeld?s contention that bin Mahfouz has significant links to terrorism generally and al Qaeda specifically is backed by no less an authority than the U.S. Treasury Department, which called one of his Islamic charities an ?al Qaeda front.? The Saudi billionaire founded the Muwaffaq Foundation in 1992, and his son is quoted in Forbes Magazine as having funded it with as much as $30 million.
The U.S. countersuit is still at an early stage, and Ehrenfeld is testing out a new legal theory against the best legal counsel a billionaire can buy. The judge might tell her to wait until bin Mahfouz actually attempts to collect damages in the U.S. Bin Mahfouz already won an uncontested default judgment last December, and the damages phase of the trial won?t happen until next month. He is seeking £100,000 (U.S. $180,000).
But if the court waits for bin Mahfouz to bring his lawsuit across the Atlantic?which he may never do?then there won?t be a precedent that would apply in future cases. Such a precedent would likely free writers and publishers of concern that their names will be sullied and their bank accounts potentially wiped out for simply pursuing the truth.
If Ehrenfeld is as successful in her countersuit as she was in writing her book, then many authors will feel safe in following in her footsteps. That would be good news for everyone?except bin Mahfouz.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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