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Judge Hellerstein: Airlines can't question FBI in 9/11 suits

http://abcnews.go.com/Business/wireStory?id=8104020

911 families lawsuit | FBI | Judge Alvin Hellerstein
Judge: Airlines can't question FBI in 9/11 suits
July 16, 2009

By HARRY R. WEBER (AP) – 14 hours ago

ATLANTA — A federal judge ruled Thursday that airlines and other companies in the industry that are being sued by families of terrorism victims can't question FBI agents about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The defendants wanted to depose the agents and sought access to other evidence related to the investigation of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in order to show at trial that the government's failure to catch the terrorists and prevent the attacks mitigates and excuses any alleged fault on the aviation companies' part.

The government objected.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in New York said the defendants have also argued that the terrorists likely would have succeeded even if the defendants had exercised due care.

"The issues to be tried relate to the acts and omissions of the aviation defendants, not the government," Hellerstein wrote in his ruling. "The government's failures to detect and abort the terrorists' plots would not affect the aviation defendants' potential liability."

There was no immediate comment from the defendants or their lawyers. Spokespersons for UAL Corp.'s United Airlines, AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and US Airways Group Inc. declined to comment. Lawyers for several airlines did not immediately return calls seeking comment. Other defendants include Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc., AirTran Airways, Boeing Co. and several airport authorities and security companies.

The judge said he plans to set a trial date for the lawsuits involving three wrongful death cases and 19 property damage cases on July 28.

Many relatives of victims of the attacks received money from a special national fund established to compensate victims' families, though some relatives chose to sue instead.

The lawsuits claim negligence on the part of the defendants and seek to recover damages for injuries and fatalities, property damage and business loss that occurred as a result of the attacks. According to court papers, the plaintiffs have alleged or have indicated they are likely to allege that the aviation companies should have anticipated that terrorists would hijack planes and crash them into buildings in coordinated suicide attacks, and that the defendants should have put in place security procedures to effectively defend against such attacks.

The government urged the judge to block the aviation companies from interviewing six current and former FBI employees who the companies say would be able to testify as to what intelligence the FBI, CIA, Federal Aviation Administration and airlines had before the attacks regarding the terrorists' plans and capabilities, as well as how the entities shared and exploited the intelligence.

The government argued that it would be impossible to interview the employees without disclosing classified or privileged material that could cause serious damage to national security and interfere with pending law enforcement proceedings.

The largest investigation in FBI history has resulted in 167,000 interviews and more than 155,000 pieces of evidence and involved the pursuit of 500,000 investigative leads, the government noted.

The government said the FBI has turned over more than 33,000 pages of information to the aviation industry lawyers, including more than 10,000 pages of laboratory pictures and related information, witness interviews and descriptions of the hijackers' weapons.

The airlines and aviation companies have said they are defending themselves against lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages for injuries, fatalities, property damage and business losses related to the attacks.

The companies filed separate lawsuits against the CIA and the FBI seeking to force terrorism investigators to say whether the aviation industry was to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks.

Lawyers for the victims of the attacks have said the FBI should not be forced to provide more information.

In Thursday's ruling, the judge also denied the aviation defendants' motion for an order that the 9/11 commission's report as a whole, a staff monograph and selected staff statements, are relevant to the lawsuits. He said specific portions of the report may be admissible.

As to a motion by the defendants seeking to have testimony given by FBI agents during the trial of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui admitted in the lawsuits case, the judge granted the motion only as to the testimony of two agents in which they recount what they learned in their investigations.

"Testimony as to what their superiors did or did not do is not relevant, and is not admissible," the judge wrote.

Moussaoui, a French citizen, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to helping plan the attacks.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Comment by James H. Fetzer on October 20, 2009 at 1:01pm
http://infidelsunite.typepad.com/counter_jihad/2009/09/determined-father...

Determined Father Pursues Sept. 11 Lawsuit

CBS -- Jeff Glor and Phil Hirschkorn
September 8, 2009

Mike Low wishes his trial was already over. Alone among nearly 3,000 families that lost loved ones in the September 11th terrorist attacks, Low, from Batesville, Arkansas, has a trial date set for his wrongful death lawsuit against airlines and airport security companies.

"I want people to know 9/11 could have been prevented. These Saudi thugs could have been stopped," Low told CBS News. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers that day were from Saudi Arabia.

Low's 28-year-old daughter, Sara, was a flight attendant on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to strike the World Trade Center.

"This is an excruciating thing as a parent to continue this, but I don't have a choice," Low said. "I could just not quit until I know I've gone as far as I can go, because I would have her image hanging over me the rest of my life saying, 'You quit, you quit.'"

Low will be in Lower Manhattan next week for ceremonies to mark the eighth anniversary of the day when a pair of American Airlines planes and two belonging to United Airlines were commandeered by al Qaeda hijackers and crashed into the twin towers in New York, the Pentagon, outside Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania.

At first, American Airlines told Low and his wife, Bobbie, and their other daughter, Alyson, that Sara wasn't on Flight 11, but the employee had been reading the passenger list. Later, they found out the awful truth.

"The intensity of our loss has not changed. The pain, the emotion, and the loss is still there," Low said.

By the end of 2003, 98 percent of the Sept. 11 families renounced any legal claims against the airlines and airport security companies in return for payments from a government fund that totaled $7 billion. Though 96 families pursued lawsuits, all but three have settled, collecting a total of $500 million.

"If it was about money, I would have been gone a long time ago. It's about ferreting out all the untold stories of the days leading up to 9/11 and 9/11. It's accountability, it's exposure, it's shining a light on some of those areas that have been successfully hidden from the public," Low said.

Specifically, Low and other plaintiffs have pointed to breakdowns in passenger screening areas where the hijackers armed with box cutters, knives, and pepper spray passed by. The defendants include not only the airlines, but also Massport, which runs Boston's Logan Airport, where Flight 11 and the second trade center flight, United 175, originated; Globe Aviation Services, then the primary security contractor for American; and Boeing, the manufacturer of the hijacked 767 jets that lacked impenetrable cockpit doors.

The lawsuit has generated 1 million pages of documents that Low would like to eventually see deposited in a public archive after his trial, scheduled for next April in Manhattan federal court. >>>
Comment by James H. Fetzer on October 20, 2009 at 1:00pm
9/11 families to get day in court with actor James Woods as possible witness

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/2009/07/29/2009-07-29_911_families_to_ge...
BY Thomas Zambito
Wednesday, July 29th 2009

Actor James Woods may testify that he spotted the Al Qaeda terrorists on an August 2001 flight when the first wrongful-death trial from 9/11 kicks off in April.

Manhattan Federal Judge Alvin Hellerstein on Tuesday set April 12, 2010, for the start of a trial spurred by lawsuits filed by the families of victims who died aboard hijacked planes that crashed into the twin towers on 9/11.

Hellerstein gave the families' lawyer, Donald Migliori, until Friday to choose which case or cases will start in April.

Only three families are left of the 100 who decided to pursue legal action against the airlines and airport security companies rather than accept a settlement from the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

The fund recipients divvied up $500 million in settlements.

Hellerstein said a jury a month later will hear the first of dozens of lawsuits filed by individuals who blame their respiratory illnesses on exposure to toxins released into the air when the towers fell.

Pending against the airlines are lawsuits filed by the family of flight attendant Sara Low, 28, and passenger Barbara Keating, 72, who were on American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into 1 World Trade Center. Also remaining is a lawsuit filed by the family of hockey scout Mark Bavis, 31, who was on United Airlines Flight 175 when it hit the towers.

"This is a big day," Migliori said. "We have never trusted that we would ever get one [a trial date]."

Woods, who played former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in "Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story," gave a deposition several months ago in Providence, R.I., Migliori said.

Shortly after the attacks, Woods revealed he was on an August 2001 flight from Boston to Los Angeles when he became suspicious about several Middle Eastern men sitting next to him.

The men who Woods said looked like some of the 19 hijackers didn't order a drink or speak to a stewardess but appeared to be keeping a close tab on the crew.

"I think this plane is going to be hijacked," Woods reportedly told an attendant. "I know how serious it is to say this."

tzambito@nydailynews.com

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