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Families of 09-11 Victims Announce Legal Action

Aired August 15, 2002 - 10:42   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Want to get up to date right now on something happening in Washington. I misspoke earlier, saying that this gathering of families who suffered losses in September 11 crashes would be having (ph) in New York. It's in Washington actually.
And right now, you are seeing here the father of one of the victims on that Pennsylvania plane crash, and he is now reading a family statement.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... extraordinary character shown by him and his fellow passengers, hundreds and perhaps thousands of lives were saved in Washington D.C.

It was Tom's leadership courage patriotism in mind that I stand here probably to proudly to announce my wife and I, along with many other families and survivors of September 11 are taking unprecedented legal action against those whose money financed the unspeakable evil that occurred on that tragic day.

In taking this action, we will move terrorist financing schemes out of the shadows into the light of day, exposing for the world the underbelly behind atrocities of 9-11, and leaving those with evil intentions nowhere to hide and no place to escape accountability.

We will succeed, because we have the facts and the law on our side, because we have an unparalleled legal and investigative team representing the best talent expertise in the area of international law and finance on our side, and because we have justice and morality on our side.

Nothing could be greater tribute to Tom's memory. Tom's last words were, we're going to do something, and today, we're going to do something, too.

Thank you.

DEENA BURNETT, WIFE OF 09-11 VICTIM: On the morning of September 11, the phone rang, and the lives of my three daughters and myself changed forever. It was Tom calling from the cabin of flight 93 in a series of four conversations that I will hear over and over in my memory for the rest of my life. Tom told me that his plane was hijacked. I told him what happened at the World Trade Center, and he calmly assessed the situation, and then acted.

He told me I'm putting a plan together, and there is a group of us who are going to take a back the airplane. He later said, it's up to us; I think we can do it.

Those words, "I think," mean just as much to those of us standing here today. It is up to us, and I think we can do it. It's up to us to bankrupt the terrorists, and those who financed them so they will never again have the resources to commit such atrocities against the American people, as we experienced on September 11th.

Our American troops are halfway around the world, laying their lives on the line everyday to fight the war against terrorism. They're doing all they can. It is up to us here in America to do all we can.

By filing this lawsuit, this is our only source of retribution, our only source of action, to help stop them. And so we will use the court system, but it's going to be a tough fight, and we're probably going to need your help.

In the coming months, we will need letters written to congressmen and senators, to encourage the Senate Intelligence Committee to stand in our favor, and to help provide, documents, and records and information that will help us to freeze the assets of defendants named in this lawsuit.

And I'm sure that over the coming months we will be back to appeal to you to help us in any way that you can, and to act with courage, as my husband, and the passengers on flight 93 did. They acted. They acted with courage, and honor and valor, and now it's up to us to do the same.

HARRIS: Family members whose loved ones perished in crash of flight 93 in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, there in Washington, assembling amongst some other family members who have banded together to file a lawsuit that they say is going to be their salvo in the war against terrorism.

Let's check with Bob Franken, who is covering this for us.

Hello.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Leon.

This is as the -- Dina Burnett, the wife of the man, the hero, the one who was on the phone, who said, "Let's roll" on flight 93, the one that was brought down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. She says, this is a way to get retribution, and this is -- to differentiate between this and a class-action lawsuit, this is actually 600 individual lawsuits that have been joined into one, which is fairly much standard legal procedure, and filed in federal district court in Washington D.C. That's the court the lawyers chose because it really encompasses entire United States in its jurisdiction so often.

Now the lawyer who's involved in this, the main lawyer is Ron Motley, who some may remember because he was so active in the tobacco lawsuits. He is joined by Alan Gearsen. Alan Gearsen a person from Reagan administration was counsel for United Nations ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick, among others. They are pursuing with these families various financial entities, from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, ones that are on a list of organizations that have been identified as possibly, allegedly providing funding for Al Qaeda, providing funding for the terrorists, and of course this is all encompassed in the September 11 attack.

All of those, who are involved in this lawsuit are families of the victims of the September 11 attacks. There are others who have not joined it yet. As a matter of fact, the lawyers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) news releases solicited some of the participation by others, who have not joined it yet, so the list could grow.

The organizations also include organizations from places like Bosnia, the Sudan, the Philippines, that type of thing, and two individuals who are part of the Saudi government. The Saudi government, two individuals, two ministers, as well as the banker to the Saudi royal family. So it is a lawsuit that has explosive potential. It is a very complicated legal effort. As a matter of fact, you heard Dina Burnett say that it's going to require some help from Congress, so the lawyers themselves admit, Leon, they are breaking new legal ground, and the State Department, of course, is going to weigh in.

Right now, diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia are particularly delicate because of the situation in Iraq, and some feeling, among particularly neoconservatives, that Saudi Arabia should not even be treated like a U.S. ally.

So it's a very delicate legal matter, very complicated and ground breaking -- Leon.

HARRIS: And, Bob, just to clarify one thing for me, does this mean this goes well beyond what the Justice Department did when it got the Treasury Department -- when it banded with Treasury Department. It went out and tried to -- froze all the assets established as being directly tied to Al Qaeda months ago.

FRANKEN: What is happening here is that in the lawsuit, they are seeking damages, unspecified damages from these organizations, so those frozen assets could be used. But beyond that, the litigants say that the purpose of this is to have an independent investigation that brings to public through court filings the precise nature of these organizations, so they in fact can be punished.

And, as I said, they also hope to apply political pressure on Congress and the administration to try and get some action taken against them. Now this may sound to you like the litigation that went on for well over a decade, and Libya, and Pan Am flight 103, which went down in Lockerbie, Scotland, and there not a bad reason for that, because one of the two lead counsels, Alan Gearson, has been extremely active, that has written books on matter, has represented some of the families, that type thing, so you might see some parallels there.

HARRIS: That was an effort that did prove successful. However, as you said, it took over a decade to make that actually come to fruit, Thanks, Bob. Bob Franken, reporting to us live from Washington. Just for the record, it was Todd Beamer who said "Let's Roll" on that plane.

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