- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2003

Surprising U.S. investigators, Saudi Arabia has doled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide lawyers and cover bail for Saudis detained or questioned in the United States during the crackdown on terrorism.

The Saudi government acknowledged concerns by the Justice Department and the FBI but said it was essential that Saudi citizens who are not familiar with the U.S. 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.

The FBI 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, John Pistole, assistant director of the bureau’s counterterrorism division, said at a Senate hearing recently.

“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,” Mr. Pistole said.

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

Immediately after the September 11 attacks, U.S. 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 September 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 U.S. lawyer hired by the Saudi Embassy to coordinate the hiring of lawyers 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 lawyer who is lead counsel for the Saudis on immigration cases.

Miss Kiblan said she has arranged lawyers for hundreds of Saudis who have been detained on visa violations or simply been instructed by immigration agents to sit down and be interviewed.

When University of Idaho graduate student Sami Omar Al-Hussayen, a Saudi, was arrested earlier this year on federal charges accusing him of links to Islamic radicals, immigration and FBI officials rounded up Saudi and Muslim students in Idaho for questioning, she said.

“The agents were flown in on a military air-transport plane,” she said. Mr. Al-Hussayen as well as all the students interviewed during the sweep were provided lawyers paid by the Saudi Embassy, she said.

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