April 30, 2004

Quashed Testimony

By Chris Strohm

The Justice Department succeeded this week in temporarily preventing an FBI whistleblower from testifying in a class action lawsuit over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

A federal court on Monday granted Justice an emergency motion to prevent former FBI translator Sibel Edmonds from giving testimony to a group of Sept. 11 relatives and survivors who have filed a civil suit against international banks and two members of the Saudi royal family for allegedly aiding al Qaeda. Edmonds has been under a Justice Department gag order since October 2002.

The government argued that information provided by Edmonds "would cause serious damage to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States." Justice officials asserted that, because all the testimony the plaintiffs seek from Edmonds was obtained through her official FBI duties, the information remains bureau property.

Edmonds worked for the FBI from Sept. 20, 2001, to March 2002 as a contract linguist. She was hired to retranslate material that was collected prior to Sept. 11 to determine if anything was missed in the translations relating to the plot. Edmonds concluded that documents clearly showed that the Sept. 11 hijackers were in the country and plotting to use airplanes as missiles. She said documents also included information relating to their financial activities.

On Oct. 18, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft asserted "state secrets privilege" over Edmonds, preventing her from discussing what she did or information she obtained. Edmonds has since filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department and FBI to lift the gag order.

The law firm of Motley Rice, which represents about 500 Sept. 11 family members and survivors, subpoenaed Edmonds. She was to testify Tuesday, prompting the emergency motion from the Justice Department.

On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia quashed the subpoena pending a review filed by the government in Edmonds' lawsuit, said her lawyer, Mark Zaid. He said the government must provide the court copies of documents by May 10, and return to court on June 14.

"Anyone interested in the truth behind 9/11 should be distressed at the lengths to which the executive branch is proceeding to ensure Sibel Edmonds is silenced," Zaid said.

The government argued that federal law provides that a court must quash a subpoena if it "requires disclosure of privileged or other protected matter and no exception or waiver applies."