The Saudis acknowledged concerns by the Justice Department and FBI, but said it was essential that Saudis who are unfamiliar with the American 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.
John Pistole, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, recently told the Senate 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 what they say in their testimony.
“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,” Pistole testified.
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 suicide attacks, U.S. law enforcement focused heavily on Saudis after learning 16 of the 19 hijackers were from the kingdom.
Saudi officials say several hundred of their citizens were detained in the weeks immediately after Sept. 11 on immigration violations or terrorism suspicions, but the number detained today has dwindled to around a dozen.
A recent Justice Department investigation concluded 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, such as a University of Idaho graduate student charged with associating with Islamic extremists.
The Saudis are also 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 attorneys across the country for Saudi citizens said she is mystified by the criticism.