Cambridge University Press has defaulted on a libel suit filed against it by a Saudi billionaire, issuing an apology, agreeing to pay court fees and damages and agreeing to destroy all unsold copies of a 2006 book by two American authors, as well as asking libraries to remove the book from their shelves.
In an apology published on its website, the academic publisher wrote:
“In 2006 Cambridge University Press published ‘Alms for Jihad‘ written by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins which made certain defamatory allegations about Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz and his family in connection with the funding of terrorism.
“Whilst the allegations were originally published in good faith, Cambridge University Press now recognizes that the information upon which they were based was wrong. Cambridge University Press accepts that there is no truth whatsoever in these serious allegations.”
Kevin Taylor, intellectual property director at Cambridge, told the Cambridge Evening News the company had agreed to pay out a “fairly small amount” in compensation.
He said three expert academics read books before they are published, and pay particular attention to those with controversial issues, but said, “unfortunately this one slipped through the net.”
“We publish 1,500 academic books a year and take every effort to ensure this sort of thing does not happen,” he said.
But the authors dispute the Cambridge claim of sloppy editing and Mahfouz’s charge of libel, saying they mentioned the Saudi sheikh only 13 times in their book and they in no way labeled him a terrorist.
This is not the first time Mahfouz has used British courts to silence critics whose works have alleged links to terror funding.
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, said Mahfouz has successfully brought at least four prior lawsuits against authors. Cambridge University Press’s apology, without making an effort to defend its authors in court, he said, has “ominous implications” into researching the financing of terrorism.
As WND reported, Mahfouz purchased from the UK several copies of the book, “Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed and How to Stop It,” by American author Rachel Ehrenfeld over the Internet.
In her book, Ehrenfeld alleges the billionaire – formerly president of the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia and estimated to be worth over $3 billion – has helped finance terrorism.
Shortly after the British purchases, Mahfouz filed a libel action against Ehrenfeld within the UK, where libel laws put the burden of proof on the defendant.
She didn’t respond, and later was ordered by a British High Court judge to pay about $120,000 in a down payment on damages as well as destroy copies of her book, which had been published by Bonus Books.
Mahfouz says he condemns terrorism and never has assisted Osama bin Laden or others.
Ehrenfeld told WND her book was thoroughly documented before it was published, and the Saudi billionaire chose England to file his action because of the libel laws there, which are very different from U.S. laws.
“In the United States, he doesn’t have a case. But in England all you have to do is file a case. Then the defendant has to prove what he or she writes is true, and not done with malice,” she said.
She told WND that could have been done, but the costs would have been extremely high.
“The book was not published in England. I don’t live in England. I don’t see any reason to go to England. The expenses would have been horrendous,” she said.
Ehrenfeld is battling back, claiming what she describes as “libel tourism” is impeding her “ability to research and write freely about international terrorism” and is seeking through the U.S. courts to have that ruling nullified.
“Alms for Jihad” authors, Burr and Collins will not have the same option since they were not personally charged in Mahfouz’s most recent libel action. Ehrenfeld, in an interview with HotAir.com, suggests her own countersuit may have led Mahfouz to avoid naming the American writers.
Jeffrey Stern, president and publisher of Los Angeles-based Bonus Books, publisher of Ehrenfeld’s book, blasted Cambridge for its action:
“I find it utterly appalling that any publisher – let alone one with the history and perceived credibility of Cambridge University Press – would allow themselves to be bullied into making such a decision. Clearly they must have supported the material before they agreed to a publishing deal with Collins and Burr. It’s only now, after being slapped with a suit in the U.K. by the likes of Bin Mahfouz, that they have suddenly decided to concede to demands to pull the book. What’s worse, they have not only agreed to pay damages but they have even gone so far as to issue a formal apology on their website, completely discrediting their authors as having made ‘defamatory allegations’ to which there was ‘no truth whatsoever.’
“What happened to freedom of the press? We’re talking about two very credible American writers here. The very idea that these authors could be silenced in the U.S. by a British court is not only outrageous and fraught with frightening journalistic implications, it’s simply un-American.”
In that case, WND, based in Oregon, has been ordered by a Tennessee state court decision that in order to use the truth of some articles as a defense in a defamation case it also must reveal sources – to which WND does not have access – regarding the articles written by free-lance reporters that were posted on the Internet news provider’s website during 2000.
The implications of that case, also, are huge regarding the First Amendment, because unless the state decision is overturned, shield law protections like those that protected Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their pursuit of the Watergate scandal could be banished nationwide.
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