By Peter Duveen

PETER'S NEW YORK, December 12, 2008--A judge ruled yesterday that Larry Silverstein can only attempt to recover $2.8 million from airlines he alleges shared responsibility for the World Trade Center disaster of 2001, commonly referred to as 9-11, the New York Post reports. Alvin Hellerstein, U.S. district court judge for the Southern District of New York, ruled that Silverstein, leaseholder for the property on which the World Trade Center stood, can only sue to recover the fair market value of his lease, and not the entire $16.2 million that would include the value of four office towers of the World Trade Center complex that were destroyed on 9-11.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, two airliners crashed into each of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Two other airliners are alleged to have crashed that same morning into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia, and into a field in Pennsylvania.

The U.S. government contends that the planes were piloted by a team of 19 Middle Eastern men who carried out the attack for religious reasons. Critics of the government's version charge that the government itself staged the attacks in an elaborate ruse designed to provide a pretext for the subsequent invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and to justify the imposition of a domestic security apparatus that violates citizens' constitutionally protected rights.

Some critics point to the lack of positively identifiable aircraft debris at the Pentagon and Pennsylvania crash sites as evidence airliners may not have been involved in those incidents. They also assert that aircraft impacts alone could not account for the extent of the damage to the World Trade Center site. The Bush administration has attempted to defend itself against the charges by promoting media supportive of its version of events, and by encouraging the crafting of federal legislation that would penalize critics by classifying them as "homegrown terrorists."

Silverstein did not appear to be hurting from the momentary setback, as last week he signed a German bank for the top three floors of the recently completed Building 7, which opened in 2006. The Post reported that, as of the signing of the new lease with WestLB, Building 7 has achieved an occupancy rate of 83 percent.

Controversy surrounds the original 47-story Building 7, which mysteriously collapsed in a matter of seconds into its own footprint on the afternoon of 9-11. An elaborate explanation of the collapse, the outcome of a multi-million dollar study conducted by the government's National Institute of Standards and Technology, blamed a freak structural failure triggered by fires ignited by falling debris from the collapses of the nearby twin towers. Critics once again have surfaced, pointing to Silverstein's remarks after the collapse that a decision was made to "pull" the building, a term they say refers to a controlled demolition of the structure. Silverstein counters that his remarks have been misinterpreted. NIST admits that it it did not conduct tests for signs of explosive charges or incendiaries critics say may have brought down the building. Previous to the events of 9-11, no high-rise steel office tower had ever collapsed due to fires of any duration.

Silverstein has already collected more than $4 billion paid by insurance companies from which he had taken out polices on the structures against terrorist acts shortly before 9-11. 

Silverstein announced his original suit in March, naming American Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines and Boeing Co., as well as the managers of Boston's Logan International Airport, MassPort, according to previously published news accounts. Silverstein charged that breaches in airline security allowed the alleged hijackers to commandeer the airliners and fly them into the World Trade Center towers.

In an earlier suit Silverstein singled out Citigroup Inc., which leased extensive office space in the original Building 7,
with responsibility for the building's destruction, citing a 6,000-gallon supply of diesel fuel the company maintained for use in an emergency power system. Silverstein charged that the fuel contributed to the fires in the building and its subsequent collapse. Hellerstein ruled in 2005 that Citigroup was protected from liability by covenants in the its lease with Silverstein.