Driven by a parochial world-view that believes that America hasn’t yet extracted its full measure of satisfaction – or revenge – from Iran for its 1979 takeover of the US Embassy; and that America hasn’t yet extracted the full-measure of punishment – or revenge – from enemies both real and perceived that attacked us on 9/11; many in Congress are still obsessed with either reversing or obstructing any foreign policy principle that doesn’t satisfy vindictive desires to target those we believe have wronged us.
The latest vehicle for expressing their obsession is the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) bill – and their target is Saudi Arabia.
Previous to JASTA, 9/11 families had been frustrated that they couldn’t sue the Saudi government (which they believed was complicit with the terrorists) because of the internationally recognized, mutually-beneficial principle of sovereign immunity.
As legislated JASTA overturns the principle of sovereign immunity and gives federal courts jurisdiction over any foreign state’s perceived support for international terrorism against an American national or property regardless if such state is designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the American government.
A bill that, as President Barack Obama stated as he vetoed JASTA, could have “consequential decisions… based upon incomplete information… [about] the culpability of individual foreign governments and their role in terrorist activities against the United States.”
Congress overrode Obama’s veto despite the fact that the legislation as drafted was also opposed by our Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Director of the CIA.
JASTA removes sovereign immunity from any state believed by a judge – not as believed by the US government – to be practicing terrorism anywhere. The fact that a judge could, depending on experience, political orientation and yes, even religious belief, shape our foreign policy should concern most Americans.
Driven in part by ignorance and religious bigotry and fearful of being perceived as being hostile to the interests of 9/11 families Congress overrode Obama.
I believe JASATA’s true victims will be the 9/11 families; bound by grief unimaginable to most of us they’re being victimized by unrealistic promises offered by a delusional Congress and avaricious lawyers.
They deserve better.
JASTA’s passage wasn’t surprising. There’re few countries as unpopular as conservative Saudi Arabia in America; reviled from the Left for apparent lack of adherence to human and gender (among other) rights and from the Right by Islamaphobes.
First, a little back-story: The United States, through the CIA and with Saudi assistance supported and encouraged Osama Bin Laden (OBL) and the mujahideen to oppose and resist Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
Later, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, OBL opposed Saudi King Fahd and the combined Muslim forces who joined the Desert Storm coalition assembled by President George Bush the Elder to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
The Saudis stripped OBL of citizenship. He went into exile, first in Sudan and then in Afghanistan from where he planned 9/11 – and within his plans he insinuated a poison pill that Congress just swallowed.
I’ve maintained for years that when OBL assembled his cohort of terrrorists he made an intentional choice that affects us still – and Congress just validated it.
Bin Laden hated two regimes; the Saudis, whom he perceived to be the near enemy, and the Americans, the far enemy. On 9/11 he fused the two. From his pool of volunteers – which included Lebanese, Palestinians, Chechens, Afghans, French, etc. – he deliberately chose 15 Saudis, knowing that when they were identified it would significantly strain Saudi-American relations.
It worked, although even he couldn’t have imagined that Congress would swallow his bait as enthusiastically as it has. When Congress over-rode Obama they not only passed a flawed bill but became the executor of OBL’s will.
Further, although much’s been written about the Saudis who left immediately after 9/11, I’ve found no reason to understand – if any of them had indeed been complicit – why they wouldn’t have left America BEFORE the attacks rather than hang around hoping that someone would later rescue them.
Today, it’s clear that Congress didn’t fully consider the consequences of turning away from a foundational international legal principle would put American NGOs, diplomats and service members in legal jeopardy, limiting our nation’s capacity to internationally function – or that investment in America could be limited with foreign governments and individuals reluctant to subject their treasuries to Congress’s whims.
Given America’s propensity to act recklessly why should sovereign wealth funds continue to invest here without the protection of sovereign immunity? Why should any nation expect America to act in good faith?
Today, Congress, realizing they acted improvidently, is looking for a morning-after pill.
Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan acknowledged that Congress may need to “fix” the legislation. After the override 28 Senators, led by Bob Corker, sent a letter to Senators Schumer and Cornyn asking for a make-over < http://tinyurl.com/zq8ew9g >.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s one of the 28. Not so, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who must like it?
“We didn’t pay much attention to this,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said.”And boy is that ever a lesson learned.”
Fix it quickly – I’ve read that there’re Iraqis already preparing to bring suit against America and individual Americans for our illegal invasion of Iraq.
Hmmm, consider those American drones that killed civilians at funerals and weddings in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen – and consider what options might now be available to Palestinian victims of American weapons provided to Israel’s IDF and police.
Hmmm, maybe we should consider the victims of those IRA terrorists who bought arms with money raised in South Boston bars.
Consider, one person’s freedom fighter may be another person’s terrorist – or victim.
In overriding Obama’s veto Congress ignored the fact that, as White House spokesman Josh Ernest said, “[Congress’s own independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission Report] concluded that they were not able to find any evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or that any senior Saudi government official were knowingly supportive of the 9/11 plotters.”
Even within the once-classified “28 pages” one cannot find Saudi complicity. There’s no evidence, but JASTA’s deed is done.
Congress has decided to let federal courts decide who’s complicit, who’s not – and potential repercussions against Americans be damned. Tort lawyers will shop for friendly jurisdictions to make their cases, playing on fear, sympathies, prejudices – and ignorance.
Saudi Arabia will be sued, and will probably lose in court. Eventually, decisions will be appealed and JASTA probably overturned. The families will again feel betrayed, American relationships with some allies will be further strained, if not ruptured, and, as usual, lawyers will profit regardless of outcome.
Defending “our ideals” and “reaffirming our character as a nation,” as Obama recently said, means not submitting to prejudice and hysteria and to the political machinations of tort lawyers and opportunistic politicians who’re exploiting the grief of 9/11 families and our nation’s fears to lead America down a path that jeopardizes our national security interests.
“It’s a dangerous precedent and it’s an example why sometimes you have to do what’s hard,” Obama said. “And frankly I wish Congress had done what’s hard…”
Hmmmm, when’s the last time that happened?
We all deserve better.