nsnbc : US President Barack Obama vetoed the Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The bill passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. Obama warned the bill could lead to retaliatory prosecution for US citizens, including officials and politicians for involvement in terrorism in countries abroad.
Often misrepresented as a bill that specifically targets Saudi officials for their involvement in the attacks on September 11, 2001 (9/11), the bill aims at amending the federal judicial code to narrow the scope of foreign sovereign immunity by authorizing U.S. courts to hear cases involving claims against a foreign state for injuries, death, or damages that occur inside the United States as a result of a tort, including an act of terrorism, committed anywhere by a foreign state or official.
The bill has, in other words, the potential to open the doors for lawsuits against far more and other foreigners than Saudi citizens who allegedly were involved in the so-called 9/11 attacks. This would, among others, include members of Pakistan’s and Israel’s intelligence communities and does not necessarily limit litigation to 9/11 related activities. Moreover, the legislation would risk to lead to the disclosure of the involvement of US citizens, including politicians and members of intelligence communities, in global terrorism and related crimes.
The act aims at amending the federal criminal code to permit civil claims against a foreign state or official for injuries, death, or damages from an act of international terrorism. Additionally, the bill authorizes federal courts to exercise personal jurisdiction over and impose liability on a person who commits, or aids, abets, or conspires to commit, an act of international terrorism against a U.S. national.
Senate Bill S.2040 (JASTA) was tabled by Senator John Cornyn, a Republican Senator for Texas. The bill points out that the United States has a vital interest in providing persons and entities injured as a result of terrorist attacks committed within the United States with full access to the court system in order to pursue civil claims against persons, entities, or countries that have knowingly or recklessly provided material support or resources, directly or indirectly, to the persons or organizations responsible for their injuries.
The purpose of the act is to provide civil litigants with the broadest possible basis, consistent with the Constitution of the United States, to seek relief against persons, entities, and foreign countries, wherever acting and wherever they may be found, that have provided material support, directly or indirectly, to foreign organizations or persons that engage in terrorist activities against the United States. (read the full text here).
Senator John Cornyn
U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) released responded to Obama’s veto of the act that he had introduced with Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat from New York, in a statement. Senator Cornyn stressed that:
“It’s disappointing the President chose to veto legislation unanimously passed by Congress and overwhelmingly supported by the American people. Even more disappointing is the President’s refusal to listen to the families of the victims taken from us on September 11th, who should have the chance to hold those behind the deadliest terrorist attack in American history accountable. … I look forward to the opportunity for Congress to override the President’s veto, provide these families with the chance to seek the justice they deserve, and send a clear message that we will not tolerate those who finance terrorism in the United States.”
It is noteworthy that Cornyn also drafted a bill that would strip former Secretary of State and current presidential Hillary Clinton’s immunity.
JASTA co-sponsor Senator Charles Schumer called the veto a « disappointing decision that will be swiftly and soundly overturned. Focusing on the Saudi- 9/11 aspect, Schumer added:
“If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation. If they were culpable in 9/11, they should be held accountable. The families of the victims of 9/11 deserve their day in court.”
Several Senators and Members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, stressed that they are confident that Obama’s veto will be overridden. President Obama, for his part, previously noted that sovereign immunity would prevent Saudi officials from suffering any consequences from their alleged involvement. On the other hand, Obama warned that the bill could set a dangerous precedent for the United States because it could prompt other countries to allow U.S. citizens to suffer retaliation over an assorted variety of misdeeds.
Shura Council, Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this month the Speaker of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council sent a thinly veiled threat to Washington, stressing that allowing the bill to become law would “fuel extremism,” and that Saudi extremist groups could find new recruitment opportunities if Americans start suing the Saudi government.
Over the course of the last week several organizations, including advocacy groups for 9/11 victims staged protests, urging Obama to sign the bill into law. President Obama, for his part, published a statement to explain why he had used his veto right. Obama noted:
I am returning herewith without my approval S. 2040, the « Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act » (JASTA), which would, among other things, remove sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated state sponsors of terrorism.
I have deep sympathy for the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), who have suffered grievously. I also have a deep appreciation of these families’ desire to pursue justice and am strongly committed to assisting them in their efforts.
Photo of U.S. Senator John McCain meeting illegally in a rebel safe house with the heads of the “Free Syrian Army” in Idlib, Syria in April, 2013. In the left foreground, top al Qaeda terrorist leader Ibrahim al-Badri (aka Al-Baghdadi of ISIS, a.k.a. Caliph Ibrahim of the recently founded Islamic State with whom the Senator is talking. Behind Badri is visible Brigadier General Salim Idris (with glasses), the former military chief of the FSA, who has since fled to the Gulf states after the collapse of any semblance of the FSA. (Courtesy VoltaireNet.org)
Obama would claim that he, consistent with this commitment, over the past 8 years, had directed his administration to pursue relentlessly Al-Qaeda.
International observers and the minority of US citizens who receive their news coverage from other than US mainstream media may ask how this alleged commitment is consistent with US support of, or cooperation with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), Jabhat al-Nusrah (a.k.a. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham) in Syria, and the well documented links between US and Saudi links to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS, ISIL or Daesh); The organization that had its root in Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and whose leader, Al-Baghdadi, received a visit from US Senator John McCain in a safe house in Idlib, Syria, in April 2013.
Obama would also point out that his administration directed the Intelligence Community to perform a declassification review of « Part Four of the Joint Congressional Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, » so that the families of 9/11 victims and broader public can better understand the information investigators gathered following that dark day of our history.
However, Obama and his administration failed to launch an independent investigation into the attacks on September 11, as demanded by 9/11 families and a cohort of civil society organizations in the United States and abroad. Despite that, Obama would use rhetoric and emotional language targeting the victims of 9/11 saying:
Notwithstanding these significant efforts, I recognize that there is nothing that could ever erase the grief the 9/11 families have endured. My Administration therefore remains resolute in its commitment to assist these families in their pursuit of justice and do whatever we can to prevent another attack in the United States. Enacting JASTA into law, however, would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks.
Following the rhetoric, Obama got down to Realpolitik and the primary reasons for his veto when he stated:
Fetullah Gülen, Türkish cleric in self-imposed exile in the USA with long-standing links to the CIA, and allegedly involved in the failed military coup in Turkey on July 15, 2016.
As drafted, JASTA would allow private litigation against foreign governments in U.S. courts based on allegations that such foreign governments’ actions abroad made them responsible for terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil. This legislation would permit litigation against countries that have neither been designated by the executive branch as state sponsors of terrorism nor taken direct actions in the United States to carry out an attack here. The JASTA would be detrimental to U.S. national interests more broadly, which is why I am returning it without my approval.
Notwithstanding the fact that the cooperation of US governments and intelligence networks cooperation with terrorists and sponsors of terrorists had been well-documented; and notwithstanding the fact that JASTA would empower US citizens and allow them to at least sue foreign nationals for damages, Obama stressed that:
JASTA threatens to reduce the effectiveness of our response to indications that a foreign government has taken steps outside our borders to provide support for terrorism, by taking such matters out of the hands of national security and foreign policy professionals and placing them in the hands of private litigants and courts. … Any indication that a foreign government played a role in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is a matter of deep concern and merits a forceful, unified Federal Government response that considers the wide range of important and effective tools available.
US Senator John McCain with Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader Abdelhakim Belhadj.
He continued, stating that one of these tools is designating the foreign government in question as a state sponsor of terrorism, which carries with it a litany of repercussions, including the foreign government being stripped of its sovereign immunity before U.S. courts in certain terrorism-related cases and subjected to a range of sanctions. He added:
Given these serious consequences, state sponsor of terrorism designations are made only after national security, foreign policy, and intelligence professionals carefully review all available information to determine whether a country meets the criteria that the Congress established. … In contrast, JASTA departs from longstanding standards and practice under our Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and threatens to strip all foreign governments of immunity from judicial process in the United States based solely upon allegations by private litigants that a foreign government’s overseas conduct had some role or connection to a group or person that carried out a terrorist attack inside the United States. This would invite consequential decisions to be made based upon incomplete information and risk having different courts reaching different conclusions about the culpability of individual foreign governments and their role in terrorist activities directed against the United States — which is neither an effective nor a coordinated way for us to respond to indications that a foreign government might have been behind a terrorist attack.
The statement brings to mind the fact that the USA, on a regular and arbitrary basis as sponsors of terrorism, drug traffickers, and other charges which would in some cases lead to military interventions. One example would be the military invasion of Panama and the arrest of Panama’s head of State Manuel Noriega for drug trafficking, notwithstanding the involvement of US intelligence communities in these trafficking activities.
Photo EPA / VoR
Ignoring that the USA has violated the immunity of other foreign leaders, such as Noriega, or directly contributed to the extrajudicial murder of the Libyan Head of State Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Obama noted that JASTA would upset longstanding international principles regarding sovereign immunity, putting in place rules that, if applied globally, could have serious implications for U.S. national interests. He added:
The United States has a larger international presence, by far, than any other country, and sovereign immunity principles protect our Nation and its Armed Forces, officials, and assistance professionals, from foreign court proceedings. These principles also protect U.S. Government assets from attempted seizure by private litigants abroad. Removing sovereign immunity in U.S. courts from foreign governments that are not designated as state sponsors of terrorism, based solely on allegations that such foreign governments’ actions abroad had a connection to terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil, threatens to undermine these longstanding principles that protect the United States, our forces, and our personnel.
Obama would reiterate that reciprocity plays a substantial role and the possibility that US citizens may be prosecuted for crimes committed abroad. It is a statement that is particularly interesting with regard to the peace process and the transitional justice system in Colombia where the government and the FARC will sign a peace agreement after 52 years of civil war on September 26, 2016. Obama will be present when the agreement will be signed in Cartagena, Colombia. US troops, contractors and members of the US intelligence community have on numerous occasions attracted international attention for terrorism and other crimes in Colombia. This would also include sexual abuse of minors. Obama stated:
Indeed, reciprocity plays a substantial role in foreign relations, and numerous other countries already have laws that allow for the adjustment of a foreign state’s immunities based on the treatment their governments receive in the courts of the other state. Enactment of JASTA could encourage foreign governments to act reciprocally and allow their domestic courts to exercise jurisdiction over the United States or U.S. officials — including our men and women in uniform — for allegedly causing injuries overseas via U.S. support to third parties. This could lead to suits against the United States or U.S. officials for actions taken by members of an armed group that received U.S. assistance, misuse of U.S. military equipment by foreign forces, or abuses committed by police units that received U.S. training, even if the allegations at issue ultimately would be without merit. And if any of these litigants were to win judgments — based on foreign domestic laws as applied by foreign courts — they would begin to look to the assets of the U.S. Government held abroad to satisfy those judgments, with potentially serious financial consequences for the United States.
ISAF troops guarding Opium fields in Afghanistan.
Implicitly recognizing that the United States has been involved in terrorism or covered allies’ terrorist activities, Obama would also stress the possible repercussions JASTA could have in the United States’ relationship with even its closest partners. He stressed that:
A number of our allies and partners have already contacted us with serious concerns about the bill. By exposing these allies and partners to this sort of litigation in U.S. courts, JASTA threatens to limit their cooperation on key national security issues, including counterterrorism initiatives, at a crucial time when we are trying to build coalitions, not create divisions.
Obama would also claim that the USA has taken robust and wide-ranging actions to provide justice for the victims of the 9/11 attacks and keep Americans safe, from providing financial compensation for victims and their families to conducting worldwide counterterrorism programs to bringing criminal charges against culpable individuals. Ironically, most advocacy organizations for 9/11 victims would stress that nothing could be farther from the truth.
CH/L – nsnbc 24.09.2016