White House officials continue to insist that President Obama intends to veto the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which unanimously passed in both the House and Senate, claiming that the weakening of the principle of sovereign immunity is a danger to the US.
JASTA is designed to allow victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia over the attack, based on Saudi government involvement in the scheme, as detailed by the 9/11 Report’s 28 pages. Saudi Arabia has threatened to collapse the US Treasury market in retaliation.
While the Saudi threats are believed to play a significant behind the scenes role in the White House veto threat, today they insisted that the chief concern was that the weakening of sovereign immunity is as much a risk to the US as anyone “given the way the United States is engaged in the world.”
Sovereign immunity is a legal doctrine that insists governments cannot commit any legal wrongs, and are thus immune from civil lawsuits. The US largely supports this, except for a few hand-picked exceptions, like allowing 9/11 victims to sue Iran, even though Iran had nothing to do with the attack.
The Obama Administration argument boils down to the idea that the US commits so many atrocities abroad itself that opening this Pandora’s box could really open the US government up to similar suits from its assorted victims. In that regard, they’re probably not wrong, though the US has tended to pick and choose with sovereign immunity, protecting its allies from lawsuits while setting up suits against international rivals.
The White House also faces the very serious possibility of a veto override, which would be the first in Obama’s presidency, since both the House and Senate unanimously passed the bill, and many are likely to continue to do so even in the face of presidential opposition.