The Obama Administration is in full press mode attacking the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) ahead of an expected veto. The bill would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for its involve in the attack, and was unanimously passed in both the House and Senate. It enjoys considerable public support.
Administration officials are presenting it as a “dangerous precedent,” however, with Defense Secretary Ash Carter today insisting he is worried about the risk the bill poses to US troops, a sentiment echoed by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford.
This is a somewhat more specialized version of President Obama’s initial argument against JASTA, that the elimination of sovereign immunity for the Saudis by the bill might provide a precedent for some other nation to do the same with the US over its many, many misdeeds.
Sovereign immunity is the principle under international law that governments, as “sovereign” entities, can by definition do no wrong to individuals, and that individuals thus cannot sue governments unless the government decides in advance to permit it.
Under US law sovereign immunity is broadly accepted, and while in theory state-sponsored terrorism is an exemption, in practice this has only been the case for a handful of countries that the current administration at the time wants to see sued in US courts.
America’s own 9/11 Report, in particular the 28 Pages, detailed involvement by Saudi officials, including members of the royal family, in support provided to 9/11 attackers. While the White House has tried to downplay the report’s contents as inconclusive, their argument still boils down to the idea that America needs to ignore Saudi dalliances with international terror to protect the American government’s many criminals from similar legal repercussions.
President Obama is expected to veto JASTA by Friday, and while the House believes it has enough votes to override the veto, it is unclear if that remains the case in the Senate, where the Saudi government has been heavily lobbying, particularly targeting Democrats loathe to oppose an Obama veto.