Michael Maiello's picture

    Congress Was Right To Overturn Obama's Veto

    President Obama had vetoed a bill passed by Congress that allows U.S. citizens who are victims of state sponsored terrorism to sue the governments who sponsor that terrorism in U.S. courts. This has sparked some outrage overseas even as it gives families of 9/11 victims some shot at holding the Saudi Royal family accountable in U.S. courts, if the families can prove their case (and if they get that far). Obama opposed the law on the grounds of sovereign immunity, which generally immunizes recognized states from civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution.

    It's rare that Obama would get something like this wrong, but I think he did.  First, we regularly strip government actors of immunity.  In the case of war crimes, for example, immunity is no defense. Augusto Pinochet was prosecuted, in the end.  So I think we can accept that our understanding of sovereign immunity has always been fluid. It seems to hold fast for minor crimes (diplomats who refuse to pay parking tickets while attending the UN general assembly is a common New York problem) but not so much for mass murder.

    Second, we have allowed families to sue governments over terrorism before.  There were 26 lawsuits against Libya's government over the 1988 Lockerbie airplane bombing. Libya's Muammar Gaddafi accepted responsibility in 2003 and in 2008, Libya's sovereign immunity was restored after Gaddafi made restitution payments to settle the suits. The existence of those lawsuits did not cause international diplomacy to collapse into a tizzy of global lawsuits.

    That latter effect is what most seems to worry opponents of the bill -- that the U.S. government will find itself sued in courts around the world over drone strikes, commando raids and, of course, the entirety of U.S. Cold War policies in Latin America and Asia, not to mention post 9/11 policies in the Middle East.  But "our government doesn't want to be sued," does not seem like a good argument for denying U.S. citizens who may be able to prove they were victims of Saudi Arabia's government a right make their argument in court. Besides, is our government perhaps worried that it might be sued over things that, well, it should be sued over.

    One objection I've heard is that the bill applies to all victims of state sponsored terrorism and that it could have been limited in scope to just 9/11. But I don't see why one set of victims should be favored over others.

    Another issue is how Saudi Arabia might react.  They have threatened to sell off U.S. assets such as bonds, real estate an corporate equities, that a court might seize to guaranty payments of damages.  But it would be stupid for them to engage in some sort of unforced fire sale and we are a long way from damages being awarded because this bill still stacks the deck in favor of the defendants as it allows the State Department to petition the courts to dismiss the suits and of course allows the government to refuse to hand over classified information that might help the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs have such a long road ahead that Saudi Arabia needs do nothing to protect its U.S.-domiciled assets now and, in any event. even if it dumped all of its U.S. holdings, if it lost the lawsuit, the U.S. would be able to compel payment if the will is there.

    But all of this talk about payments if far fetched.  The most likely result of a trial will be an unearthing of information and, in the end, we all deserve a fuller accounting of Saudi Arabia's involvement in 9/11 than we have had.

    The best result, really, would be for a judge to move a trial along quickly and publicly, starting tomorrow. Wishful thinking, I know.



    I'm not thrilled to be taking  this position but I agree with Obama. 

    Partly for the reasons you correctly recite:"international diplomacy" collapsing into a   "tizzy of global law suits" and the "long way from damages being awarded".  The senate and house have awarded themselves some easy popularity by providing the families with an illusory benefit: a chance to waste time and money with highly improbable chance of success and  highly probable  chance of causing the country to incur the difficulties which you, again correctly, recite.

    Apart from that I admit to a general bias against turning over to do- it- yourself initiatives things

    that ,to have any chance of  success , should be done by the government .Probably not a popular position here at Dagblog I expect.


    This bill seems to be the worst kind of grandstanding election year Kabuki designed to make points with the rubes but accomplish nothing.

    There has been no direct link proving any  involvement by the House of Saud or its ranking government officials in the planning, financing or execution of 9/11. The recently released classified pages of the 9/11 report did highlight two embarressing facts, that an embassy employee apparently assisted some of the hyjackers and that the wife of one member of the HOS did make a contribution to a charity that apparently sent money to some of the hyjackers but these are not links showing any direct government/HOS involvement in the attacks.

    OBL and al Qaeda were/are mortal enemies of the House of Saud and its government although they were allied in the Afghan conflict but that ended in the early '90s when OBL was stripped of his Saudi citizenship and most of AQ was run out of the country. I'm sure that the AQ leadership is enjoying this further embarressment and harassment of the House of Saud.

    I'm not a supporter of the House of Saud which is a tiny minority in the large Saudi population and some Saudis did aid AQ and also want to bring down the HOS but you can't hold some small ruling group responsible for what their enemies did and continue to do.

    If anyone who was not a Saudi royal had as many ties to the 9/11 attackers as the Saudi rulers do, a lawsuit would seem justified, even if the plaintiffs ultimately lost. Let the courts work this out. No reason to treat people as special just because they were born royal.

    The tinfoil hat you are wearing clashes with your royal wrestler robes and repeating BS  unproven conspiracy theories about the House of Saud won't make them true or even believable. There are many good logical reasons to attack the behavior of the HoS but this isn't one of them.

    What this bill is is a display of the self serving political parasites who run our government, Democrat and Republican alike. It is a blatant and moronic sideshow of opportunism and these dimwits are already trying to fix their FU.

    I would love to see the US held responsible for the death and destruction our foreign and economic policies inflicts on much of the world so perhaps some good will come from this political gamesmanship.


    The idea that there's enough smoke around this issue to make it worthy of having a judge decide if a further trial is warranted is hardly the stuff of tinfoil hat conspiracy theories, Peter.

    Obama Derangement Syndrome led the Republicans to pass a bill that was not well thought out. They realize their error and are now working to change the bill. 

    Who do Republicans blame for "forcing" them to pass an irrational bill? President Obama.


    That is well done.  It doesn't convince me, though, and even this article admits that JASTA by itself doesn't really threaten existing norms, it just starts us down a slippery slope. Slippery slope arguments tend to read fine when written out but not to be reflected in the real world.

    I thought the "slippery slope" conjecture was unfortunat in pretending its only a future problem. It sets up Benghazi-like fishin expeditions right away from what I see, with a lot of leeway for various activist judges.

    Libya had direct obvious connections / orders for Lockerbie and the Berlin disco bombing.

    Pinochet is a bit more complex (the level of Allende's courting Moscow was alarming and the left was assassinating gov security forces before Allende's election) and we saw one aspect of how Allende was detained, but not murderers of hundreds of thousands in Cambodia, Congo, Sudan, Indonesia, Guatemala, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, etc. But why shouldn't then an Argentinian or Chileno be able to run FOIAs thru our government to find redress? Guatemala? Nicaragua? Panama?

    France killed 1 million on their way out of Algeria. They can all travel with no worry of repercussions or detainment. Yeah, someone I Saudi Arabia helped terrorist, but our triggerr-happy racism will push Muslims to the front of the line, while allies more like us will get a pass. 

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