Senate Set to Vote Today on Obama Veto of Saudi September 11 Bill
September 28, 2016
David Morgan / Reuters & David Swanson / Let's Try Democracy & Stephen Kinzer / The Boston Globe
The US Senate will vote on Wednesday on whether to override President Barack Obama's veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act -- a bill allowing relatives of victims in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. Obama warned that other countries could use the law to sue US soldiers, the Pentagon, American companies, and any foreign organizations receiving US weapons or training. David Swanson and Stephen Kinder debate the potential outcomes should the JASTA go into effect.
Senate Set to Vote Today on Obama Veto of Saudi September 11 Bill
David Morgan / Reuters
(September 26, 2016) -- The US Senate will vote on Wednesday on whether to override President Barack Obama's veto of a bill allowing relatives of victims in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.
The vote, which Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell set as the chamber reconvened on Monday, would be the first action in an attempt by lawmakers to override Obama's Sept. 23 veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act.
A successful override requires support from two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Senate and House of Representatives, which are controlled by Republicans.
Known as JASTA, the legislation passed the Senate and House in reaction to long-running suspicions, denied by Saudi Arabia, that hijackers of the four US jetliners that attacked the United States in 2001 were backed by the Saudi government. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.
In vetoing the bill, Obama warned that other countries could use the law as an excuse to sue US diplomats, members of the military or companies, even for actions of foreign organizations that had received US aid, equipment or training.
McConnell said Wednesday's vote will follow two hours of debate divided between Republicans and Democrats. No time for the vote has been set.
Suing Saudi: Congress Is Right,
Stephen Kinzer Is Wrong
David Swanson / Let's Try Democracy
(September 14, 2016) -- Now there you have two things that I never expected to write. How often is Congress right about anything or Stephen Kinzer wrong? Congress wants 9/11 victims' families to be able to sue Saudi Arabia for its role in those crimes. Kinzer does not .
It's not that he doesn't care about victims' families. It's not that he's worried about disturbing relations with the Saudi monarchy (which could perhaps stop selling the United States the fossilized poison it uses to ruin the earth's climate, or stop buying US weapons and working with the US military to blow up little children in Yemen, or perhaps increase or decrease its support for ISIS depending on which of those options the US makes up its mind to oppose).
No, Kinzer's concern is that if you let one set of criminals be held accountable for their crimes, other criminals might be held accountable for their crimes as well.
Kinzer's is an argument designed to win over Congress (which doesn't really answer to rational argumentation) or the President (who already agrees with it). But it's not an argument that should win over you or me.
"Americans have a right to be furious with some foreign governments," writes Kinzer. "People in other countries have an equal right to be furious with the United States. We best address that fury not with lawsuits, but by changing the way we approach the world."
If laws are to "address fury" I'd like to abolish every last one of them, domestic and international, as an embarrassment to our species. In reality, the best laws are powerful tools with which to "change the way we approach the world."
Obamesque "looking forward" -- that is, granting immunity to all powerful law breakers and wishing they wouldn't continue their law breaking -- does not work. Neither, of course, does bombing families in Libya or Syria based on the flimsy allegation that someone powerful managed to break a law that happened to be the one law not to ignore that day.
Kinzer's concern that suing Saudi Arabia could result in law suits against the United States is misguided nationalism. Why does suing Saudi Arabia not bother him? Why does suing the United States bother him? If Saudi Arabia kills large numbers of people, every nonviolent tool at our disposal ought to be used to put an end to that, to deter its repetition, to seek restitution, and to work for reconciliation. And the exact same applies to the US government.
This was the pretense at Nuremberg, that victor's justice would someday become universal justice, that the people of the United States would want their own government held to the rule of law.
This is why 37,000 US citizens thanked  Spain for trying to prosecute US officials for war crimes a few years ago, when the US government had made clear that it would never do so itself. Instead it brought pressure to bear on Spain that shut down the prosecution.
Of course, a country that doesn't want to be sued (by its own people as well as foreigners) could abide by the rule of law or enforce its treaty obligations itself, as legally required to do anyway. Of what real use is a law that a blatant violator cannot be brought to court over?
The UN Charter and the Kellogg-Briand Pact make seven current US wars illegal, plus numerous drone killings if you claim they constitute "war." They're illegal as murder is you claim they do not constitute "war." Kidnapping, torture, spying, sabotaging -- these things are crimes. Those instances of these crimes that are in the past should indeed be brought to court in the present, unless the United States sees its way clear to apologizing and making restitution to the satisfaction of the victims.
But here's the real problem. If disputes could be taken to court, instead of to war, potential terrorists would become potential litigants, and Pentagon propaganda for the next war would become a lawsuit instead. Did the latest "Hitler" really truly use the wrong kind of weapon?
Don't bomb the residents of his capital. Take him to court instead. Take him to arbitration. Take him to a truth and reconciliation commission. Because if you don't, if you bomb some cities instead, you should have to expect that victims families will be taking you to court.
If US officials find that they must constantly be looking over their shoulders to make sure they aren't going to be taken to court, they will simply be joining the rest of us who are -- horror of horrors! -- obliged to comply with every existing law every day of the year.
9/11 Saudi Arabia Bill Opens US
To Avalanche of Lawsuits
Stephen Kinzer / The Boston Globe
(September 13, 2016) -- Last week, as the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, members of Congress gathered on the Capitol steps to pray, followed by a rendition of "God Bless America." Then, evidently energized, they went inside and passed a bill that would allow relatives of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for its apparent support of the attackers. President Obama is likely to veto it. Emotion could lead Congress to override his veto. That would have a shattering effect on American and global politics.
Americans love to sue. Our society is one of the world's most litigious. We have come to believe that almost anything can be adjudicated in court. That is lamentable at home, but applying the principle of tort liability to foreign policy is far more threatening. It opens the United States to an avalanche of lawsuits from victims of our actions around the world.
One sponsor of the newly passed bill, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, has dismissed this possibility. No one could sue the United States for damages, he reasoned, because "the United States does not engage in international terrorist activity." He may honestly believe that, but judges in other countries might disagree.
First in line to sue the United States would be relatives of Iraqis, Afghans, Yemenis, and others who have been killed by American drone attacks. In Pakistan alone, by one count, these attacks have killed 160 children. Parents of every one of them would have a case in court.
Victims of "extraordinary rendition" and "enhanced interrogation methods" might also be able to persuade judges that their ordeals were the product of state terrorism directed from Washington.
From there, the list is almost endless. Every country where US intervention has produced bloody results would become fertile ground for lawsuits. Guatemalans could sue for our long support of regimes in their country that carried out murder on a grand scale.
So could families of Salvadorans, Chileans, Brazilians, and others who were tortured and killed by US-trained military units. Indonesians could claim that the hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered in 1965 were victims of a policy set in motion by the United States.
A Cambodian or Laotian or Vietnamese who has lived without limbs as a result of American bombing, or been deformed by napalm or Agent Orange, would have a good case. Survivors of Mexicans killed by drug dealers using weapons bought in Arizona could claim that weak American gun laws are to blame, and demand compensation.
Iran could sue the United States for its cyberattacks on Iranian computer systems.
How about Brazil suing because a member of our Olympic team, Ryan Lochte, harmfully defamed Brazil by fabricating stories about being attacked by police there?
This circus would run in both directions. If Americans can sue Saudi Arabia because its government supports terror groups, they can also sue Pakistan. Since the 9/11 attacks were directed from Afghanistan, it could also be on the target list. An American judge might even find Germany guilty of negligence for failing to monitor the attackers while they were living in Hamburg.
"The fact that a foreign government may have aided and abetted terrorism is infuriating to the families if justice is not done," Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said last week.
He is correct. Americans have a right to be furious with some foreign governments. People in other countries have an equal right to be furious with the United States. We best address that fury not with lawsuits, but by changing the way we approach the world.
Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.
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