Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA): U.S. Citizens Can Now Sue Foreign Governments
The US Congress has overturned Obama’s veto of the controversial Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which allows US citizens “to sue foreign governments believed to be involved in terrorist activities on US soil.”
The bill was initially intended to enable families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, which allegedly acted as a state sponsor of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Initially, former Florida Senator Bob Graham and Rep. Porter Goss were behind this initiative:
“Families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have long sought the right to sue Saudi Arabia for any alleged role in the attacks. The kingdom has denied any involvement and U.S. officials have backed that position.” (WSJ, 28 September 2016)
Ironically, in the immediate wake of 9/11, Afghanistan rather than Saudi Arabia was identified as the state sponsor of the 9/11 attacks.
Afghanistan was invaded despite the fact that the Kabul government had offered to extradite Osama bin Laden to the US. This initative was turned down by George W. Bush: “We do not negotiate with terrorists”
Did the US State Department “get their countries mixed”? If Saudi Arabia was behind the 9/11 hijackers, why on earth did US-NATO invade Afghanistan?
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) Does not Mention Saudi Arabia. So What’s the Problem?
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have expressed their concern regarding this controversial legislation. The wording of the bill, however, is broad and general.
The text of S.2040 refers broadly to “Sponsors of Terrorism”. Nowhere in the bill is there reference to Saudi Arabia:
This bill amends the federal judicial code to narrow the scope of foreign sovereign immunity (i.e., a foreign state’s immunity from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts).
Specifically, it authorizes federal court jurisdiction over a civil claim against a foreign state for physical injury to a person or property or death that occurs inside the United States as a result of: (1) an act of international terrorism, and (2) a tort committed anywhere by an official, agent, or employee of a foreign state acting within the scope of employment.
International terrorism does not include an act of war. Federal court jurisdiction does not extend to a tort claim based on an omission or an act that is merely negligent.
A U.S. national may file a civil action against a foreign state for physical injury, death, or damage as a result of an act of international terrorism committed by a designated terrorist organization.
(Sec. 4) The bill amends the federal criminal code to impose civil liability on a person who conspires to commit or aids and abets (by knowingly providing substantial assistance) an act of international terrorism committed, planned, or authorized by a designated terrorist organization.
(Sec. 5) It establishes exclusive federal court jurisdiction over civil claims under this bill.
It authorizes the Department of Justice (DOJ) to intervene in civil proceedings to seek a stay. A court may grant the stay if the Department of State certifies that the United States is engaged in good-faith discussions with the foreign state to resolve the civil claims.
(Sec. 7) This bill’s amendments apply to a civil claim: (1) pending on or commenced on or after enactment; and (2) arising out of an injury to a person, property, or business on or after September 11, 2001.
The Bill opens up a Pandora’s Box
The legislation is by no means limited to Saudi Arabia. Was it in fact intended to go after Saudi Arabia, which is a US proxy?
It also allows the US government to promote and/or support legal actions by US citizens against foreigns government, which are disliked by Washington. Potentially, it constitutes a legal as well as foreign policy instrument which could be used against foreign governments on Washington’s “hate list”, including Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, etc.
Conversely, it could also be used by US citizens to sue some of America’s staunchest allies including Israel, U.K. France and Turkey.
Another issue which the media seems to have neglected is that the legislation is not limited to state entities and foreign governments. The bill allows US citizens to sue both foreign governments as well as organizations allegedly involved in acts terrorism broadly defined on US soil. It pertains to “persons, entities, organizations and countries”
“Persons, entities, or countries that knowingly or recklessly contribute material support or resources, directly or indirectly, to persons or organizations that pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the security of nationals of the United States or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States, necessarily direct their conduct at the United States, and should reasonably anticipate being brought to court in the United States to answer for such activities.”
… act of international terrorism committed, planned, or authorized by an organization that had been designated as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189), as of the date on which such act of international terrorism was committed, planned, or authorized, liability may be asserted as to any person who aids and abets, by knowingly providing substantial assistance, or who conspires with the person who committed such an act of international terrorism.”.