President Obama says he’ll veto the bill and Republicans in the House look to… agree?!
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) has been a bill that has been rattling around in the Senate for years now. Essentially the bill allows the victims (and their families) of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia over their alleged involvement of financially backing al-Qaeda. Yesterday that bill passed the Senate.
In a rare case of bipartisanship in Congress, JASTA unanimously passed the Senate and now goes to the House for a vote. So with both parties coming together to pass legislation revolving around the victims of terrorism attacks, the Obama administration can’t wait to sign this into law, right?
Yeah… not so much.
In fact, the Obama administration has continually threatened to veto JASTA if it were to cross the president’s desk! Why?
Well, there are two theories in play here.
- The first comes from the Obama administration saying that the passage of JASTA would put the US at risk for legal repercussions. According to the Obama administration, it would open Pandora’s Box in having foreign courts try and prosecute the US, similarly to how JASTA would allow 9/11 victims to sue a foreign government in the US court system. The reason this doesn’t happen currently is because countries generally respect “sovereign immunity” between one another. Or in other words, it’s been a generally accepted practice in foreign policy that sovereign governments would not be prosecuted in national courts. The Obama administration fears the passage of JASTA might break that understanding.
But critics of the Obama administration’s actions toward JASTA say it’s another reason entirely.
- Those critics are claiming the Obama administration stance against JASTA has less to do with legal repercussions and more to do with US/Saudi relations. To be frank, the US doesn’t have many allies in the Middle-East; to strain their relationship even further with Saudi Arabia could be problematic in continuing current operations in that region (ie fighting ISIS).
As stated, JASTA now moves to the House where they are set to vote on it in the coming weeks. While it passed the Senate without many issues, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has voiced skepticism over it passing in the House, which interestingly enough creates one of those rare instances that the White House and the GOP controlled House look to be on the same page when it comes to backing legislation!?
Now the big question, who’s telling the truth here?
In reality, they both are.
The critics of the Obama administration are correct. The primary reason the White House rejects JASTA is that it would hurt US-Saudi relations. Yet at the same time, the Obama administration makes a strong point about JASTA weakening the practice of sovereign immunity. Having American citizens sue foreign governments in a US court would without a doubt introduce a combustible element of chaos that has never been considered in foreign policy before. Whether you believe victims of the 9/11 attacks should have the right to sue Saudi Arabia or not, it’s also important to keep in mind that giving them that right could also weaken US foreign policy.
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