Sen. Chuck Schumer, chief sponsor of the bill, explained with some solemnity that, “Overriding a presidential veto is something we don’t take lightly, but it was important in this case that the families of the victims of 9/11 be allowed to pursue justice, even if that pursuit causes some diplomatic discomforts.”
Nerves through Washington duly frayed. Playing the 9/11 card is a rotten business, but it certainly worked to convince members on both side of the aisle that the President’s veto had to be overturned. The façade was duly taken down; and the ugly, protective mask of the relationship with Riyadh ripped off. Admitting to an avenue of legal action, or at any rate permitting it, against an ally was tantamount to a confession.
One such individual was CIA director John Brennan, whose befuddled security mind has to juggle the plotting machinations of Riyadh with the dictates of US security. “It would be an absolute shame if this legislation, in any way, influenced the Saudi willingness to continue to be among our best counterterrorism partners.”
President Obama was more forthright. The passage of the bill effectively meant that the various imperial efforts of the US would be compromised. Vast, gargantuan and spread over the earth, US engagements and actions would suddenly face the prospect of legal targeting.
His concern with such actions had to with “not wanting a situation in which we’re suddenly exposed to liabilities for all the work that we’re doing all around the world, and suddenly finding ourselves subject to private lawsuits in courts where we don’t even know exactly where they’re on the up and up, in some cases.”
Speculation was already being advanced by various legal authorities. JASTA, argued Theodore Karasik, would also permit Saudi citizens an avenue to sue the US government and its employees in foreign courts. That would well accompany additional moves to amend domestic laws “to allow their citizens to sue the US government and its employees in foreign courts, most likely state security courts.”
Stephen I. Vladeck of the University of Texas School of Law goes further in suggesting that the law will do little to bring home the litigious bounty for victims of 9/11 while enlarging the scope for US plaintiffs to launch suits against states for international terrorism, whether Washington deems them sponsors of terrorism or otherwise.
The punch against US power, however, would come in the form of taking Washington’s policies to task in very specific cases. Would, for instance, the Syrian regime be justified in suing the United States for its role in sponsoring Syrian rebel fighters who go on to commit acts of terrorism? Justice can be truly blind, though the legal authorities often fear it.
Much of this fuss may be unfounded. States continue to pursue claims against each other in the International Court of Justice, though they tend to do so with velvet gloves and utterances of mock decency. In some cases arbitral channels over matters of wrongful death can also be used. But States have continued over the years to cite a veil of sovereign immunity in the courts that has, at stages, begun to tear. The Nuremberg war crimes trials made a decent start of it.
Over time, the deaths of nationals has generated a basis to seek compensation, though a state might well be reluctant to part with money in the bargain. Granting an award is no guarantee of receiving it. But rarely has there been such an overt challenge to assumptions of sovereign immunity, a domestic effort to effectively overturn an internationally accepted rule.
Following that other accepted notion of reciprocity at international law, other countries may well see their nationals rush to the courts to seek redress for the actions of the US imperium, allies or otherwise. They should be mindful of the comments of Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee: “All they want is the opportunity to present their case in a court of law.”
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The original source of this article is Global Research