9/11 victims’ families should not be allowed to sue Saudis


9/11 victims’ families should not be allowed to sue Saudis

By Managing Editor

Congress overrode President Barack Obama’s veto for the first time in his presidency, and it is hard to think of a worse occasion. After a 97-1 vote in the Senate and 348-77 in the House, a controversial bill with potential serious international ramifications was passed, according to a Sept. 28 CNN article. 

The bill—the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act-—will allow the families of victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia as being responsible for the terror attack, even though the Saudi government has denied that it was involved in the attacks or responsible for the 15 of the 19 hijackers who were Saudi citizens, according to a Sept. 29 Euronews article. 

This may seem like a way to help those families find some sort of peace after the tragedy they experienced. But people may not be aware when they support this legislation that JASTA is a breach of sovereign immunity, which has historically been honored in the international community. 

Sovereign immunity, in this context, means countries are immune in the legal system of another country. The U.S. did create some exceptions to this practice through the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in 1976. Those exceptions include enabling legal remedies for private parties dealing with a country commercially. Those exceptions do not include suing a nation over terror attacks. 

According to the CNN article, both Democrats and Republicans applauded after JASTA passed the House. The same representatives would not be  applauding if the situation were flipped. If any of the countries in which the U.S. military has killed civilians decided to allow individuals to sue the U.S. in their countries’ legal system, the U.S. would likely take action against them. 

From 2003 to 2015, more than 165,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by the U.S., its allies, opposition forces and the Iraqi military and police in bombings, shootings suicide attacks and fires, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs.

The  number of civilian  deaths is likely higher because it is difficult to accurately document these statistics. 

If the U.S. were held responsible for any or all of these deaths in the Iraqi court system, Americans would be outraged, but for some reason, the U.S. can justify not playing by the same rules as the rest of the world. 

Legal experts were quoted in a Sept. 28 ABC News article that JASTA leaves the U.S. open to lawsuits in other nations’ courts and could break down essential diplomatic relationships. 

Analysts speculated in the Euronews article that JASTA could negatively influence trade and security agreements between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. The relationship between those two countries has been essential in the success of economic and anti-terrorism ventures, especially in the Middle East.

Before voting on this bill, representatives in Congress should have been more cognizant of these potential consequences, as Obama obviously was when he vetoed JASTA.

It is rare for a country to admit  wrongdoing and pay the price accordingly.  Holding countries accountable for violations of international law—not the laws of other countries—is a pillar of international cooperation, and JASTA does not contain a shred of respect. This disrespect toward global agreements burns crucial bridges and will burn the U.S. in the future.