WEB DESK: Overriding President Obama’s 9/11 bill veto the US Congress has allowed the courts to waive sovereign immunity in situations involving acts of terrorism on the United States’ soil.
This is bound to have implications for many countries, but as of now the country that is going to stand in the dock is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Unlike the norm, the presidential veto was overturned by an overwhelming bipartisan 97-1 vote in Senate and 348-77 vote in House of Representatives. Of the 12 vetoes issued by President Obama this was the only one to be repealed by the US Congress, and has happened despite his tough defence in support of the veto and hectic pro-Saudi behind the scenes lobbying. Under the Bill, Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), the kingdom forfeits its sovereign immunity in the United States.
It has been decreed as guilty because of the 19 hijackers, who attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon killing some 3,000 people, 15 were of Saudi origin. It is doubtful if the vote against the presidential veto received due diligence, as some of the Congressmen are said to be open to pushing a legislation to narrow down the scope of JASTA. But that’s in the future, and as of now it tends to seriously undermine the long-lasting US-Saudi Arabia relationship. That it was essentially a ‘political vote’, far removed from the actualities, is a fact. According to a declassified 28-page document there is no solid evidence of any links between the Saudi government and the terrorists, nor is the kingdom listed as sponsor of terrorism by the US State Department.
If the Congressional mindset is morphing to be anti-Saudi and pro-Iran given the emerging geopolitical realities in the region (last week the Senate voted on a resolution to restrict sales of arms to Saudi Arabia until ‘it stops targeting civilians in Yemen’) we have no comment. But we do feel that dragging Riyadh into courts in the United States would certainly negatively impact the US-Saudi comradeship in the Middle East. It is also very much likely to expose America to reciprocal treatment in many other places, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is liable to trigger a tremendous negative fallout, especially in two areas. First and foremost, it would wreck the US-Saudi cooperation – both at the government and private levels. As the Congress was preparing to override President Obama’s veto a senior Saudi prince threatened to pull billions of dollars out of the United States banks and joint enterprises if JASTA were to become the law. Although the Saudi officials now distance themselves from that claim but given their national pride that warning being translated into action cannot be ruled out.
Obviously, the Saudi investment is likely to move to “less politically-inflamed economies”. Secondly, if the JASTA can be justly enacted by the US Congress under public pressure there is no reason why other peoples around the world whose citizens lose lives in wars joined by the United States would not pass similar legislations and institute lawsuits against American forces. In fact, some such cases are already in courts where non-combatant citizens became victims of CIA’s drones, as in this region.
President Obama rightly argued that the JASTA would harm the United States’ national interests by undermining the principle of sovereign immunity. It would expose America to lawsuits over its military missions abroad, he said. In a letter to the Congressmen he had also warned that the new law would neither protect Americans from attacks, “nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks”.
But not many in the US Senate agreed with their president, especially Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the most fervent supporters of JASTA. To him it is not “severing our relationship with any ally. This is simply a matter of justice”. The official reaction of Saudi Arabia to this development is however awaited.
Source: Business Recorder