Careful What You Wish For – Implications of the Saudi 9/11 Bill

Leave a comment
Author: David Anderson / Foreign Affairs / Middle East / Published by: The Moderate Voice

A bill to hold the Saudi Arabian state and royal family financially responsible for 9/11 which passed the U.S. Senate unanimously in May, just passed in the House.

Unless vetoed by the President it would permit an enormous personal injury lawsuit against the Kingdom. The “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” – JASTA – portends a terrible precedent of blow back against the United States. A “win” would actually be a financial disaster. And that is before the justice it seeks is unleashed back upon us. 

JASTA promises to right the wrongs of 9/11 via the U.S. tort law system. It alleges the Saudi royal family and state were at least complicit in the attacks, if not directly responsible, and hold them so liable. Such a law could ultimately allow a trial by jury and judgment to be passed in the Southern District of Manhattan – the location of the attacks and our most international forum of law.If such a suit succeeded, the damages Saudi Arabia would have to pay would be bankrupting of both countries on an international scale.

This whole idea stems from a desire in 2001 to “Make Them Pay!” – with Saudi Arabia being a convenient target of our wild rage. JASTA seeks to drag foreign policy into the realm of personal injury law and provide redress. It is a hideous, dangerous mistake.

There are impediments between now and ultimate revenge, but even a “success” would mean a defeat for all.

The first hurdle is Sovereign Immunity. That is a tricky but traditional precept of international law which says you can’t sue a sovereign government, a country, like you can a wrongdoer or their insurance company. It has been established in U.S. common, civil, and international law for centuries. It protects the Saudis, but it also protects us from similar suits of aggrieved parties or countries.

This whole idea stems from a desire in 2001 to “Make Them Pay!” – with Saudi Arabia being a convenient target of our wild rage. JASTA seeks to drag foreign policy into the realm of personal injury law and provide redress. It is a hideous, dangerous mistake.

There are impediments between now and ultimate revenge, but even a “success” would mean a defeat for all.

The first hurdle is Sovereign Immunity. That is a tricky but traditional precept of international law which says you can’t sue a sovereign government, a country, like you can a wrongdoer or their insurance company. It has been established in U.S. common, civil, and international law for centuries. It protects the Saudis, but it also protects us from similar suits of aggrieved parties or countries.

JASTA hopes to reverse this precedent via the legislature so Saudi Arabia can be sued like one would sue a drunk driver or Geico.  Despite its implications JASTA is politically very popular. For the relatives of 9/11 victims, the damage it caused is almost incalculable.

Without presidential veto, a suit could be filed, litigated, and won. A judgment redressing the wrongs of 9/11 would put the Saudis on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars, possibly trillions. The amount of money at stake here is enough, the Saudis said earlier this year (in May, after JATSA passed the Senate), to have them divest themselves of all assets held by their Kingdom, its sovereign wealth funds, and all Saudi debt and equity in America.

A strategically defensive (and pique) motivated selloff of Saudi holdings in the US starts with $750 billion of federal treasury bonds alone, without even looking at their huge real estate and corporate holdings here. It would be a double digit percentage fire sale of hundreds of the largest American companies. Such a divestment, particularly at speed, would be a financial disaster for world markets. And a disaster for the U.S. as a safe international investment. To turn a phrase, it’d be the 9-11 of our financial and real estate markets. That’s before anybody else’s money whose owners we decide to sue flee our markets.

The second hurdle is proof of Saudi guilt at the outset of such a fanciful trial. To date there’s no legal attribution of blame to any sovereign, so there’s a problem. But the Saudis are terribly unpopular and there is a general feeling that some of the 10,000+ royals were at least complicit in the growth of Al Qaida, at worst actually supportive of them.

JASTA hopes to reverse this precedent via the legislature so Saudi Arabia can be sued like one would sue a drunk driver or Geico.  It is important to understand the difference between who our tabloids selling newspapers blame, and actual legal proof.  Despite its implications JASTA is politically very popular. For the relatives of 9/11 victims, the damage it caused is almost incalculable.

Without presidential veto, a suit could be filed, litigated, and won. A judgment redressing the wrongs of 9/11 would put the Saudis on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars, possibly trillions. The amount of money at stake here is enough, the Saudis said earlier this year (in May, after JATSA passed the Senate), to have them divest themselves of all assets held by their Kingdom, its sovereign wealth funds, and all Saudi debt and equity in America.

A strategically defensive (and pique) motivated selloff of Saudi holdings in the US starts with $750 billion of federal treasury bonds alone, without even looking at their huge real estate and corporate holdings here. It would be a double digit percentage fire sale of hundreds of the largest American companies. Such a divestment, particularly at speed, would be a financial disaster for world markets. And a disaster for the U.S. as a safe international investment. To turn a phrase, it’d be the 9-11 of our financial and real estate markets. That’s before anybody else’s money whose owners we decide to sue flee our markets.

The second hurdle is proof of Saudi guilt at the outset of such a fanciful trial. To date there’s no legal attribution of blame to any sovereign, so there’s a problem. But the Saudis are terribly unpopular and there is a general feeling that some of the 10,000+ royals were at least complicit in the growth of Al Qaida, at worst actually supportive of them.

It is important to understand the difference between who our tabloids selling newspapers blame, and actual legal proof. Conspiracy theorists promised the redacted pages of the 9/11 report would be the smoking gun of official Saudi support of 9/11 – and they weren’t. They proved… well… nothing.

But for the US, the worst case scenario doesn’t involve Saudi Arabia at all. When one considers our occupations of Afghanistan and more so Iraq, precedents like JASTA are endgame final.

Because it is in Iraq, again, where the blow back really begins. There is a strong case to suggest that without UN authorization and the consent of most of the world, our invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law. The question has not been litigated here, but it is sliding down the proverbial slippery slope for Americans to go off suing foreign countries when our own nation’s conscience and hands are far from clean. Iraq, a country torn apart by our invasion, then raped by its result – ISIS, would have an impressive case against the United States and its allies. Could that case land in the familiar Southern District next? If we’re liable under tort law for Iraq (and the cause of ISIS?) – the assessed damages would be economy busting.

Allowing JASTA-suits against friends we don’t like plays very well in the American electorate. Battering one’s disliked allies by using our tort system as a geopolitical cudgel is dangerous at best, but when turned against us for our own behavior the results could be utterly unthinkable.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally published on September 15. Today, the Senate overwhelmingly overrode President Barack Obama’s veto of the 9/11 bill. So we’ve re-dated this post, given its relevance.



Originally Published: 28 September, 2016

Original Publisher:  The Moderate Voice [original post]


Photo credit: Lyndon LaRouche
http://cdn.thedailybeast.com/content/dailybeast/articles/2016/09/26/how-the-9-11-families-could-force-the-first-ever-override-of-an-obama-veto/jcr:content/image.img.2000.jpg/1474891513564.cached.jpg

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s