On September 28, the United States Congress voted for and approved a law that will allow families of the 9/11 attack victims to sue. In all, nearly 3,000 people were killed.
This was the second time that the bill was voted on by the US Congress. This most recent time, the vote overrode a veto by President Barack Obama, who said the bill would set a “dangerous precedent”.
What is the bill?
The new law will allow the families of those killed in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center to bring legal action against Saudi Arabia.
The bill is called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). It will allow the families to sue any member(s) of the Saudi Arabian government whom they suspect of playing a role in the attacks that killed their family members.
More generally, the bill authorizes civil lawsuits against a foreign state or official for injuries, death, or from an act of international terrorism. Basically, it is the ultimate example of a civil lawsuit, personal injury claim, and .
Fifteen of the nineteen terrorists who were responsible for hijacking the planes on 9/11 were Saudi Arabian citizens. Since all the attackers are dead, this bill allows American victims and their families to sue senior Saudi officials who they believe were in some way linked to the attack, and thus, responsible for their injuries, , , etc.
However, it should be noted that official inquiries have found no evidence that the Saudi Arabian government or any senior Saudi officials were involved.
Why is the bill controversial?
President Barack Obama has expressed concern that the new law will make America vulnerable to similar lawsuits from other countries. Usually, it is understood that sovereign nations do not allow their citizens to bring lawsuits against other countries since it mutually benefits both parties to be free from this sort of legal action. Now, with this new bill, the US could possibly be opened up to other countries suing them for similar reasons—that being the sponsorship of terrorism.
This might lead one to link, ‘the US doesn’t sponsor terrorism, therefore, we should be fine.’
Well, that may be true, at least in the minds of Americans, but there is little consensus internationally on what constitutes an .
This means that something like a drone strike against a suspected terrorist target in a foreign country could be considered, by those countries, to be an act of terrorism. This would then subject the US to significant liability in court, as well.
Terry Strada who supports and is the national chair for 9/11 Families United For Justice Against Terrorism, doesn’t think the bill could be used in this way. “If we’re not funding terrorist organizations and killing people, then we don’t have anything to worry about,” she said.
But President Obama is ‘worried’ about it. America being exposed to lawsuits abroad could present all kinds of issues that are, as of yet, unforeseen.
The President stated to CNN that the law sets a “dangerous precedent” and could lead to the US being vulnerable to “a situation where 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”.
How does this law affect America as a country?
In the United States, we are used to the idea that a private lawsuit can be brought against us, or that we can bring one against someone else who has caused us some harm. But this not necessarily something that a country, as a collective, wants to be able to happen to the State and its citizens. For one, it will take up valuable resources, as people will have to be assigned to investigate and dispute the charges. Further, it could bring negative publicity to the US from around the globe. And perhaps more broadly, it could seriously deteriorate important international allies who really do help to pinpoint and stop terrorists.
This is not to say it will definitely happen. Some people who support the bill say that it’s not possible, as the representative’s quote above does. But others, have their concern. Either way, the law has already gone through, so we will just have to wait to see what happens.
Can someone actually claim money from another country?
Besides all the concern about the law backfiring, would the families of 9/11 victims actually be able to collect monetary compensation from foreign nations for the damages they incurred?
Stephen Vladeck, professor of law at the University of Texas, doesn’t think so. He stated that even if a family’s lawsuit was to be successful, it would be little more than symbolic.
“The problem with JASTA is, it does not allow an American court to seize Saudi assets, or any foreign sovereign’s assets, for this kind of claim,” he says.
“So the best the plaintiffs can hope for is a piece of paper that says, yes the Saudi government was indirectly responsible because of funding, no you don’t get any damages.”
First Lawsuit Filed
Two days after Congress overrode President Obama’s veto and passed the law, Stephanie DeSimone filed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia claiming the kingdom is partially responsible for her husband’s death.
At the time of September attack in which her husband died at the Pentagon, she was two months pregnant.
“Absent the support provided by the Kingdom, al Qaeda would not have possessed the capacity to conceive, plan, and execute the September 11th attacks,” the lawsuit states. It goes on to allege that the plaintiffs—which include herself and her now born daughter—suffered “severe and permanent personal injuries.” The amount they are seeking in compensation has not been disclosed.
We will update this story when a judgement or the financial amount of compensation sought, become available.
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