Obama Veto of 9-11 Saudi Arabia Lawsuit Bill Leaves Remarkable Legal Inconsistencies

To protect “sovereign immunity,” Barrack Obama vetoed a bill that would permit victims of the September 11, 2001 terror crime to sue responsible governments, even though responsible individuals may face long jail sentences — and even though Obama supports breaking sovereign immunity to allow corporations to sue governments in private courts under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — and even though Iran was already sued for 9-11. The inconsistencies here are overwhelming.


The 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) blocked people from suing foreign governments in United States courts. The original act provided certain exceptions. From the FSIA law:

A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of the court of the United States … [where] money damages are sought against a foreign state for personal injury or death, damage to or loss of property, occurring in the United States and caused by the tortious act or omission of that foreign state …

In 2002, families of 9-11 victims sued for damages. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was a named defendant in the case.

After bouncing around from court to court and up and down from appeals, a decision finally arrived [PDF] last September. Applying the FSIA law and earlier cases, the court found that the acts by Saudi government “only involve giving money and aid to purported charities that supported al Qaeda.” No Saudi Arabian government employees actually committed the act in the United States. Case dismissed.


While it has been a punishable crime for people to provide “material support” to terrorists since 1996, the families of the victims merely want to allow civil liability against countries for doing the same.

In 2010, a 6-3 Supreme Court decision [PDF] held that First Amendment free speech ends where “advice” and “counsel” to terrorists begins — even where the counselor just wants to tell alleged terror groups to give up terrorism and try using international law for actual grievances. The decision by Chief Justice John Roberts reasoned that telling terror groups to give up terrorism would “lend” those groups “legitimacy.”

If helping alleged terrorists switch to using legal tactics is an exception to the basic free speech right of Americans such that permits sending people away for long prison sentences, then providing money to terrorist groups should be an exception to the basic sovereign immunity right of foreign governments such that permits holding them accountable for legal liability.


As a new bill to overturn the 9-11 court case was being considered in Congress, Saudi Arabia threatened to pull its investments out of the United States. Saudi Arabia has some $750 million in investments, an amount that would cause serious economic harm if it were suddenly pulled. Basically, Saudi Arabian investment is ‘too big to pull.’


Adding fuel to the fire, after years of leaks and speculation, 28 redacted pages from a 9-11 report were released, albeit with some redaction remaining. The information pointed to complicity in the terror attacks by top Saudi Arabia government officials.


The new bill passed. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) unanimously. The bill declares that those who provide “material support” to terrorism should “anticipate” answering in court:

Persons, entities, or countries that knowingly or recklessly contribute material support or resources, directly or indirectly, to persons or organizations that pose a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the security of nationals of the United States or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States, necessarily direct their conduct at the United States, and should reasonably anticipate being brought to court in the United States to answer for such activities.

To provide for this purpose, sovereign immunity is lifted in certain cases:

A foreign state shall not be immune from the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States in any case in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for physical injury to person or property or death occurring in the United States and caused by … an act of international terrorism in the United States … and a tortious act or acts of the foreign state, or of any official, employee, or agent of that foreign state while acting within the scope of his or her office, employment, or agency, regardless where the tortious act or acts of the foreign state occurred. (bold added)

As expected, Barrack Obama vetoed the bill. Obama reasoned:

Enacting JASTA … would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks. As drafted, JASTA would allow private litigation against foreign governments in U.S. courts based on allegations that such foreign governments’ actions abroad made them responsible for terrorism-related injuries on U.S. soil. This legislation would permit litigation against countries that have neither been designated by the executive branch as state sponsors of terrorism nor have taken direct actions in the United States to carry out an attack here.

In other words, the government will be the gatekeeper of terrorism. The government will pay the reimbursement costs to injured parties when it feels like. Courts are not good at sorting out facts and laws.


UPDATE: The veto override was successful.

A veto override requires two-thirds of each house of Congress. With both houses voting unanimously for the bill in the first place, it would seem to be ‘veto-proof.’ Overriding should just be a matter of voting again and finding the same votes.

If it does not happen that way, any congressperson who flip-flops must be held to explain. This should occur before the election. A delayed vote until after the election would not be a good sign.


Meanwhile, on the notorious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Barrack Obama remains supportive — even though this law will permit business ‘victims’ of regulation to sue governments for lost profits. And this agreement places the lawsuits in a private courtroom where business lawyers make the decisions.

If governments are immune from lawsuits in government courts where that government provides support to terrorists such that real current harms occur, then governments should be immune from lawsuits in private tribunals where that government passes laws to make sure air or water is clean or factories are not unnecessarily dangerous such that phantom future profits may be lost.

Finally, note that Iran is a government and Iran was held accountable in court. The inconsistencies are now complete.