By Sarah Fauska
By Sarah Fauska
Rabat – The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) was officially passed on September 28, 2016, in the United States.
As an amendment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, this will allow US nationals to sue foreign states for their alleged role in terrorist attacks carried out on US soil on or after September 11, 2001.
The main reason for the bill was to allow families of the victims from the September 11th attacks to sue the Saudi Arabian government for their alleged involvement. Prior to this amendment, only states deemed sponsors of terrorism by the US State Department were eligible to be sued.
In 2002, after a joint investigation, both the CIA and FBI ultimately concluded that the Saudi royal family and government were uninvolved in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Eventually, President Obama’s administration declassified this investigation into what is known as “28 pages”. The report revealed a link between Abu Zubaydah, alleged recruiter for al-Qaeda and member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, and Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Ambassador to the United States.
According to the report, the connection was found in Zubaydah’s phone book, which contained two numbers tied to the US. One number was for a bodyguard who worked at the Saudi Embassy in D.C, and the other was for a company that managed Bandar’s estate in Aspen, Colorado.
President Obama released the report to show his administration “is committed to transparency even when it comes to sensitive information related to national security,” stated White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. He added that, “this information does not change the assessment of the US government that there’s no evidence that the Saudi government or senior Saudi individuals funded al-Qaida”.
Many politicians and Americans were still unconvinced of Saudi’s noninvolvement in the attacks, thus prompting the JASTA bill. Originally introduced on December 9, 2009, the bill was reintroduced on September 16, 2015.
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, were the main sponsors for the bill. JASTA passed the Senate on May 17, 2016, and then moved onto the House of Representatives. In the House, the lead sponsors were Representative Peter King, Republican of New York, and Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York. On September 12, 2016, the House passed the bill.
The greatest opposition of the bill came from President Obama and his administration. Obama vetoed the bill on September 23, 2016, claiming JASTA would end the long-standing tradition of foreign sovereign immunity and leave the US vulnerable to similar legislation passed by other foreign governments.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated, “the president understands the passion that’s on both sides of this issue,” yet, “it’s the president’s responsibility to consider the broader impact that this bill, as it’s currently written, would have on our national security, and our standing around the world, and on our diplomats and our service members who represent the United States around the world.” US Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of the CIA also voiced similar concerns and opposition of JASTA.
In a rare demonstration of bipartisan unity, both the Senate and House overwhelmingly overrode Obama’s veto. This was his first and only veto during his time as president. The Senate voted 97-1 with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid as the lone no vote and Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Tim Kaine abstaining. Following suit, the House voted 348-77, officially making JASTA law.
The passage of JASTA has already raised tensions with Saudi Arabia who has been an ally of the US since 1933. Saudi’s foreign ministry released a statement condemning JASTA and expressed hope that the US would correct the legislation, “to avoid the serious unintended consequences that may ensue.”
With its large oil reserves and its close proximity to the Middle East and Straight of Hormuz, Saudi Arabia has been an extremely valuable asset to the US, economically and politically. JASTA has created a new era in international relations that could affect the future of individual citizens’ rights and foreign states’ power.