9/11 Families Outraged at Report that Two Republican Senators will seek Delay of Veto Override of Anti-Terror Sponsorship Bill

CONTACT: Terry Strada: (973) 945-7420; David White: (202) 607-0766

9/11 Families and Survivors irate at effort to delay enactment of Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, S.2040

Washington, D.C., Sept. 16, 2016  – Reports by Bloomberg and the New York Times that two leading Republican voices on national security – U.S. Senators Bob Corker (TN) and Lindsey Graham (SC) – are trying to delay a vote to override the president’s anticipated veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) have 9/11 families and survivors outraged.

JASTA would allow victims of terror attacks on U.S. soil to seek accountability against foreign states in U.S. courts, essentially the same way they could if the foreign state had caused injury in a car wreck.  After more than six years of consideration in Congress, and several holds on the bill earlier this year – in part to address inquiries to the ultimate satisfaction of Senators Corker and Graham – the Senate passed the bill unanimously in May and the House did so unanimously last week on Sept. 9, 2016.  But the president has vowed to veto the bill, premised publicly on two unfounded rationales.  The Democratic White House’s rationales, presumably along with reported heavy pressure from high-priced Saudi lobbyist, seem to have given the two Republican senators unnecessary pause.

The White House has said JASTA would cause U.S. diplomats and citizens to be at risk from reciprocal legislation or lawsuits overseas.  But JASTA does not – and cannot – have anything to do with suing diplomats.  That issue is controlled by a 55-year-old treaty – the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations – to which the U.S. and 190 other nations are signatories, including nearly every U.N. member state.  And JASTA has nothing to do with whether a private citizen can be sued for alleged wrongdoing; it deals with immunity of foreign states.  With or without JASTA, if a U.S. citizen causes wrongful injury in another country, local law can authorize suit against that U.S. citizen.

In statements from Senator Corker and Senator Graham, they have expressed similarly misplaced concerns that reciprocal legislation may put the U.S. at risk, for example, due to drone strikes against terrorist and other enemy targets.  But the narrow text of JASTA, like our legal history, specifically distinguishes between acts of war and acts of terrorism. Moreover, JASTA requires that the terrorist attack at issue to have been done by a terror organization formally designated under U.S. law.  Because the U.S. does not outsource our drone strikes to designated terrorist organizations, reciprocal legislation would not threaten us.  By equating what we do to protect ourselves from terrorism with what others do in support of terrorism, the senators misread the narrow text of JASTA and disparage U.S. policy.

The White House’s second rationale for opposing JASTA is because, it says, JASTA allows judges to designate foreign states as terror sponsors outside of the formal U.S. process for imposing U.S. sanctions.  But JASTA has nothing to do with designating nations as terror sponsors or imposing sanctions.  Like in any car wreck case where a foreign state bears responsibility, JASTA allows victims of terror attacks on U.S. soil to seek accountability in a U.S. court.  For forty years, U.S. sovereign immunity laws have allowed suits against sovereigns for death or injury, not just for car wrecks but also for terrorist attacks.  That is why, as recently as 2004, in a brief to the Supreme Court, the U.S. government expressed the view that U.S. sovereign immunity law authorizes suits in terrorism cases like 9/11.  Neither the preexisting law nor the government’s earlier position ever caused a flood of retaliatory legislation or litigation.

Because no rationale for vetoing JASTA withstands scrutiny, the bill should be enacted without any delay – including the delays suggested by Senators Corker and Graham.  The horrific events of the 9/11 attacks took place over fifteen years ago.  JASTA has been under Congressional scrutiny for nearly half of that time (it was first introduced in 2009 – with Senator Graham as a co-sponsor at each introduction). Both Senators Corker and Graham studied the bill earlier this year – delaying its Senate passage – and made changes to the bill’s text for many of the same concerns they are now raising.  If they had lingering concerns at that time, they never voiced them when the Senate unanimously passed the bill.  Not until the Saudi lobbyists came knocking.  But after years of consideration and careful scrutiny (including by both of these senators), both chambers of Congress fully vetted and unanimously agreed that JASTA is good policy.  Where Congress spoke so resoundingly in favor of JASTA, neither one president, two senators, nor an army of Saudi lobbyists should prevent it.

Fifteen years is already far too long to be asked to wait for accountability for the deaths and injuries suffered in the 9/11 attacks.  The delays attributed to Senators Corker and Graham, trying to push off consideration of a veto override for several months until after their election campaigns, asks far more than the families and survivors should ever be asked to accept.  The pledge of the Democratic president to veto JASTA was already more than enough insult.  But two Republican senators’ eleventh hour suggestion to delay a vote to ultimately enact JASTA is simply outrageous.

9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism consists of thousands of family members and survivors, seeking the truth, accountability and justice against all perpetrators of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack against our nation. PassJASTA.org