Why Congress Might "Fix" the 9/11 Justice Bill It Just Passed
The Daily Show's nuanced take on the 9/11 Justice bill that Obama vetoed and Congress passed anyway, overriding his veto. Why might Congress reverse that veto-override? Give it a listen.
by Gaius Publius
"Why would [28 senators] vote to override the thing and then go back against it? Because it's not about what they feel. It's about what they want people to think they feel."
We wrote here about the 9//11 Justice Bill (officially, JASTA, or the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act) and Obama's veto of it, which Congress overrode. We also offered some reasons Obama and some Democrats may have been against it, among them the army of well-funded, Saudi-paid lobbyists operating in the U.S. to "discourage" its support. (Obama himself is a man with legacy needs, and down the road, his kind of legacy will also need financing.)
But a second reason for Obama's opposition is this — in essence, one person's "drone strike on an Afghan 'rebel' village" is another person's "state-sponsored terrorism." Put more simply, it's the tit-for-tat problem: "If you can sue me for terrorism, then I can sue you."
Or, put even more simply, revenge. And as Trevor Noah indicated in the video above, the U.S. has much to regret, or at least to protect against, when it comes to stimulating revenge.
So lawmakers are starting to walk back their two votes — one to pass the bill, one to override the veto — and starting to say words like "national security" and "protect the troops" ("troops" being code for anyone in any position who orders or helps implement what foreign victims may see as our own "state-sponsored terrorism").
Joseph K. Grieboski, writing in The Hill, discusses this. The headline:
9/11 bill is a global blunder that will weaken US efforts abroadBefore I continue with the article, notice the phrasing above, then ask yourself: "US efforts" to do what? More drone strikes perhaps? A bombing or two? Needless to say, you should be immediately alert that this piece is sympathetic to Obama's position.
The writer continues:
On Thursday [September 29], the U.S. Congress went over the head of President Obama for the first time, passing the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a piece of legislation effectively removing the principle of sovereign immunity to allow the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to directly and privately sue the Saudi government for complicity with terrorists.That middle paragraph is pure pro-Saudi argumentum. I left it in specifically you let you see it for what it is. If this bill gets "fixed" — i.e., neutered — that reasoning ("We can't sue the Saudis anyway; there's no proof") will be a constant part of the justification.
While most of the hijackers were Saudi nationals, it is critically important that the across-the-aisle 9/11 commission found no evidence that the Saudi government or senior officials funded the attacks, or had any prior knowledge of it. Instead, the commission report lays much of the blame on a failure of U.S. intelligence and border security, citing the fact that al Qaeda gave plenty of notice of their intent to slaughter American civilians, but domestic defense forces devoted little attention or resources toward addressing the threat.
With the passage of the bill, the United States has provided the opportunity for grieving citizens to launch a legal battle against a false enemy, justifiably angering a nation that is not only a huge supplier of oil for the U.S, but has also served as a key ally in the war on terror.
Now the next justification for walking back the bill, and the one I mentioned above (revenge):
Following the 15th anniversary of the attacks, JASTA was clearly directed at [sic] families of 9/11 victims. However, this bill has far-reaching consequences, opening the United States up to retaliatory legislation by foreign nations."Directed at" 9/11 families exposes the posturing nature of support (as in, they're striking a pose) for this bill by legislators. The writer could have used the phrase "written to support" the 9/11 families, but I appreciate the his honesty in this case. Notice also that this "principle of sovereign immunity" isn't international law, but a kind of gentlemen's agreement, a "notion of reciprocity." There's nothing holding this international principle in place, nothing upgirding it, but fear of consequences. Good to know.
The principle of sovereign immunity, protecting a government from civil or criminal suit, has been maintained for so long by a notion of reciprocity — the United States protects itself from suit by in turn protecting other nations. The bill has taken a significant step towards erosion of this global status quo. If the U.S. will not protect the immunity of other nations, especially an ally such as Saudi Arabia, than there is no mechanism in place to prevent retaliatory measures.
About those objections more specifically. First, the writer notes Obama, speaking in a town hall shortly after the veto override, saying this: "Obama cited a number of concerns with the overriding of his veto. His primary fear seems to be an infringement on the ability of the United States to continue to carry out global disaster relief. ... The president fears that, should other nations pass similar legislation, the U.S. could be forced to curb its humanitarian aid work out of legal necessity."
Of course we'll be sued for disaster relief. That's what everyone does to governments that help them pick themselves from the rubble of earthquake. Yes, that's sarcasm, and yes, that reasoning is the most phony of phony logic. Likely, though, you'll hear it much repeated when this bill is reconsidered.
Paul Ryan, whose Republican House overwhelmingly supported the bill (only 18 Republicans voted No), is having second thoughts as well:
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the House would take up a bill to fix problems with JASTA after it comes back from its election recess, admitting Obama's concerns that the bill could subject U.S. service members to lawsuits in foreign courts was legitimate.There's the "support the troops" argument. Another you'll hear much repeated.
And as Trevor Noah noted in the video above, Mitch McConnell is also have voter's remorse.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to blaming Obama for Senate Republicans' misunderstanding or misreading of the law. "Nobody really had focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships. And I think it was just a ball dropped," he stated.When it comes to protecting the national security state, it seems almost no one wants to get in the way. That includes our major media.
Big Media Wants the Bill "Fixed" (Neutered) as Well
Major press outlets are also overwhelmingly for a "fix." From an overview of press coverage by Fair.org:
...Notice that the possibility of other countries suing the US for war crimes its government commits is automatically assumed to be undesirable. The Washington Post puts “terrorism” in irony quotes because, of course, the US could never actually commit terrorism; claims to this effect could only be invoked “when convenient” by greedy non-Americans.The many euphemisms used by the press simply say what I wrote more plainly above — "drone operations," for example, from the Times, means "drone strikes" and "drone kills," but without the hint of blood and death.
The New York Times uses its trademark euphemisms to describe how the US is “engaged in the world” with “drone operations.” A nice way of saying the US uses drones to bomb people in a half-dozen countries with—so far—legal impunity. Changing this state of affairs is simply glossed over as a nonstarter.
USA Today frames any attempt at legal recourse over American terrorism overseas as “retaliation”—presumably for some righteous kill executed by the United States in the service of freedom.
The New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today are saying that exposing American military and intelligence personnel to foreign liability is per se bad—a nativism so casual and matter-of-fact one might hardly notice it until circumstances force them to explicitly state it. No account is taken of the 7 billion non-Americans or their rights. No explanation is given as to why victims of US terror–of which there are many–shouldn’t register in our moral calculus. They just don’t.
Yet Obama and Congress Would Let Foreign Companies Sue the U.S. Under NAFTA and TPP
Adam Johnson, the author of the Fair.org piece, notes the irony of U.S. political elites eagerness to (a) protect our government's right to kill with no exposure to lawsuit, while (b), via instruments like NAFTA and TPP, give foreign companies the right to sue the U.S. over any number of "lost profit" claims. He writes:
The irony is that none of these publications were overly concerned with exposing the US to foreign lawsuits when they offered support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a corporate trade deal that includes a provision for Investor-State Dispute Settlement—meaning it permits corporations to sue governments, including the US, in the event that a regulation undermines corporate profits. So increased exposure to liability to the US government when it gives more power to corporations is permissible, even desirable, but when it might provide recourse for victims of US war crimes? Not so much.Let's put that even more succinctly. According to U.S. rulers and their agents: Prevent foreign victims from suing the U.S. for lost life, but allow foreign companies to sue the U.S. for lost money. Shows where their hearts are at, I think. It's clearly with the money, which keeps their system running, and not the victims of it.
Bottom line: After the election, most likely in the lame duck session, the 9/11 families will be sold out by Congress men and women who won't have to face another election for at least two years. Unless those families continue the fight, which I expect. It will be a long slog though. The nearness of this election, I suspect, was part of why the bill got to the floor this time.
Some battles, especially against holder of great wealthy and their enablers, seem never to end. I think, no matter who wins the presidency, that war will further ignite, but that's a thought for another day.
Let's end on a cheerier note. Did I hear Roy Wood Jr. mention "Aruba... Jamaica..." in the clip above? Here you go:
The Beach Boys, set to shots of Barbara Eden in Eden
No victim lawsuits in those smiles.