This Op-Ed by Congressman Dan Donovan originally appeared in the New York Post.
Foreign threats should never dictate American policy, but that’s unfortunately what will happen if President Obama vetoes the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, as he’s threatening to do.
The JASTA bill allows American victims of terror attacks on US soil to sue anybody responsible for the attack, even if it’s a foreign government. That a foreign government can hide behind sovereign immunity after slaughtering Americans in our own country is an outrage, so it’s no wonder the bill passed Congress unanimously. Is killing this bill the legacy Obama wants to leave behind?
Fifteen years ago, America lost wives, daughters, sons and friends in a heinous and despicable act of mass murder. That morning, I was right across New York Harbor at Staten Island Borough Hall. We didn’t only see and hear the attacks — we smelled them.
Time has passed, but the pain felt by the families who lost loved ones remains. They want to have their day in court to seek justice against those who may have been complicit in the attack. They expect their own government to have their backs. Are they wrong?
Terror victims can already sue individuals for complicity. A foreign government shouldn’t be immune from justice for blatant mass murder.
The Saudis have mobilized an intensive lobbying effort to withhold from 9/11 victims their chance to sue.
They’ve gone so far as to threaten economic retaliation by selling off hundreds of billions of dollars in Treasury securities and other financial assets, which would destabilize the American dollar. Such threats shouldn’t sway American decision-making, especially at the expense of 9/11 victims.
The Obama administration, though, seems to have caved to Saudi saber-rattling. The president is rationalizing his veto threat by saying JASTA would open up our government to frivolous lawsuits from other countries. But that argument is misleading.
The bill has a very limited scope: It only applies to foreign governments that support terror attacks on US soil. Thus, even if foreign governments created similar retaliatory laws, they wouldn’t affect the United States because we don’t support terror attacks against innocent civilians. The president’s concern, then, must center on other countries enacting broader repeals of America’s sovereign immunity — provocative actions that foreign nations can take regardless of whether the president vetoes JASTA.
Such a response would be disproportionate and escalatory. Startlingly, by using the retaliation argument as his defense, Obama has given cover to our adversaries to use JASTA as an excuse to weaken America’s sovereign immunity by exaggerating the bill’s threat to those countries and spooking them into taking action to stop a phantom threat.
Obama should stop demagoging the bill, because by any reasonable analysis, JASTA shouldn’t expose the United States to retaliatory lawsuits; instead, it will allow American victims of terror attacks to seek well-deserved justice from all responsible parties.
In the end, JASTA is about 9/11 victims who have waited more than 15 years to have their day in court. It’s about my friend, Lori Mascali, whose husband Joseph (FDNY Rescue 5) died that day saving lives.
She wrote to me last week about her grief and why JASTA is important to her: “The simple sound of a key in the door and a smile larger than life were a constant in our ordinary lives . . . No longer do I hear the sound of the key in the door on a Sunday morning . . . JASTA must be passed. Sovereign immunity should not be allowed as a shield of protection for persons or nations that fund terrorists and cause mass murder.”
It’s about sending a message to countries that support terrorism — American victims will hold them accountable.
It’s for Christine Bini, whose husband Carl (FDNY Rescue 5) died in service to his city. Christine asked me to “pass JASTA so that my husband’s life and the 2,976 precious lives that were obliterated on Sept. 11, 2001, can receive their due justice.”
President Obama needs to put 9/11 families first by signing this law. If he doesn’t, I’ll join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Congress in pushing to override his veto. I refuse to let foreign threats stand in the way of justice for American victims of terror.
Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.