THE BLOG
09/30/2016 02:47 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2017

Congressional Saudi Appeasers Hide Behind Faux Concerns About Americans' Liability

Some Members of Congress claimed to have "buyer's remorse" the day after they voted overwhelmingly to override the President's veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, otherwise known as the "Saudi 9/11 bill." The vote was 97-1 in the Senate, and 348-77 in the House, a 4-1 margin (a 2-1 margin was necessary to override.)

The preposterous claim now from the Saudi appeasers is that they didn't realize before voting that some people claimed that the law might have a negative impact on some Americans. Some people had claimed that if we weaken the sacred principle of sovereign immunity, other countries might do the same, and some Americans could face broad new liabilities in foreign courts. Some people had claimed that the veto override would lead to horrible retaliation by Saudi Arabia - by selling assets in the U.S., or by refusing to purchase U.S. weapons, for example.

Here are five reasons that these "buyer's remorse" claims are nonsense.

First, all the claims about possible harm from the bill were fully aired by the Administration and the Saudi lobby before the vote to override the veto. These people now claiming that they had no idea that there were claims that passage of the bill could eventually expose some Americans to increased legal liability overseas or that Saudi Arabia might retaliate should swear it under oath. Or maybe they should just resign their seats immediately, if they're too stupid to do their jobs or too lazy to come up with a more plausible lie.

Second, as was pointed out repeatedly during the Congressional debate on the veto override that these Saudi-appeasing Members of Congress apparently missed, there are already exceptions to sovereign immunity in U.S. law. One of these exceptions is for terrorism. The Saudi 9/11 bill did not create a new exception to sovereign immunity in U.S. law. It simply expanded the existing terrorism exception. The status quo was that you could only sue countries that were on the State Department's "state sponsors of terrorism" list. Now that the Saudi 9/11 bill is law, you can sue Saudi Arabia over terrorism even though Saudi Arabia isn't on the State Department's list. The Establishment is having a coronary because the 9/11 families broke the State Department's monopoly on who can be called a "state sponsor of terrorism," which monopoly was useful to the Establishment for other purposes. Cry me a river.

Third, anyone who honestly thinks that the dispute over the Saudi 9/11 bill has anything to do with the prospect of U.S. soldiers being hauled in front of Iraqi courts must have slept through the (ongoing) debate over the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, which hinges on the question of immunity for U.S. troops in Iraqi courts. Here is a recent example. For our purposes here, it doesn't matter who is right in the 2011 Iraq withdrawal dispute. What matters here is that both sides of 2011 Iraq withdrawal dispute - that is, both wings of the Establishment - are so unconcerned about the prospect that U.S. soldiers will be hauled in front of Iraqi courts that they are content to keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq right now on the basis of a diplomatic note, with no action to immunize those troops from liability by the Iraqi parliament. Any Member of Congress who has any doubt about this should be calling for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq unless their immunity from Iraqi courts is clarified. The fact that no-one is doing this shows how fraudulent the claim is that the dispute over the Saudi 9/11 bill has something to do with U.S. troops in Iraq today. When U.S. troops are stationed in another country with that country's permission, the question of legal immunity for the troops is governed by the agreement to station the troops there.

Fourth, there is the question of threatened Saudi retaliation. The Saudis' very expensive lobbying operation in Washington huffed and puffed and threatened that there was going to be big retaliation if Congress overrode the veto. Congress overrode the veto anyway. Where's the big retaliation?

One of the threats was that the Saudis would sell their assets in the U.S. Here's some cold water for that threat.

Another threat was that the Saudis would stop buying U.S. weapons. Here's some cold water for that threat.

Finally, there is the question: how does the "buyer's remorse" crowd propose to modify the bill? During a lame duck session of Congress after the election - when, they hope, Members of Congress won't be so afraid of public opinion - they propose to limit the bill to 9/11.

A key problem with that plan is that it has already been considered and rejected by the 9/11 families. And the reason is simple: it's not about the past, it's about the future. They're trying to ensure that the State Department can't hand out "get out of jail free" cards to purported U.S. "allies" like Saudi Arabia in the future. They hope that in the future, nobody else will have to experience what they've experienced, and that's why they don't want to limit the law to 9/11.

The 9/11 families didn't let the Saudi appeasers in Congress roll them before, when they needed two-thirds of both Houses to take their side to override the veto. Why would they let the Saudi appeasers in Congress roll them now, when they only need 41 Senators to protect the law?