If US victims of terror can sue Saudi Arabia, can victims of American terrorism sue the US?
Congress voted overwhelmingly last week to override the first presidential veto since President Obama took office. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) permits families of those killed in the 11 September attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.
Does Congress really care about the families of the 9/11 victims or is it simply engaging in its usual heartless antics and politicising the deaths of thousands of Americans?
I am pleasantly surprised to see Congress united for once; I still recall the government literally shutting down in 2013 because they couldn’t agree on a budget. With that being said, caution needs to be practiced before congratulating individuals who constantly have “calculations going on just beneath the surface of the cornea”.
Let's initially review the facts. The JASTA bill is built on hearsay and conspiracy. There is yet to be any evidence connecting the government of Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 attacks. The 9/11 commission, established to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the attacks, concluded in its 585-page report that no evidence had been found linking the Saudi government or senior Saudi officials to al-Qaeda.
Even the hyped up and hugely speculated classified 28 pages failed to outline any such connection when finally released. The FBI itself does not consider the Saudi government complicit in the horrific attacks.
The passage of JASTA is a telling illustration of American exceptionalism. It’s wonderful that families of the victims of terrorist attacks will have the ability to sue those responsible for them.
But if that’s the case then why can’t the families of victims of American terror around the world sue the American government? The families of thousands of victims in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia all targeted by US drone strikes. In Pakistan alone, there were more than 3,000 victims, of which only 2 percent have been high-profile targets. The rest were civilians and children.
There isn’t a better demonstration of what terror looks like than when young Pakistani and Afghan children say they fear blue skies because that is when the drones have visibility to strike. Will they get their day in court?
What about the combination of over 1 million Iraqi, Pakistani and Afghan civilians killed as a result of the US “war on terror”? It’s estimated that for every US strike, 17 civilians were killed in Iraq.
Pakistan has experienced consistent drone strikes since shortly after 9/11, which have rapidly increased under President Obama with his infamous kill list.
Last year, the US military targeted a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, violating international humanitarian law and killing at least 42, including 24 patients and 14 staff. The US military exonerated itself. Just days ago, a US strike killed at least 15 Afghan civilians and wounded 13 as the group gathered to welcome elders from Hajj. Will these victims get to sue the US government?
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a sponsor of JASTA, said it was “unfair and painful” for families to suffer silently as countries “who aid the evil terrorism walk away scot-free”.
I could not agree more Senator Schumer, and I’m sure the millions of families around the world directly impacted by American terror agree as well.
Does Congress care?
Does Congress actually care about the families of the victims of 9/11?
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the other co-sponsor of JASTA, is plenty vocal about the need to bring justice to American families. Another policy he’s vocal about: providing billions in weapons to none other than the alleged culprit of 9/11 - Saudi Arabia.
Congress has sold over $100bn in weapons to a supposed state-sponsor of terrorism, which it believes to have taken part in the 9/11 attacks
Last month, the Senate debated on a bill brought forth by Democratic senators Chris Murphy (CT) and Al Franken (MN), along with Republican Senators Mike Lee (UT) and Rand Paul (KY), seeking to block the $1.15bn arms sale to the kingdom. The Senate rejected the bid to halt the sale.
The bill cited Saudi’s widespread human rights violations including those in Yemen, such as bombing hospitals, markets and schools, resulting in more than 10,000 deaths. Human rights organisations have found the attacks in Yemen may amount to war crimes. Additionally, Saudi Arabia, with the support of the US, has instituted a naval blockade on Yemen, pushing the country to the brink of famine.
Now, in the year 2016, over 300,000 Yemeni children are dying of starvation. Will these children be able to sue Saudi Arabia and the US government for the future that has been decisively taken from them?
Selling arms to a 'terrorist' state
For Cornyn, the Senate Republican whip, arms sales to Saudi are a must because the country has found itself in a “bad neighbourhood”. The Texas senator defended his staunch opposition to block the arms sales by stating that Saudi Arabia was the closest US ally in the region.
Is the US not funding and sponsoring terrorism against its own people?
Late last month, Cornyn and the majority of the Senate voted to arm Saudi Arabia, an alleged state-sponsor of terror, and last week they voted for the right to sue it for 9/11.
So let me get this straight: the US Congress has sold over $100bn in weapons, and continues to sell them to a supposed state-sponsor of terrorism, which it believes to have taken part in the 9/11 attacks. By this logic, is the US not funding and sponsoring terrorism against its own people?
Another not-so-secret revelation that appears to have escaped the American consciousness is that it took Congress five years to pass a Bill to provide healthcare to 9/11 first responders. Yes, five years for those individuals who risked their lives to save others on that tragic day, of whom hundreds have died from 9/11-related illnesses. Both the House and Senate initially voted against the Zadroga Act.
First responders waged a hard-fought battle as they took 128 trips to Capitol Hill all the while suffering from various health ailments, including cancer and amputations, in an effort to lobby Congress to do the right thing. The bill was up for reinstatement in 2010 and was again blocked.
Senator Cornyn, who is so adamant about putting the victims of 9/11 first, twice voted against the act to provide healthcare to those who ran towards the collapsing towers. The second time around, then host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart tirelessly advocated with the first responders in an effort to get the bill reinstated.
Stewart’s words resonate greatly following his advocacy efforts on the Hill, describing Congress members as “mini election computers. And everything that they do, all the input that is going in, is calculating something’s effect".
So does Congress really care about the families of the victims of 9/11 or is it simply engaging in its usual heartless antics and politicising the deaths of thousands of Americans?
- Mobashra Tazamal is a human rights activist, researcher on Islamophobia, and has an MA from SOAS, University of London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Nabila Rehman, 9, who was injured by a US drone strike in Pakistan, holds a hand drawn picture of the strike during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on 29 October 2013. Rehman was picking okra in her family garden last year when missiles from a drone rained down from the sky, killing her grandmother and injuring her and seven other children (AFP)
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.