Today, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), senior member of the House Judiciary Committee and lead Democratic sponsor of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), delivered the following remarks on the House Floor in support of overriding the President’s veto on the legislation:
“Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of overriding the President's veto of JASTA. JASTA is a carefully crafted and narrow bill that would hold accountable foreign governments that knowingly provide substantial assistance to a designated foreign terrorist organization that launches an attack in the United States.
“Despite the overblown rhetoric of some critics of this bill, JASTA will not pose a threat to American military personnel or diplomats. They would be absolutely protected if another country passed legislation mirroring this bill because JASTA applies only to governments. To the extent that a foreign government might pass broader legislation that would make American personnel subject to liability, that country would not be reciprocating. It would be engaging in a transparent and unjustifiable act of aggression. The economic, diplomatic, and military strength of the United States makes such action unlikely, and any rogue state inclined to target U.S. interests can already do so. We must not hold justice for the 9/11 families hostage to imagined fears.
“Mr. Speaker, fifteen years ago, on September 11th, we suffered the most deadly terrorist attack on our soil in this nation's history. My district, in New York, was the epicenter of this attack, but its effects were felt across the country, including, of course, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. We all have an interest in ensuring that the 9/11 victims, and their families, can bring to justice anyone who was responsible for this vicious attack.
“JASTA simply reinstates what was understood to be the law for 30 years -- that foreign states, not individuals, not soldiers, foreign states -- may be brought to justice for aiding and abetting acts of international terrorism that occur on American soil, whether or not the conduct that facilitated the attack occurred in the United States. Some courts have recently held that if a foreign government agent hands over a million-dollar check to Al Qaeda in a café in New York to fund a terrorist attack in the United States, that government can be sued in an American court. But if that same foreign agent funds the same attack by handing over the same million-dollar check in a café in Geneva, the government is immune from suit.
“That makes no sense, and it flies in the face of what had been settled law for many years. Longstanding U.S. law, under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, provides jurisdiction to sue foreign states that cause a tortious injury on American soil. This is the international norm, and it has never prompted retaliatory conduct by other nations. This bill simply clarifies that if a foreign state murders thousands of Americans on American soil, or provides substantial assistance to a designated terrorist group that murders thousands of Americans on American soil, that government cannot hide from justice merely because its actions occurred abroad.
“This bill does not target any particular country or pre-judge the merits of any particular case. Any government brought before a U.S. court will have every defense available to it, as well as extensive protections and governmental privileges during discovery to protect against disclosure of their sensitive information. What it will not be able to do is hide behind erroneous court decisions and jurisdictional loopholes to avoid the legal process altogether.
“We have heard a parade of horribles stemming from a hypothetical fear that other nations would use JASTA as an excuse to target American citizens. Again, if a foreign government passes legislation that mirrors JASTA, American citizens would still be absolutely protected because JASTA applies only to governments. And a foreign government is highly unlikely to pass legislation that goes beyond JASTA. The United States has tremendous economic, diplomatic, and military tools at its disposal to head off such action. Virtually any foreign government would have far more to lose than to gain if it were to target the United States without justification.
“And if a rogue state does, in fact, authorize suits against American personnel abroad, we have a well-established process for defending such actions. According to the Office of Foreign Litigation at the Department of Justice, "at any given time, foreign lawyers under [that office's] direct supervision, represent the United States in approximately 1,000 lawsuits pending in the courts of over 100 countries." This is not a new issue for the United States, and we are well equipped to deal with any consequences.
“We are told that Saudi Arabia will be very angry if we approve this bill, that the Saudis will retaliate against the U.S., that it will, perhaps, withdraw some investments. But history shows that the Saudis will do what is in their interests. The need American support and American arms in a volatile Middle East, where they fear—and fight—Iran and its proxies. They are not going to prefer their emotions to their interests, and act against the U.S. If the Saudi government was not complicit in the attack on 9/11, the plaintiffs will fail to prove such complicity in an American court, justice will have been served, and the Saudis will be vindicated after years of suspicion. But if it is proven in an American court that the Saudi government was complicit in the attack on 9/11, justice will have been done, and we, not the Saudis, will have justification to be very angry.
“Mr. Speaker, this bill was carefully negotiated over more than six years. It passed the House and Senate unanimously, and earlier today, the Senate voted 97-1 to override the President's veto. All that stands in the way of justice for the 9/11 victims, and their families, is a vote in this House. I urge my colleagues to stand with them, and to override the President’s veto.
“Thank you, and I yield back the balance of my time.”