Congress should not gut law providing 9/11 victims justice
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Just a few weeks ago, Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDems walk tightrope on Pompeo nomination Senate panel moving ahead with Mueller bill despite McConnell opposition Overnight Defense: Lawmakers worry over Syria strategy | Trump's base critical of strikes | Flake undecided on Pompeo | Coast Guard plans to keep allowing transgender members | GOP chair wants to cut B from Pentagon agencies MORE (R-S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainHeitkamp becomes first Dem to back Pompeo for secretary of State Senate committee sets Monday vote even as Pompeo appears to lack support Trump checkmates Democrats in sending Pompeo to North Korea MORE (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill to “fix” the law Congress recently passed over President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJudge rules against Trump administration in teen pregnancy prevention case Parkland student rips Obama for essay on shooting survivors Obama pens Time 100 entry for Parkland survivors MORE's veto, called the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA). The bill, which passed with overwhelming majorities of both houses of Congress earlier this year, allows the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 to file lawsuits against those involved in the attacks.  The clear intent of the McCain-Graham “fix” bill is to gut a law that will aid victims of 9/11 to get their day in court.

This is a law that had the strong support of presidential candidate, now president-elect, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds Pruitt spent K flying aides to Australia to prep for later-canceled visit: report Rosenstein told Trump he is not a target of Mueller probe: report MORE who posted a statement from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on his campaign website on Sept. 28, 2016 that “President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act was an insult to the families of those we lost on 9/11 and I congratulate the Congress for righting that terrible wrong.” 

Giuliani went on to argue that “These family members are wonderful people who have gone through the unimaginable. They deserve the opportunity to seek justice and gain closure on this painful chapter in their lives. Now they will finally have the chance to do it.”  Trump supported the law as is and any changes to the law would prevent victims from gaining justice.

Sens. John CornynJohn CornynSenate confirms Trump’s pick to lead NASA DOJ denies reports judicial nominee once called illegal immigrants 'maggots' Overnight Energy: Trump NASA pick advances after drama | White House office to investigate Pruitt's soundproof booth | 170 lawmakers call for Pruitt to resign MORE (R-Texas) and Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHouse Republicans push Mulvaney, Trump to rescind Gateway funds Congress should build on the momentum from spending bill Corker won’t campaign against Democrat running for Tennessee Senate seat MORE (D-N.Y.) sponsored the original version of JASTA and the Senate voted to override President Obama’s veto by a 97-1 vote.  Changing the bill with language that would delay victim’s day in court would essentially delay justice.  The so-called fix raises the bar on what the victims would have to prove and makes the law virtually unworkable.  On Dec. 9, 2016, Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGOP senators raise concerns about babies on Senate floor House passes series of bills to improve IRS Senators, staffers lament the end of 50 Most Beautiful MORE (R-Utah) gave a speech on the Senate floor joining Graham and McCain’s effort to change the law.

On Sept. 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 Americans were killed that day, and more than 6,000 other injured, when 19 Islamic extremist terrorist hijacked four commercial airliners, flying two them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and the fourth crashing in Pennsylvania. Of the 19 hijackers, 15 of them were citizens of Saudi Arabia. It is not a coincidence that Saudi Arabia is hiring a team of lobbyists to “fix” the JASTA bill.

Families of 9/11 victims have sought to bring lawsuits against Saudi Arabia, only to find the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) blocks such suits. This is why Congress passed JASTA, to not to overturn that act, but to simply allow a narrow exception to the law that allows the families to go forward with holding legally accountable, in civil court, those who were involved in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.  Congress agreed that this was an extraordinary circumstance that mandated a day in court for victims to find out the truth.

Opponents of JASTA argue incorrectly that extract settlements from foreign nations to protect against disclosures of otherwise secret diplomatic and national security communications, because foreign nations already participate in litigation in U.S. Courts due to existing exceptions to sovereign immunity under FSIA, including matters on national security. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital Ltd. held unanimously that “settled doctrines of privilege” and principles of international comity protect foreign states from inappropriate incursions into their governmental documents in U.S. litigation proceedings. JASTA doesn't change any of these rules.

The legislation by Graham,  McCain and Hatch would effectively repeal JASTA. Instead, their effort to gut the legislation is being sold as a minor “fix” the bill, because it has such overwhelming support from the American people and the Trump administration.

Graham claims the “fix” will only allow foreign governments to be held accountable “if they knowingly engage with a terrorist organization directly or indirectly, including financing” of terrorist activities. Terry Strada, national chairman of a group representing the 9/11 victims called the proposed change a stab in the back.  Strada argued that “[Graham] and Sen. McCain are seeking to torpedo JASTA by imposing changes demanded by Saudi Arabia's lobbyists. We have reviewed the language, and it is an absolute betrayal.” Saudi Arabia has reportedly hired prominent lobbying firms to aide in their fight for weakening or repeal of JASTA since it was passed over President Obama's veto.

It is not a coincidence that Sens. McCain, Graham and Hatch waited until after election day to announce the new bill, because they understand that this would have created a firestorm against Republican at the ballot box.  Justice for the families of 9/11 is long overdue and more important than offending the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  JASTA is a reasonable and measured effort to bring about that justice. McCain and Graham need to leave JASTA as is and work to support, not oppose, the America first effort by Cornyn and Schumer to give some measure of solace, and a day in court, for 9/11 victims.

Dean Chambers is an independent journalist and blogger whose articles have been featured on The Drudge Report and The Rush Limbaugh Program, as well as parodied by Stephen Colbert, Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.