Defense chief: 9/11 bill could have 'devastating' impact on US troops

Defense chief: 9/11 bill could have 'devastating' impact on US troops
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Defense Secretary Ash Carter on Tuesday warned that a bill that would allow Americans to sue foreign nations for supporting terrorist attacks could have "devastating" consequences for U.S. troops overseas.

"Its potential second- and third-order consequences could be devastating to the Department and its Service members and could undermine our important counterterrorism efforts abroad," Carter warned in a letter addressed to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). 

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The Senate is poised on Wednesday to override the president's veto of the bill, which passed both houses of Congress unanimously.

The bill, dubbed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), would allow U.S. citizens to sue foreign nations in federal courts for acts abroad alleged to to have contributed to terrorism in the U.S. The bill is being pushed by families of 9/11 victims who are seeking to sue Saudi Arabia.

The Obama administration, and now some members of Congress, argue the measure could create serious legal problems for U.S. troops. 

Carter noted that existing law allows U.S. citizens to sue nations that are deemed state sponsors of terrorism. JASTA, however, would extend that to states that aren't designated sponsors of terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia. Carter said the expansion of the law would subject "many of the United States' allies and partner nations to litigation in U.S. courts." 

The measure could also lead other countries to create exceptions to immunity for U.S. officials and troops that do not "directly mirror those created by JASTA." 

"This is likely to increase our country's vulnerability to lawsuits overseas and to encourage foreign governments or their courts to exercise jurisdiction over the United States or U.S. officials in situations in which we believe the United States is entitled of sovereign immunity," Carter said. 

U.S. troops stationed in the U.S. and overseas would be vulnerable to private individuals' accusations that their activities contributed to acts alleged to violate a foreign state's laws, he said. 

The mere allegations of violations could subject U.S. troops to a foreign court's jurisdictions and a lengthy litigation process. 

There would also be attempts by foreign nations to use U.S. government property in nations to satisfy awards, Carter argued. 

Also, foreign nationals could try to seek sensitive and classified documents in trying to establish a case against U.S. officials, which could be up to foreign courts to decide, he said. 

U.S. citizens could be held in contempt of court if they refuse to appear or to divulge classified or other sensitive information at the direction of a foreign court, Carter said. 

Carter argued that allowing partners and allies to be subject to lawsuits inside the U.S. would "inevitably undermine the trust and cooperation our forces need to accomplish their important missions."

Saudi Arabia has denied any involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Critics point to Saudi financial support for Wahhabism, a strain of Sunni Islamism thought to be associated with al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other extremist groups. 

 

Carter Jasta 26 Sep 2016 OSD012182-16 by Kristina Wong on Scribd