Suing Saudi Arabia for 9/11: Another American obsession
Americans since the founding of the United States seem to be in a perennial state of narcissist obsession. Narcissism is all about excessive self-love, extreme interest in oneself, arrogance, selfishness, and a grandiose view of one's own talents, virtues, and righteousness. This collective disorder of self-glorification is not a new phenomenon for Americans. French historian/diplomat Alexis Tocqueville pointed out this in his travelogue in the 1820s. He wrote about Americans' insatiable love for praise: "They unnecessarily harass you to extort praise, and if you resist their entreaties, they fall to praise themselves", and they believed, "there is not its [America's] equal in the world". The recent enactment of the highly controversial "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA)" in the US Congress is yet another example of American self-glorification.
Despite American pundits' and President Obama's strong opposition to the JASTA bill, jointly introduced by Democratic and Republican lawmakers in mid-September, the Senate enacted as law with an overwhelming majority – 97 against one – on September 30th by overruling the Presidential veto. Although the Act empowers US courts to try any sovereign nation for injuries, death, or damages to Americans within and outside America, it's immediate objective is trying Saudi Arabian officials who allegedly orchestrated 9/11, by the family members of the victims of the terror attacks.
As one analyst believes, the US is supposed to lose most as the major sponsor of unauthorised wars and invasions in various countries, who could also try Americans in their courts for compensation for killing tens of thousands of people, and destroying countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. Although subjecting foreign nations to US courts is a breach in the sovereign immunity enjoyed by all sovereign nations as granted by international law, it seems America is playing the "American Exceptionalism" card in the most erratic and unpredictable manner.
To put it mildly, while apparently the objective of the act – giving the families of 9/11 victims their day in court – seems compassionate, it actually complicates the US-Saudi relationship, and further exposes US vulnerability, double standards, and duplicities; and above all, gross unpredictability, which Donald Trump extols as a super quality for himself and his country. Far from sending "a message that evil shall not prevail", as Senator John Cornyn (one of the main sponsors of JASTA) has epitomised the Act, it is rather going to prove, as Obama has predicted, "Enacting JASTA into law, however, would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks".
Erasing sovereign immunity to independent nations amounts to trashing the age-old tradition of respecting the sovereignty of the smallest and weakest nation on earth, and is tantamount to legitimising a super power's arm-twisting smaller nations to surrender their sovereignty to the former, because it not only has a mighty military machine but has also courts to try them for their actual or alleged involvements in injuring or killing its people, or damaging its properties, within and beyond its borders. The JASTA nullifies the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), enacted during President Ford's tenure in 1976. It's noteworthy; the concept of foreign sovereign immunity had been at work for many years prior to the enacting of the FSIA.
Obama has aptly said in his 1,300-word veto message that the legislation could harm US counterterrorism efforts by "taking such matters out of the hands of national security and foreign policy professionals and placing them in the hands of private litigants and courts." He has rightly assessed that the law would also likely further strain relations with Saudi Arabia, a critical Middle East partner with whom the US is already on rocky ground. Interestingly, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been over-enthused about the JASTA. They don't want to go against the overwhelming majority of Americans, whose political consciousness leaves much to be desired, favour the Act, and even a "regime-change operation" in Saudi Arabia.
While the US government and the 9/11 Commission do not hold Saudi leadership accountable for the attacks, many US analysts believe some senior Saudi leaders supported al Qaeda and those who took part in the 9/11 attacks, because 15 of the 19 hijackers, who were members of Al Qaeda, were Saudi nationals. Then again, nothing could be more preposterous than proposing trials of Saudi officials in US courts with at best inadequate, and at worst non-existing evidences, for their alleged role in the attacks.
We may agree with the New York Times that although Saudi Arabia is a difficult ally, at odds with the US over many issues; it's home of Wahhabism, which has inspired many of the extremists the US is trying to defeat, but "it is also a partner in combating terrorism"; and that "the legislation could damage this fraught relationship". Riyadh and its close allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council are warning that US legislation allowing the kingdom to be sued for the 9/11 attacks will have negative repercussions, including its curtailing official contacts, pulling billions of dollars from the US economy, and persuading to scale back counterterrorism cooperation, investments and US access to important regional air bases. The influential daily has urged the US Congress to repeal the Act "before it could do more damage". "The desire to assist the Sept. 11 families is understandable", the NYT has argued, but it also raises the question "at what cost?"
Although there's no reason to consider Saudi Arabia to be respectful of minorities, human rights, and women's rights, yet one can't justify the way US lawmakers enacted the JASTA, just for the sake of cheap popularity, and possibly some hefty financial compensation to the victims of 9/11 attacks by the Wahhabi regime. This Act is another attempt to whitewash the discredited Bush Jr. regime, which miserably failed to prevent 9/11, and instead attacked Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein with all the lame excuses and false allegations.
Nothing could be more consequential than defending inept US politicians on the eve of the Presidential and the midterm Senate elections with some hyper-patriotic piece of legislation. Both the major parties in the Congress – who represent the rich and powerful, or the proverbial "One Percent" in America – want to perpetuate their hegemony on the masses through lies, intimidations, deceptions, and distractions. Keeping Americans obsessed with terrorism – which is by no stretch of the imagination a major security threat to their country – is a clever ploy indeed.
Had Saudis been really somehow responsible for 9/11, the US Administration could have mobilised mass support for a regime-change operation in the Kingdom, instead of invading the wrong country to topple the wrong regime, Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In view of this controversial legislation, one may raise the questions: a) Why did the US Congress wait 15 years to punish Saudi Arabia for its "role" in the 9/11 attacks? b) Why instead of waging a retaliatory war against the Saudi regime (as a corollary to the "War on Terror"), the US Administration has decided to slap on its wrist with this silly piece of legislation, which is again a violation of international law?
The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email: [email protected]