The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) is a law enacted to enable citizens to litigate against foreign governments accused of being involved with terrorist organizations. The Washington Post suggests that one targetted nation, Saudi Arabia, may have deceived U.S. veterans in an attempt to dismiss JASTA lawsuit cases and prevent survivors and their families from making their case.
While the whole country remembers the events of September 11th on its solemn anniversary, survivors carry the events year-round in the form of diseases and disabilities that took hold as the towers fell. For these men and women, the ability to file suit against those responsible is vital.
What is JASTA?
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is a bill passed in September of 2016. It was adopted by congressional override after President Obama vetoed the bill and remains a controversial piece of the legislature.
The bill was created to quote “provide civil litigants with the broadest possible basis, consistent with the Constitution of the United States, to seek relief against persons, entities, and foreign countries, wherever acting and wherever they may be found, that have provided material support, directly or indirectly, to foreign organizations or persons that engage in terrorist activities against the United States,”According to congressional archives.
The Bill states that, through a JASTA lawsuit, individuals who have been harmed by terrorist attacks on American soil may press charges against the nation that trained, supplied, or aided the organization responsible. The JASTA lawsuit bill also contains a clause that waives a nation’s sovereign immunity, allowing them to be tried in a domestic U.S. court.
This bill is part of a series of laws, including the 9/11 Zadroga Reauthorization Act, that seeks to help those affected by the events of 9/11. A JASTA lawsuit, in particular, is intended to gain payment for damage to businesses or recover for fallen family members as a result of the events of 9/11. The fact that a JASTA lawsuit seeks monetary damages may be one reason that Saudi Arabia may have felt the need to pursue unconventional means of lobbying.
Why is Saudi Arabia so Opposed?
In 2016, when Congress overrode former-president Obama’s veto, The Washington Post wrote that relations with the Saudi Arabian government could see a decline. The common consensus among political experts consulted by the Post determined that Saudi Arabia was the “target” of the JASTA lawsuits since 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has also been accused of funding the attacks on 9/11 in a March lawsuit last year, YourLawyer reported.
Less than a year later, CNN reported that Saudi Arabia filed for the dismissal of JASTA lawsuit cases representing over 850 families affected by the events of 9/11. The families cited a 2002 report in which it was speculated that some of the hijackers of 9/11 had been in contact with members of the Saudi Arabian government.
This information, however, has been found to have little to no basis beyond vague speculation by the CIA and FBI. Saudi Arabia maintained that the claims were baseless, but they still spent over $25,000 to contract lobbyists such as Flywheel Government Solutions and public relations shop, Qorvis MSLGroup, to strategize lobbying. Unfortunately for Saudi Arabia, the bill remained in effect after the lame-duck session of Congress and faded out of public memory. Until a recent controversy broke on December 5th.
How Saudi Arabia’s Actions Impacted Veterans
On December 5th The Washington Post published an article detailing an alleged conspiracy two years in the making. Saudi Arabia, acting through their lobbying firm Qorvis, subcontracted N.M.L.B., a Veterans Advocacy group headed by Jason B. Johns. In 5 trips to the capital, the Saudi-bankrolled lobbying commission purchased over 500 rooms in Donald Trump’s Washington D.C. Trump Hotel. Total expenses numbered over $270,000 and included two banquet dinners in the Trump Hotel. This lobbying was again for the overturn of JASTA, which was misrepresented to the veterans as making life more dangerous for soldiers deployed overseas.
Despite admitting to no wrongdoing and claiming that veterans were fully informed, conflicting stories about how information was distributed and who was in charge of the misinformation has cast severe doubts according to investigators. Additionally, many representatives of Johns’s trips blamed veterans for not asking outright if Saudi Arabia funded the trip.
One veteran, in particular, described his experience to the Post saying “‘One of the guys had a little too much to drink, . . . He kind of raises up his hands and he says, ‘Thank you, Saudi prince!’’” After that trip, Navy veteran Gary Ard stopped going on the trips. He feels “guilty” for gathering political intelligence for a foreign power.
The hotels themselves were also left in the dark as to the identity of their benefactor. These kinds of tactics to overturn JASTA shows the lengths that Saudi Arabia may be willing to go to in order to avoid a JASTA lawsuit from the survivors of 9/11.
JASTA Lawsuit Progress Expected to Continue
Despite meddling from the Saudi Arabian government, JASTA is still active, and hundreds of families have pleaded their case to receive their compensation for Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the attacks of September 11th.
If you have lost a loved one to the events of September 11th, or if you or a family member are still contending with illnesses brought on from the caustic cloud that rose from “Ground Zero,” Parker Waichman LLP can help.
Parker Waichman LLP already has many clients with cases pending against Saudi Arabia and petitioning for government grants to 9/11 survivors, and they would be proud to help add your voice to the cause.
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Further Zadroga Act resources: