As a veteran of Operation Vigilant Mariner I helped protect ships carrying food, equipment and other supplies to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. I know first-hand the importance of keeping Americans at home and abroad safe from terrorism.
That’s why I’m concerned legislation recently approved by Congress will endanger thousands of U.S. servicemen and women around the world. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which was written by trial lawyers, would give families of terrorism victims the right to bring suit in federal court against the government of Saudi Arabia for involvement in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, it is relevant to note there is no evidence the government of Saudi Arabia had any involvement in 9/11 in the first place.
In fact, JASTA would not give terror victims justice but would have disastrous consequences for US military and diplomatic personnel around the world. JASTA guts the principle of sovereign immunity and would encourage other countries to bring Americans overseas before foreign courts for carrying out official duties and even make the U.S. government responsible for the actions of private citizens.
Nearly 150,000 American servicemen and women and diplomats are stationed all around the world both in stable environments such as Europe, Japan and South Korea as well as active combat zones in the Middle East.
JASTA would open the door to foreign nations exercising jurisdiction over U.S. servicemen and women and trying them in local courts. Were service members to refuse to appear in court, they could be held in contempt. And it would not matter whether American personnel actually committed any wrongdoing – that would be up to courts, not just in Canada or Germany, but even in places like Pakistan, Russia or Venezuela.
Once proceedings begin in a foreign court, local authorities may demand classified or sensitive information as part of the litigation process and they may hold American taxpayers responsible for millions in “damages.”
The fallout from JASTA has already begun with a lawsuit currently pending in Iraq over alleged crimes that occurred when the Saddam Hussein regime was toppled.
Members of Congress may hope JASTA will help terror victims extract a financial settlement in court, but civil litigation is a poor substitute for American military, intelligence and diplomatic action.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, CIA Director John Brennan, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, and Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford have all spoken out against JASTA.
Let’s not open the door to endless lawsuits against American military and diplomatic personnel. JASTA won’t give justice to terror victims. It will only make lawyers around the world richer while compromising American national security.