Congressman takes to House floor during debate on 9/11 victims' billSmith Calls for Override of President Obama's Veto of 'Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act'
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) delivered the following remarks during the debate in the House of Representatives on the motion to override President Obama’s veto of the Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA):
Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the President of the United States, the central argument in his veto message accompanying the Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA)—reciprocity—is weak, unsupported and egregiously flawed.
The White House drafters of the veto message either didn’t read the carefully crafted bipartisan bill or are seeking to conflate the plain legislative text since JASTA only permits access to U.S. Courts by waiving immunity for foreign governments—not foreign government officials or employees—except in the cases where someone knowingly aids, abets or conspires with a State Department designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). (Such a person would then be subject to civil liability for injury to a U.S. person.)
Thus the president is wrong to assert that under the hallowed principle of “reciprocity” U.S. officials and military personnel could be subjected to lawsuits. It worth noting that nothing precludes that now—or ever—but as an argument for veto it simply doesn’t pass muster.
While sovereign immunity has its place in the conduct of responsible diplomacy—it is not absolute—as even the 1976 Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) contains nine exceptions.
In 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed legal action against Saudi Arabia and other defendants holding that U.S. courts lacked jurisdiction. Other actions by the courts have thwarted the full accountability Americans expect and deserve.
JASTA corrects that.
The victims of 9/11 and their grieving families deserve what JASTA empowers—a process to discover the unfettered and ugly truth that to this day remains cloaked, concealed and covered-up. JASTA provides a way to hold perpetrators and enablers of these crimes against humanity to some account.
Anyone who has read the recently declassified 28 pages of findings from the 2002 House/Senate Intelligence Committee’s Joint Inquiry—despite heavy redactions—knows that provocative evidence of Saudi complicity in 9/11 remains unexamined.
The Report noted that “while in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government. There is information, primarily from FBI sources, that at least two of those individuals were alleged by some to be Saudi intelligence officers.”
The 28 pages are filled with names and suspected associations with the government of Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Speaker, I have worked with and befriended many 9/11 family members and I can state unequivocally that there would have been no 9/11 Commission and other historic policy initiatives without them. They have been extraordinarily tenacious, committed, and courageous. One widow—Kathy Wisniewski who lost her husband Alan—is a member of my congressional staff.
On September 20th, many family members gathered outside the White House to appeal to the President to sign JASTA.
No-one remembers the shock, horror and sorrow of 9/11 more than the families and close friends of the victims.
Two remarkable widows from New Jersey—Lorie and Mindy—carried this sign at the rally with a picture of President Obama and Saudi King Salman from the front page of the NY Daily News. The headline said “Don’t choose them over U.S.”
The President chose the King and vetoed the bill.
We can correct that today. Vote to override.