Veterans told they’re shielding the U.S. military—in reality, they’re only protecting the Saudi monarchy
By Brian P. McGlinchey
Using misinformation and a big budget, Saudi Arabia is recruiting well-meaning U.S. military veterans into its campaign to eviscerate a recently-passed law allowing 9/11 families to sue the monarchy for its alleged role in facilitating the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
It’s a brazen effort, considering 9/11 inspired so many veterans to enter military service. However, working through hired American proxies who don’t draw attention to their Saudi sponsorship, the kingdom is finding success by taking advantage of veterans’ patriotic instincts.
Specifically, lobbyists are telling veterans that, if other countries reciprocate by passing laws like the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), military service members and veterans will be sued in foreign courts.
Veterans who do their own research will discover an essential fact Saudi Arabia doesn’t want them to know: JASTA only allows U.S. citizens to sue foreign governments for supporting terrorism—not individuals.
Saudi lobbyists also falsely claim that JASTA is a major departure from the previous U.S. approach to sovereign immunity; in fact, it is a narrow adjustment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which already allowed Americans to sue foreign state sponsors of terror.
Veterans Enticed with Free Airfare and Luxury Hotels
Misleading arguments aren’t the only weapon in the Saudi arsenal—its lobbyists are also putting the kingdom’s deep pockets to work, reportedly encouraging veterans to lobby legislators on the issue by picking up the tab for airfare and stays at luxury Washington hotels—specifically, the Trump International (a choice that raises thorny legal questions for the Trump administration).
Combat veteran Malachias Gaskin told Daily Caller that he was solicited via email to travel to Washington, and that his suitor was slow to reveal what cause he was being asked to join and who would be paying for his trip. After being asked to sign an online petition opposing JASTA, Gaskin researched the issue and concluded the law shouldn’t be amended or repealed. “I was like, ‘this is why they aren’t giving me information,'” said Gaskin.
Daily Caller also reported that Dauntless Communications, sub-contracted by PR giant Qorvis, operated a booth at a gun show in Reno, Nevada on January 28 and 29. Beneath a banner exhorting passers-by to “protect our troops from JASTA backlash,” the hosts gathered names of veterans and others who would help oppose JASTA. (Qorvis helps lead Saudi Arabia’s far-reaching public relations and lobbying effort.)
While some veterans are winging their way to Washington and staying at luxury hotels on the Saudi dime, others have been convinced to put their names on the bylines of anti-JASTA opinion pieces. Judging from identical language in these pieces, it seems likely they’re being prepared by lobbyists and then submitted on the veterans’ behalf.
For example, retired Air Force general William Russel Cotney “wrote” this for Nashville’s The Tennessean:
“The principle known as sovereign immunity has governed relations between states for centuries. It holds that governments cannot be sued for civil wrongs without their consent. In international relations, it preserves the right and responsibility of governments to settle disputes with other governments on behalf of their citizens.”
…while former Army medical specialist Angela Sinkovits “wrote” this for The Denver Post:
“The principle of sovereign immunity has governed relations between states for centuries. It holds that governments cannot be sued for civil wrongs without their consent. In international relations, it preserves the right and responsibility of governments to settle disputes with other governments on behalf of their citizens.”
Using Veterans to Silence 9/11 Families
Given their high standing in American society, veterans are extremely valuable in shaping public opinion and influencing legislators about a wide variety of issues. What’s remarkable in this instance is the fact that a foreign monarchy, accused of aiding the worst terrorist attack ever perpetrated on U.S. soil, is enlisting veterans to prevent the victims of that attack from presenting their evidence in a court of law.
That evidence includes 28 pages from a congressional 9/11 inquiry that were partially declassified in July 2016, revealing many financial and other connections between Saudi government officials, 9/11 hijackers and their close associates. The trail of clues points to high places: One of the officials who figures most heavily in the pages is the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Allegations of Saudi ties to terror don’t end with 9/11: Veterans of the war on terror should also note that a leaked 2014 email from Hillary Clinton said the government of Saudi Arabia was “providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups.”
Family members of those killed in the 9/11 attacks have condemned Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of veterans. “We find the recently revealed actions made on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to ‘co-opt our troops’…absolutely appalling,” said the September 11th Advocates, Kristen Breitweiser, Monica Gabrielle, Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie Van Auken, in a statement issued yesterday.
McCain and Graham Aid the Saudi Cause
Perhaps one reason why Saudi Arabia’s fallacious arguments against JASTA have been successful with veterans is the fact that they’ve been embraced by a variety of current and former officials who’ve routinely protected the kingdom, such as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and Arizona’s John McCain.
In December, Graham and McCain urged colleagues to amend JASTA in a way that could make it more difficult for 9/11 families to pursue justice in the courtroom.
Graham once said he would hesitate to declassify those 28 pages on Saudi government links to the 9/11 attacks if doing so could “damage” the kingdom. Meanwhile, the Saudis appear to be very grateful for McCain’s ongoing support: In 2014, the Saudi embassy donated $1 million to the The McCain Institute for International Leadership.
Graham and McCain have been among Capitol Hill’s chief alarmists about alleged Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election. Seizing on that, and well aware of the duo’s anti-JASTA stance, the September 11th Advocates used their statement to demand equal scrutiny of Saudi influence on U.S. law:
“We call upon the leading voices in Congress who have spoken out regarding the dangers of foreign intervention (in U.S. politics)—Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham—to address these facts that have now come to light regarding the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its actions to manipulate and use members of our armed forces against 9/11 family members and JASTA.”