In the War on Terror, Israel’s Government is Not a Reliable Friend of the American People—But Neither is Our Own
By Brian P. McGlinchey
Thanks to last summer’s release of 28 pages detailing a variety of links between 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials—and the October leak of a 2014 email from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declaring the Saudi government was directly supporting ISIS—it’s increasingly clear that the U.S. government’s depiction of Saudi Arabia as a vital ally in the “war on terror” is dishonest.
Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia isn’t the only supposed “ally” whose official depiction as a steadfast foe of terrorism is out of sync with reality: The branding of Israel is also deeply misleading. Continue reading →
False Arguments Aside, White House Knows JASTA is Only a Threat to U.S. Government Hypocrisy in War on Terror
By Brian P. McGlinchey
Following a meeting with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters the two explored how to “fix” a recently-passed law that cleared the way for 9/11 survivors and family members to sue the kingdom for its alleged support of the hijackers.
Kerry and al-Jubeir both claimed JASTA puts at risk the entire concept of sovereign immunity, which limits the rights of individual people to pursue justice for the crimes of governments. “If this issue takes hold, we will have chaos in the international order, and this is something that no country in the world wants,” said al-Jubeir.
Kerry also repeated previous Obama administration claims that JASTA threatens those serving in the U.S. military. “We discussed ways to try to fix this in a way that respects and honors the needs and rights of victims of 9/11 but at the same time does not expose American troops and American partners and American individuals who may be involved in another country to the potential of a lawsuit for those activities,” said Kerry.
“What happened yesterday is outrageous,” said 9/11 widow Terry Strada in a statement issued yesterday. “The fact that Secretary Kerry would lead off his public remarks not by talking about ISIS or Iraq, but instead by assuring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that he would work to destroy the 9/11 bill, speaks volumes and is very painful for all September 11th families,” continued Strada, who helped lead the effort to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).
The Obama administration and Saudi monarchy want us to believe two things:
JASTA represents a major departure from the previous U.S. approach to sovereign immunity.
U.S. military service members will face suits in foreign courts as other nations reciprocate with similar adjustments to their own laws.
Bolstered by a multi-million dollar effort coordinated among Saudi Arabia’s armada of lobbying and public relations firms, these arguments are sadly working wonders on credulous pundits and editorial boards—but they’re flatly dishonest.
First, JASTA represents a very narrow adjustment to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA)—one that only addresses state sponsorship of terrorism. What’s more, prior to JASTA, the FSIA already provided an exception that allowed U.S. citizens to sue foreign state sponsors of terror. That exception was enacted in 1996 without sparking the disproportionate global retaliation that Kerry says will result from JASTA.
Further, JASTA only allows plaintiffs to sue foreign governments—not individual officials or military service members—and only for acts of terrorism, specifically excluding acts of war. How does Kerry propose “fixing” a law that already protects U.S. servicemen and women from reciprocity?
What’s Really at Stake
The principal effect of JASTA is to now allow plaintiffs to sue foreign governments:
For actions those governments take abroad in aiding terrorism on U.S. soil. Before JASTA, a government that handed a briefcase full of cash to a terrorist in New York could be sued, but if that same act happened in Montreal, it enjoyed immunity.
That are not on the State Department’s list of official state sponsors of terror. The Secretary of State unilaterally decides who makes the list; today, it’s Iran, Sudan and Syria. [Nov 3 correction: Please note that, even before JASTA, State designation as a sponsor of terror was not a prerequisite for suits relating to injuries that occur on U.S. soil.]
It’s that second attribute that represents JASTA’s real threat—not to American soldiers, marines and airmen, but to an abused executive branch monopoly on declaring which countries are sponsoring terrorism. Rather than providing an honest catalogue of real-world villainy, the American government uses the terror list as a blunt force weapon to economically and diplomatically isolate selected countries that defy it.
Cuba was on the list until the Obama administration decided to abandon decades of counterproductive isolation of the country; one day it’s a menacing fomenter of terror, the next it’s not. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is absent from the list, despite 28 pages of damning details illustrating a variety of Saudi government links to the 9/11 hijackers and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s declaration in a leaked 2014 email that the kingdom was “providing clandestine financial and logistical support to ISIL.”
An exchange at a July House judiciary committee hearing on JASTA between State Department legal advisor Brian Egan and Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen summed up the situation nicely.
Egan: Under the existing terrorism exception, cases are allowed against countries that are designated state sponsors of terrorism…The existing exception was crafted between Congress and the executive branch to allow for a decision and evidence to be looked at by the executive branch as to whether the relevant government has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism. We think that’s an important part of the process and one that would change with this law.
Rep. Cohen: Mr. Egan, Saudi Arabia is not on the list, right?
Egan: That’s correct, sir.
Rep. Cohen: And if we change this law and they’re subject to liability, might we find that they should have been?
In a forgivable breach of decorum, 9/11 widows and widowers in attendance applauded.
A 2014 email released by Wikileaks, in which Hillary Clinton asserted that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar were directly aiding ISIS and other extremist groups, may help stave off a Saudi lobbying effort aimed at reversing a newly-enacted law giving 9/11 families the power to sue the kingdom.
The email, sent to Clinton presidential campaign chairman John Podesta, lays out an assessment of the situation in Syria and Iraq and includes various policy prescriptions.
One of them leveled a pointed indictment at Saudi Arabia: “We need to use our diplomatic and more traditional intelligence assets to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.” (ISIL is an abbreviation for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—an alternative reference for ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.)
As Daily Caller’s Alex Pfeiffer noted in breaking the story, the email’s format matches previously revealed intelligence reports prepared for Clinton by her confidante Sidney Blumenthal. Though it may have been drafted by Blumenthal, Clinton’s sharing of the material without attribution seemingly signals her embrace of its contents, including the damning assertion about Saudi Arabia.
This isn’t the first time Wikileaks has revealed a Clinton assertion of ties between Saudi Arabia and terrorism. In a 2009 cable, then-Secretary of State Clinton said “donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
The newly-released email is particularly significant because, rather than vaguely implicating unidentified “donors” that may or may not include individual members of the royal family acting independently, it specifically points a finger of guilt at the Saudi government itself.
The email validates former Senator Bob Graham’s previous assertions that, by classifying Saudi links to the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government helped pave the way for the rise of ISIS.
“I believe that the failure to shine a full light on Saudi actions and particularly its involvement in 9/11 has contributed to the Saudi ability to continue to engage in actions that are damaging to the US—and in particular their support for ISIS,” Graham told Patrick Cockburn in a 2014 interview.
Strengthening the Case for JASTA
The Clinton email leak comes just a few weeks after the enactment of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which amended the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) in a way that enables 9/11 family members and victims to sue the Saudi government for its alleged financial and logistical support of the hijackers.
President Obama vetoed the bill and, though his veto was overwhelmingly overridden, JASTA supporters are bracing for a determined Saudi counterattack in the lame duck session of Congress. That counterattack will likely take the form of a new alteration of FSIA to reverse some or all of JASTA’s effect.
Though JASTA explicitly limits its scope to terrorism and only applies to governments, opponents—under heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia and the U.S. intelligence community—are claiming JASTA will leave individual U.S. military service members vulnerable to lawsuits filed abroad if foreign governments modify their own sovereign immunity laws in reciprocation.
In a statement issued after Obama’s veto, attorneys for 9/11 families said “a reciprocal statute could not permit claims against individual U.S. officials, employees or military personnel, as JASTA prohibits such actions…the inescapable conclusion is that the president’s rationale for opposing JASTA has nothing to do with JASTA itself.”
Defending his attention-grabbing assertions that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was an enormous mistake facilitated by the George W. Bush administration’s misleading of the American people, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump this week indirectly referred to 28 classified pages said to link the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 attacks.
“It wasn’t the Iraqis that knocked down the World Trade Center. We went after Iraq, we decimated the country, Iran’s taking over…but it wasn’t the Iraqis, you will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center, because they have papers in there that are very secret, you may find it’s the Saudis, okay? But you will find out,” Trump said at a Wednesday campaign event in Bluffton, South Carolina.
Trump’s implied promise to declassify 28 pages from a 2002 joint congressional intelligence inquiry into 9/11 sets him apart from the remaining Republican and Democratic presidential aspirants, filling a gap created when Rand Paul suspended his campaign. Last summer, Paul introduced Senate Bill 1471, which, if passed, would direct the president to release the 28 pages, and he pledged to release them himself if elected to the White House. Green Party candidate Jill Stein has also called for their release. (Then-Senator Hillary Clinton co-signed a 2003 letter to President Bush demanding the release of the 28 pages, but has been silent on the topic since.)
Vague Reference Dampens Impact
Trump’s comments brought renewed attention to the 28 pages. However, the impact would have certainly been greater had he specifically referred to “28 pages” rather than cryptically referencing “secret papers”—which he did time and again on the campaign trail, in an interview with Fox News and during CNN’s Thursday night town hall.
Given the dearth of mainstream media coverage of Trump’s Saudi Arabia reference, it’s clear his vague allusion to “secret papers” left journalists baffled. For example, though Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher was among the first to report it, his brief piece struck a snarky tone, made no reference to the 28 pages, and concluded with a dismissive statement that “no evidence has ever been presented that the government of Saudi Arabia was behind the attacks of 9/11.” Following his lead, most of those sharing the Mediaite story on social media ridiculed the notion that there are “secret papers” implicating the Saudis.
However, Graham, who co-chaired the intelligence inquiry that produced the 28 pages, said “they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier of 9/11.” Two of the 9/11 hijackers received financial, lodging and other assistance from a Saudi citizen who lived in San Diego and who is widely thought to have been an operative for the kingdom. There are also serious questions—and a FOIA lawsuit—swirling around a wealthy Saudi family that had ties to Mohammed Atta and which fled Sarasota two weeks before 9/11.
Jeb on the 28 Pages: From Shrugs to Sarcasm
When asked about the 28 pages last summer, Jeb Bush said he’d never heard of them. This month, asked if he would like to see the 28 pages his brother classified, Bush sarcastically replied, “Yeah, I’d like to see ’em. You got ’em?”
Among the many who would like to “see ’em”: 9/11 family members and survivors whose lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been imperiled by what former Senator Bob Graham calls a “pervasive pattern of covering up the role of Saudi Arabia in 9/11, by all of the agencies of the federal government, which have access to information that might illuminate Saudi Arabia’s role in 9/11.”