The reasons for Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn resignation from the post of national security adviser to President Donald Trump is yet another of the contretemps involving Russia that continues to distract from the ongoing war on terrorism.
A story just as important, but one that did not receive nearly the attention as Flynn’s resignation was the broken by the Daily Caller and involved activities by the Saudi government to undermine a law enacted near the end of the Obama Administration - and which Trump supports strongly - enabling some Americans to fight back directly against states that sponsor terrorism.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, which passed Congress by an overwhelming margin in both houses, gave U.S. citizens the standing needed to bring suit against foreign governments for deaths and other damage caused by terror attacks if the governments financing those attacks could be identified.
It’s a law the American people wanted, which is why President Obama’s veto was overridden 348-77 in the House and 97-1 in the Senate. The foreign policy establishment is another matter. As the British might say it “just isn’t cricket.” Well, neither is blowing a 747 airliner over Scotland into a billion pieces, killing everyone aboard. And unconventional war requires unconventional approaches, so if JASTA subverts the traditional way of doing things, so what? Having diplomats handle the problem as a matter between nations while everyone else suffers is, in the current environment, a concession akin to admitting defeat.
Now, senior Senate Republicans like Orrin Hatch, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham are trying to take the teeth out of what was just passed less than six months ago. They introduced a bill “to fix” what they claim are problems with the new law - conveniently before it’s had a shakedown cruise through the U.S. legal system.
Their changes, which they pretend are innocuous, create legal standards making it much harder for victims to get their day in court. If it passes, and the Saudis are said to be putting considerable sums behind the effort to get it through Congress, it will delay the application of justice to states proven to sponsor and finance terrorism. Justice delayed, as they say, is justice denied and is, therefore, totally unacceptable.
McCain and Graham have said their concerns center around the time-tested legal doctrine of “sovereign immunity,” a term that means a “sovereign or state cannot commit a legal wrong and is immune from civil suit or criminal prosecution.” Translated into English this means “the King can do no wrong,” a principle we honor in the United States even though we are a democracy rather than a monarchy.
The principle is a sound one when the government’s conduct is not egregious or deliberately subversive. When a government is paying the freight for terrorists killing innocent civilians it is another matter entirely. Put another way, think of JASTA as enforcing a kind of “sovereign responsibility,” a method short of war to force countries to take responsibility for their actions.
The survivors of the 9/11 attack deserve justice. They should have a day in court, something JASTA is supposed to secure for them. What McCain and Graham are asking for puts them in sync with Saudi Arabia - the country of origin for most of the hijackers responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 American men, women, and children in a single day.
If the comparison is offensive, as the senators will no doubt find it to be, so is the Saudi’s desire to escape responsibility. They and the Iranians and any of the other governments using misguided, radicalized religious fanatics as combat proxies in a war against the United States and her allies must be held accountable for what they have wrought. Weakening a law intended to do that is just as offensive if not more.
Roff is a former senior political writer for UPI and a well-known commentator based in Washington, D.C. Email him at Peter.Roff@Verizon.net.