JASTA: Another Nail in the Coffin of U.S.-GCC Relations

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

Congress has done the unimaginable by almost unanimously passing a law allowing the families of 9-11 victims to lodge civil cases against Saudi Arabia (and other states) for aiding and abetting terrorism, which flouts all international laws and conventions protecting sovereign states from frivolous lawsuits. Congress has rewritten international law in a display of unprecedented arrogance and disrespect for one of its closest allies.

It is true that some senior lawmakers who led the charge to overturn President Barack Obama’s veto are having second thoughts, but only because it has hit home that reciprocity could entangle US diplomats, service personnel and intelligence agents abroad who could find themselves entangled in cases against the US government in relation to its military interventions, black sites, renditions, torture, and drone attacks.

Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, would like the law amended to protect Americans without infringing upon what they refer to as the rights of 9-11 families and blame President Obama for not spelling out the potential repercussions.

In reality, the President did, but without any real conviction. The backtrackers say he did not mount a full offensive to get his points across and did not respond to requests from lawmakers for a meeting to thrash out the implications.

Throughout the wrangling, Obama made no defence of Saudi Arabia, which was vindicated from playing any part in the September 11 attacks. Instead, he emphasized his sympathies for the families of victims and his concerns about US citizens outside the country.

President Obama used his veto knowing that the bill had overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and the Senate and that garnering the requisite two-thirds vote needed to overturn it was a given.

I am beginning to wonder whether this episode was a scenario with the collusion of the White House to further undermine the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. White House claims of embarrassment ring hollow.

Hundreds of would-be beneficiaries are lining up to lodge cases in courts that are empowered to freeze Saudi assets until such lawsuits reach their conclusion.

This is nothing short of a hostile act which cannot go unanswered. Today, Saudi Arabia is in the crossfire. Tomorrow, other states could be targeted including other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries.

A spokesman for France’s Foreign Ministry said France and other European Union (EU) member states consider JASTA a violation of international law. The EU issued a statement condemning the law as conflicting with the principle of state sovereign immunity. The Dutch parliament characterized the law as “a gross and unwarranted breach of Dutch sovereignty”.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Turkey have variously warned that the US could suffer consequences in terms of loss of investments, trust and cooperation.

Naturally, investors will hesitate to deposit their money where it can be seized on the say-so of a judge with little or no knowledge of foreign affairs or the fact that Al Qaeda considered Riyadh as its greatest enemy.

The idea that the Saudi leadership, which stripped Osama bin Laden of his nationality, had any relationship with Al Qaeda is laughable but if Congress, supposedly a repository of superior intellect, can behave with such ignorance, what can we expect from the judiciary!

It seems to me that Congress is responsible for shooting its own country in the foot. An article in The Washington Post is headlined “The unbearable idiocy of Congress”. “How low can they go,” heads another in Salon? The Huffington Post calls the law “irresponsible and dangerous”.

Meanwhile, in light of JASTA, an Iraqi group is seeking compensation for the US invasion. According to a report in Al Arabiya, Arab Project in Iraq, an Iraqi lobbyist organization, views JASTA as a window of opportunity to claim compensation from the US for abuses committed by American forces in Iraq.

Among its demands is “a fully-fledged investigation over the killing of civilians, loss of property and individuals who suffered torture and other mistreatment at the hands of US forces.” Congress has handed it that right on a silver platter.

US exceptionalism has gone beyond all acceptable limits. The US, a prime instigator of the Rome Treaty creating the International Criminal Court in The Hague, refused to ratify its own membership.

America twisted the arms of over 100 of its allies, including NATO partners, to sign non-reciprocal Status of Forces (SOFA) agreements that solely protect US military personnel from being subjected to criminal or civil justice systems.

Moreover, the US leant on the UK to sign up to a non-reciprocal extradition treaty allowing the US to extradite British citizens and others for allegedly committing offences in contravention of US law on the grounds of “reasonable suspicion” rather than hard evidence.

Saudi Arabia and Gulf States should take a firm stand against such unfair, self-interested practices, of which JASTA is a glaring example. Dr Khalid bin Abdulaziz Alnowaiser, a Saudi specialist in international law, has called upon the Shura Council to pass its own form of JASTA allowing Saudi citizens to file lawsuits against states in Saudi courts.

I not only commend Dr Alnowaiser’s proposal, I urge the Kingdom and all its GCC partners to implement similar laws not only to protect the rights of its nationals but also to send a strong message to Washington that we will not submit quietly to being singled out for mistreatment and insult.

I have long suspected that Saudi Arabia has become Washington’s target, but now my suspicions are confirmed. Riyadh is being undermined at every turn. The time for diplomatic-speak is over.

First, the world’s biggest sponsor of state terrorism, Iran, and its Lebanese satellite Hezbollah, both complicit in the crimes of the Syrian war criminal, Bashar Al Assad, were removed from America’s national security intelligence assessment.

On the heels of that shock was the news the Obama administration had been secretly negotiating a deal that served to enrich and empower Tehran to the detriment of its closest regional allies, thus altering the balance of power.

Thirdly, the United Nations secretariat got in on the act by adding the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen to a blacklist relating to “Children in Armed Conflict” that was swiftly removed.

National correspondent for The Atlantic Jeffrey Goldberg’s revelation that President Obama had dubbed the Kingdom and other allies as “free riders” while urging Saudi to share the neighbourhood with Iran was a major poke in the eye.

All the while the oil price war was ongoing, diminishing revenues caused by a glut, and further worsened when sanctions were lifted on the sale of Iranian oil.

I have written on more than one occasion asking the US: “Are you with us or against us?” With the passing of JASTA, despite appeals from Saudi government officials not to go that route, regretfully I now have my answer.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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