WASHINGTON, D.C. — Ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia this weekend, the national chair of the 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism advocacy group wrote a letter to the leader of the free world. The letter urges him not to buckle under pressure from Saudi Arabia and potentially weaken a provision in a law that would allow the families of victims of America’s most devastating terrorist attack to sue countries involved in carrying out terrorism.
Breitbart News acquired an exclusive copy of Terry Strada’s letter to President Trump urging him to remain steadfast in his support for families of 911 victims who are suing the government of Saudi Arabia under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which was first enacted in 1976.
JASTA creates a path for U.S. citizens to file civil claims against foreign governments for wrongful deaths, injuries, and property damage related to terrorist acts that were financed by those governments. The law also removes any government’s sovereign immunity — in this case Saudi Arabia’s — from being sued if it were involved in a terrorist attack against the United States.
The majority of hijackers on September 11, 2001, were Saudi citizens.
Strada lost her husband, Tom, in the devastating terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives on September 11, 2001.
Part of her letter to President Trump reads:
We remain deeply grateful for your support for our cause, especially last September when you denounced President Obama’s veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Your backing was essential to ensuring that JASTA—which guarantees that terror victims like us can hold foreign nations accountable when they provide support and funding to terrorists who carry out attacks on U.S. soil—is now the law.
First, we fully expect that the Saudis will try to convince you to betray the 9/11 families. They will not put it that way, but will instead argue that JASTA should be “fixed” or “modified” to eliminate “unintended consequences.” Please do not let them get away with this dishonest approach. The Saudis do not want to “fix” JASTA; they want you and Congress to pass a new law that arms them with a special defense against our lawsuits. This is the same false claim that Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have made—after voting for JASTA in September and betraying the 9/11 families just days after the November election. Would you please make it very clear to the Saudis that you will never support any weakening of the 9/11 families’ legal rights?
Second, the Saudis need to hear directly from you that Americans do not appreciate being manipulated by propaganda and fake news peddled by foreign agents. Just this week, the Associated Press reported on how the Saudis are engaged in a $1.3 million-per-month campaign to manipulate the public, deceive our military veterans, and fool Congress into weakening JASTA. That news story has been carried throughout the world, and was picked up in the U.S. by outlets as varied as Breitbart, Fox News, Bloomberg, ABC News, and even the Daily Beast. We are sure you especially share our outrage that the Saudi agents are lying to our nation’s veteran community. Would you please tell the Saudi Kingdom that this deceitful campaign must stop?
Under U.S. law, foreign governments are generally immune from the jurisdiction of U.S. courts and cannot be sued for injuries they cause, unless one of the exceptions to sovereign immunity — which is set forth in a statute called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act — applies.
Congress included a provision in JASTA designed to encourage and empower the president to press for, and ultimately, broker settlements of cases brought under JASTA law.
But JASTA provides a path for President Trump to raise this issue with the Saudis and work towards a resolution should he choose to do so.
Last year, the Saudi government reportedly attempted to astroturf the United States in an attempt to roll back JASTA. This year, reports surfaced that Saudi Arabia was paying millions to send veterans on trips to Washington and using them as pawns to lobby against the JASTA legislation.
As of October last year, Saudi Arabia was reportedly paying American lobbyists and public relations firms $1.3 million per month to fight against the right of Americans to sue the nation for financing terror.
Ahead of President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia this weekend, the Saudis expressed their hope that he will reverse the legislation that allows for the families of the 911 victims to sue their country for their role in the devastating terrorist attacks.
The Saudis’ raising the issue of JASTA legislation being a concern for them could encourage a settlement. It could also provide Trump with the opportunity to showcase his steadfast support for the 911 community and all who were affected by the tragedy.
Despite the justice aspect JASTA law provides for the 911 victims and their families, some have raised concerns that it could open the floodgates to a number of foreign countries to sue the United States for frivolous matters.
“The law has opened up Pandora’s Box, creating risks with international consequence for Americans working directly or indirectly for our intelligence agencies,” James Zumwalt once wrote.
For example, last year an Iraqi lobbyist group, citing JASTA, sought to sue the government to ask the United States for compensation for alleged violations by the American military following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Similarly, retired U.S. Navy Admiral Edward Masso suggested JASTA was a “congressional mistake.”
William W. Burke-White, the deputy dean and professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, shed some light on this matter in an interview with Breitbart News.
“There is a long history of countries having claims against one another. This goes back as long as there have been countries,” Burke-White said:
When we think about whether there is a liability on the part of Saudi Arabia for 911-related activities, we have to think about it in a background context; that countries often have disputes with one another and they often settle them through some sort of international agreement. What the JASTA legislation does do is open up a broader range of private suits wrought by individuals rather than by countries against one another directly. And, in some ways, changes some of the traditional approaches the United States has taken to sovereign immunity.
Burke-White also suggested the JASTA legislation changes the U.S. approach, “but within a consistent background under international law. Countries have always been able to have some flexibility with what suits they allow individuals to bring against countries and the U.S. has been somewhat restrained in that in its prior approach.” He continued, “JASTA, to some degree, opens up a somewhat broader set of claims that can be brought by U.S. entities against foreign governments.”
Burke-White noted that many past presidents have resolved the claims of private citizens against foreign governments by reaching a diplomatic deal that involves a lump payment by the culpable foreign government to the United States.
He also stated his belief that this trip provides Trump with a real “opportunity to put the American lives and victims of 911 first. And an opportunity to be a great dealmaker, which he is, and to bring a resolution to one of the hardest moments in modern American history. And doing so is fully consistent with his commander-in-chief authority.”