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What can my country do for me?

By Daniel Freedman

Section: Opinions

October 7, 2016

Things that are certain: death, taxes and now thanks to a government near you, lawsuits. It seems a litigious society with an ever-expanding appetite for court may have opened Pandora’s box. The recent Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) now passed provides legal recourse to sue sovereign governments for acts of terrorism committed, upending previous immunity from U.S. jurisdiction.

It may sound like a contentious topic that would require careful scrutiny, but our government is a funny one. In a landslide, bipartisan overrule of a presidential veto, the senate voted 97-1 to pass JASTA. This act defines a narrow set of legal proceedings, but has an even narrower original purpose: allowing U.S. victims of the 9/11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, based on the probable connection to state sponsorship of the attacks.

To Congress it apparently seems like a foolproof piece of common sense legislation—let the terror victims have their day in court, receive reparations and punish a government that aided (to some extent) the attack. What all of the Senate, aside from minority leader Harry Reid, failed to realize is that this sets a precedent that will lead to similar legislation being passed in other countries across the world. Will Iraq sue for damages from the war? Will individuals sue for the deaths of innocent civilians in drone strikes? Heck, half the world could now have grounds to file suit against the U.S., from Vietnam to Afghanistan. Once the lawsuits start flying there will be no winner. The U.S. will undoubtedly be the primary defendant in the untold cases that will come.

For a minute now, let’s assume that other countries do not pass similar legislation based on the precedent set. The idea of suing foreign governments still has flaws. Iraq has already claimed that a pending lawsuit from the victims would cause a selloff of U.S. treasuries that would destabilize their financial institutions as well as the U.S. dollar.

In all of this mess, Obama, as the voice of reason, has been urging Congress to consider the ramifications of their actions and the precedent that it sets. With amazing foresight he vetoed the bill to no avail, and it seems now some members of Congress have realized the error of their ways, or at least that serious amendments are still needed. That said, it seems the President’s fears have already been realized and the answer to one rhetorical question has been answered—an Iraqi lobby group has already called for its government to seek compensation for the Iraq War. But that is just the beginning. If the true aim of the legislation comes to fruition and the families of 9/11 victims sue, there will be no holding back the deluge that will likely leave this nation in court cases up to its metaphorical eyeballs.

Our myopic government must take a step back to see before it acts, but maybe that is asking too much of a legislative body willing to shut the government down for every debt negotiation we have.

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