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Law Professors Warn Against Allowing Injured Americans to Sue Saudi Arabia

 Firefighters with a flag that was flying at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

Firefighters with a flag that was flying at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Credit Damon Winter/The New York Times

On Wednesday, April 20, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a federal law allowing American victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorism to sue the nation of Iran in American courts for as much as $2 billion currently held in the central bank of Iran. Now, another bill is making its way through Congress that would allow lawsuits against Saudi Arabia for its alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks. But two law professors, Curtis Bradley of Duke and Jack Goldsmith of Harvard, believe that allowing such  lawsuits would “violate a core principal of international law,” “jeopardize the effectiveness of American foreign aid,” and undermine the “legitimacy of the United States’ actions in the war on terrorism.” In an April 25, 2016 Op-Ed in the New York Times, the two outlined their objections.

  • International law — With limited exceptions, nations are immune from lawsuits in another country’s courts. The United States benefits greatly from this principle of sovereign immunity since we have a greater presence in foreign countries than any other nation. Creating an exception, even narrowly for nations that support terrorism, could weaken the sovereign immunity the United States enjoys, as other nations reciprocate. Under a weakened sovereign immunity rule, our country would be a high-profile target.
  • American financial and material support — American foreign aid assists nations, such as Israel, in the defense of its borders. It is easy to imagine lawsuits against the United States for our allies’ actions that cause collateral damage to civilians.
  • American direct action in the war on terror — U.S. actions against al-Qaida, ISIS or Syria are “legally controversial abroad,” and could easily be interpreted as violating international humanitarian law.

Under Bradley and Goldsmith’s reasoning, it’s easy to imagine the United States being forced to retreat and retrench around the world. This could create a power vacuum that enables interests hostile to our own to get the upper hand.

Instead of allowing for individual lawsuits against state sponsors of terror, Bradley and Goldsmith suggest that Congress “provide additional compensation for the families of those killed and injured on 9/11.” As attorneys who have worked exhaustively for victims of the WTC attacks, we are determined to see survivors compensated. We agree with Bradley and Goldsmith that fair compensation is Congress’ responsibility. Suggesting that victims should sue Iran or Saudi Arabia, when the U.S. government hasn’t thoroughly investigated those nations’ connection to the events of 9/11, is an abrogation of that responsibility. We urge Congress to honor their responsibility to 9/11 survivors by using the full authority of the U.S. government to hold responsible parties accountable.

If you have questions about your rights as a 9/11 survivor, call Barasch & McGarry at 888.351.9421 or contact our office online.

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