Nobel Peace Prize-winning President Barack Obama suffered an embarrassment this week when Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of overriding his veto of the so-called 9/11 bill. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) is controversial because it would allow victims of the September 11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement in the attacks.
Most interesting, however, is Obama’s response to the congressional decision. Of specific concern is his essential argument that the 9/11 bill could erode the concept of sovereign immunity, which would leave American citizens and assets vulnerable to lawsuits from overseas countries:
The concern that I’ve had is — has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia per se, or my sympathy for 9/11 families. It has to do with me not wanting a situation in which we’re suddenly exposed to liabilities for all the work that we’re doing all around the world.
The risk of erosion of sovereign immunity is, therefore, according to Obama, what is really at issue here.
Hasn’t Mr. Obama ever heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) — the secretly negotiated agreement that has been the subject of controversy for a number of years? Oh, that’s right, he’s actually been promoting and fast-tracking it to secure its implementation.
The so-called free trade agreement was signed in New Zealand in February of this year in the face of mass global protests. It is suspected to be an attempt to counter China’s rising economic status in the world, as China was notably excluded from being a party to the agreement. The exclusion came despite the fact China has the largest economy in the region aside from the United States.
The TPP gives corporations the right to sue foreign governments not only for lost revenue but also for revenue the corporations predict they have lost. The TPP also provides for a system of tribunals that allow companies to override and nullify laws in overseas jurisdictions. The arbitrators on these tribunals are unelected, and these courts are basically unaccountable to any domestic court infrastructure of any sovereign nation.
These lawsuits are already well underway. Tobacco company Philip Morris – victim of oppression they are – sued the overseas governments of Australia and Uruguay. These aforementioned countries were cruel enough to force tobacco companies to feature very effective warning labels, and the tobacco companies were aggrieved enough to take them through a shadowy court system with no accountability to any domestic courts to try to override the respective countries’ legislation.
This egregious system drove Germany to state publicly they would never again sign an agreement with such investor-state dispute resolution clauses tucked into them.
Clearly, the concept of sovereign immunity has all but disappeared. The real question becomes: why does the president believe the rich, profitable corporations of the world can sue governments that, at times, try to protect their citizens from their greedy and destructive ways — yet the victims of the biggest terror attack on American soil should be barred from suing those who effectively sponsored and implemented the attack?
This contradiction of his veto should tell you who President Obama answers to — corporations and Saudi Arabia.
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