Terry Strada: We can be diplomatic and pursue justice at the same time
It is good policy to enact legislation that addresses the funding sources of terrorist organizations, she says
Editor’s Note: Terry Strada is the widow of Tom Strada, who died in the World Trade Center Tower One during the 9/11 attacks. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
As President Barack Obama heads to Saudi Arabia to meet with Gulf leaders, back here at home, misinformation is being spread, misinformation that could impact families who have been fighting for over a decade to bring to justice those who aided the brutal murder of our loved ones on September 11, 2001.
As the widow of Tom Strada, who died in World Trade Center Tower One, I am outraged. And as the mother of three children who face the prospect of a future living in the shadow of radical Islamic terrorism, I am very concerned.
Along with the family members and survivors of 9/11, we have fought long and hard to stand in a courtroom and lay out the long trail of evidence that leads back to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
After years of neglect and, at times, willful opposition from our own government to our efforts, we now learn that the administration is campaigning in Congress to stop them from passing a very simple, bipartisan bill that says anyone, including foreign sovereigns, can be held liable if they indeed assist in an attack on American soil. As Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas and lead sponsor of the bill, has noted, the administration has been “trying to kill this legislation by private conversations.” That is not an acceptable way of treating such important legislation.
Contrary to what Secretary of State John Kerry has said, this bill, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, does not open the floodgates for lawsuits against the United States from the rest of the world – not against our citizens abroad and not against our military. It would not be the disaster he alleges.
Why? Because it is actually good policy to hold accountable anyone who enabled the 19 hijackers to live here in the United States for 18 months, plan and then execute the heinous murders on 9/11. It is good policy to enact legislation that protects the rights of Americans to utilize our judicial system and hold accountable foreign states that aid in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. And it is good policy to enact legislation that addresses the funding sources of terrorist organizations. After all, without money, terrorists cannot pay for their travel, training camps, bomb-making material, weapons or even their basic living expenses. They cannot forge passports or recruit new jihadists. Without money it is far harder for terrorists to kill Americans. Unfortunately, Kerry’s “floodgate” comment wrongly equates collaboration with designated terrorists (which JASTA addresses) with conduct to protect our national security (which JASTA does not address). He also wrongly assumes the bill would expose “boots on the ground,” while the bill focuses solely on the foreign state’s accountability for those “boots.”
The Senate has considered JASTA for six years. It passed in the Senate in 2014, and in January it was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a vote of 19-0. It has been vetted for policy concerns by some of the best lawmakers in our country, and each concern has been answered.
Yet now, just as JASTA was positioned to move forward, the Saudi government is pressuring the United States to “kill the bill,” threatening to sell off billions of U.S. assets if the bill is passed. The White House has threatened to veto the bill, effectively asking us all to turn our backs on our pursuit of justice.
Setting aside the fact that the Saudi threat is laughable – economists have said doing so would be damaging to the Saudi economy, and the numbers are actually not all that threatening – this push by our own government is unconscionable.
The reality is that this is not Congress trying to make foreign policy – this is Congress protecting American citizens and enacting legislation that ensures the courts have jurisdiction to hear our case. It is based on basic American law. If there is plausible evidence that a foreign state aided a terrorist attack in the United States, that foreign state must respond based on the merits of their argument.
If enacted, this bill would not decide guilt or innocence – it just enables us to present our case. We are Americans who deserve an opportunity for justice – one of our most cherished American values. We deserve our day in court, no matter who we are accusing, as long as we have plausible evidence. It is their right to defend themselves against the evidence.
By enacting JASTA, Congress is simply doing its job. By siding with Saudi interests and working against JASTA, on the other hand, the administration is sabotaging not only our rights, but a very important tool in combating terrorism.
I agree with the administration that diplomacy is important. This is America. We can be diplomatic and pursue justice at the same time.
Terry Strada is the widow of Tom Strada, who died in the World Trade Center Tower One during the 9/11 attacks. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.