The Journey to JASTA

Project Name: The Journey to JASTA
Client: Publication
Publication Date:  28 Feb 19

Name:  Sumaya Adam

The issuance of a draft of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) caused a great to-do, even though it had not been issued in the heat of the moment. Rather, it was the result of tremendous legislative efforts starting in the 1990s when Congress made amendments to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) of 1976, under which judgments were issued to seize the funds of certain states, including Sudan, that were frozen with US banks.1

Subsequently, many legislative amendments were made to the law of 1976, up until the time of the JASTA, which permits victims of September 11 attacks to sue, primarily, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its agencies and officials in regard to terrorist acts in the USA.2

The FSIA (1976) was amended in 1996 to permit the waiving of immunity of some countries officially classified by the US Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism. The amendments also allow the seizure of commercial property held by such states in the USA, regardless of whether this property was used in the commission of a terrorist act. A provision that permits the seizure of frozen or diplomatic funds of state sponsors of terrorism was also added.

In 2008, this legislation was further amended to grant US courts jurisdiction over the agents, representatives and personnel of state sponsors of terrorism. In addition, US courts were empowered to reconsider judgments granting punitive damages and to insert new mechanisms for the execution of judgments. Therefore, this legislation now permits relatives of the victims of the USS Cole bombing in the port of Aden, together with other victims of acts of terrorism, to obtain compensation.3

In August 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected all the charges levelled against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and against Saudi officials, pursuant to the principle of the sovereign immunity of states. This was possible due to the legal exception of lifting immunity not being applicable to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as it is not classified by the US Department of State as a state sponsor of terrorism.

In 2011, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit re-opened this case to consider the extent of the immunity of states that are not classified as state sponsors of terrorism. The Court concluded that the exception of tort liability, under the FSIA, does not exclude terrorist acts occurring within the USA.4 In 2013, in the pursuit of justice, the Court decided to re-file the cases against Saudi Arabia and its agents and representatives in order to determine whether the exception of tort liability is applicable to Saudi Arabia. In 2015, the District Court once more refused to reconsider the cases on the ground that “all aspects of tort liability” within the USA are not applicable to the defendants. This decision was appealed before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Meanwhile, another Court of Appeal refused to consider cases against certain Saudi banks and institutions on the ground that the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) “does not permit secondary liability under an aiding-and-abetting theory.”5 It also confirmed the dismissal of lawsuits filed against the defendants under the Alien Tort Statute and the Torture Victims Protection Act, in addition to any cases under common law.

Saudi Arabia managed to convince the US courts to reject the cases of plaintiffs pursuant to immunity acts that prevent sovereign states from being subject to the jurisdiction of other states.6 On March 10, 2016, the District Court for the Southern District of New York decided the inadmissibility of the appearance of Saudi Arabia as defendants in relation to claims by relatives of victims of the World Trade Center attacks. The Court concluded that the evidence submitted was insufficient to prove a connection between the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or the government of any Gulf Cooperation Council country, with the September 11 attacks in 2001. Accordingly, it became clear that US legislation can only sue foreign states classified by the US Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism. At that time, there were only three states that were classified by the US Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism: Iran, Syria and Sudan.

Therefore, according to the Congressional Research Service and due to complaints filed by relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks concerning the legal and practical obstacles that prevent them from suing Saudi Arabia and Saudi officials and institutions that are alleged to have funded groups supporting the attackers, Congress legislators have sought to amend the FSIA (1976) in order to overcome the issue of the sovereign immunity of states that are not classified as state sponsors of terrorism, and to help the relatives of victims to obtain billions of dollars in compensation. This is despite the fact that the Kingdom has already disowned the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who had brought about terrorist attacks on the Kingdom itself on many occasions.

To overcome the legal obstacles in the interpretation of the provisions of the FSIA (1976) and other provisions, on which judges relied to reject common law cases against Saudi Arabia and its representatives and agencies, Congress began to consider how to issue the JASTA so that it would be clear and unequivocal, and achieve the desires of relatives of victims. In addition, Congress made certain amendments to expand the scope of tort liability resulting from damage caused by terrorism in order to cover acts of terrorism within the USA, along with other amendments that would enhance the efforts of plaintiffs, the relatives of victims, against the Saudi defendants.7

In consequence, the Congress held many Hearings. JASTA was issued and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2012. In December 2014, the Senate approved the JASTA. In addition, the interpretation of tort liability provided for in the FSIA was explicitly amended to be read as follows: “any lawsuit for injury, under the Constitution or the common law, results from any act of extrajudicial killings, hijacking, hostage-taking or terrorism, or providing material support or resources for such acts.” In addition, the Act states that all aspects of tort liability should not necessarily be inside the USA but, rather, provide comprehensive provisions “regardless of the place at which the act is committed or omitted.”8 During Congress Hearing No. 114, the Senate voted on the JASTA on May 17, 2014.

However, the new JASTA authorizes the Attorney General to ask to stay civil proceedings, if the Secretary of State considers that there are negotiations in good faith with the foreign states to settle the dispute. Such efforts shall be subject to judicial control, for a period of 180 days, which can be renewed for a further similar period if the Secretary of State considers that such negotiations are ongoing. Additionally, a foreign state will not submit to the jurisdiction of the US courts if the act of terrorism concerned is just “negligence.”

Although President Barack Obama used the right of veto against the JASTA under the pretext that the Act would harm the interests of the USA abroad, certain people considered this as a purely formal procedure. On September 27, 2016, Congress refused Obama’s veto and approved the Act in the Senate and House of Representatives by an absolute majority. This means that the JASTA is now validated.

The JASTA approved by Congress on September 27, 2016, gives the relatives of victims of the September 11 attacks the right to obtain financial compensation from the states to which the attackers belong. Of the 19 attackers, 15 are from Saudi Arabia. Article No. 3 of the JASTA stipulates that “None state will enjoy immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts in any case in which the plaintiff asks for financial compensation for material injuries hit individuals or property, or due to deaths occurring within America and results from acts of terrorism or acts of tort or acts of a foreign state or any of its officials, agents or employees during their term of office, regardless of whether the acts of terrorism have occurred or not.” These provisions have been expanded and the Act gave the US federal courts the discretionary power to refuse or accept, and to determine the extent of the commission or omission under this Act. The JASTA is deemed to be applicable to any civil case “resulting from personal injury or damage in property or works, on or after September 11, 2011.”

The opponents of this Act consider that it violates the principle of sovereign immunity, which states that any state enjoying such immunity shall not be subject to the judiciary of another state in a mandatory manner, pursuant to the principle of independence among states.

During the Briefing Session of the European Parliament on October 28, 2016, it was said that the Act may bring about the implementation by other states of the principle of reciprocity, which may affect US interests and property, due to cases that may be brought against the USA abroad.

It is worthwhile noting that the USA did not conclude any bilateral or multilateral treaty for the mutual recognition of judgments and their execution. The United Nations adopted the Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property and permitted the signature, ratification and joining under General Assembly Resolution 59/38 of December 2, 2004. Pursuant to Article No. 30 of the Convention, however, the Convention will not be held as valid unless it has been ratified by 30 states; currently, only 18 states have ratified it.9 Therefore, the issue of sovereignty and immunity will be decided by international law and the Charter of the United Nations of 1945. The Charter states that the sovereignty of states is subject to the rules of international law, that the principle of the sovereign equality of its member states is foundational, and that each state has the right to respect its internal and external sovereignty within the limits of compliance with the provisions of international law.

Most states condemn JASTA. On December 13, 2016, the Federation of Gulf Cooperation Council Chambers, which was established in 1979 and is based in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, described the Act as “American legislative terrorism that should not only be condemned or provoke severe reactions, but should be faced with thoughtful scientific planning, along with active diplomacy, a public relations network and specialized teamwork that will ask for the help of international legal institutions inside and outside America.”

The Saudi government warned about the probability of withdrawing US$750 from US markets in the event that the draft law is enforced. The British newspaper The Telegraph stated in its issue on June 12, 2007, that the United Arab Emirates have warned of the suspension of security cooperation with Washington, as cited by their Ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba. Also, several states, including states within the European Union, expressed their concern about the resolution.

After the Act was enforced, in March 2017 a class action suit was filed against the Saudi government on behalf of the families of 850 people who died and a further 1,500 who were injured in the September 11 attacks on the basis of the Saudi government having provided financial and material support to al-Qaida for several years to launch terrorist attacks on America.

“The JASTA is valid and its enforcement is ongoing” said the Republican member of the US Senate in June 2017. However, However, there are indicators that the legislators may make certain amendments to the Act.




2 European Parliament, Think Tank (


4 See “Allegations against Saudi Arabia under Diplomatic Immunity Act.” Document issued from the Congressional Research Center (


6 Saud Al Amari, Al Youm newspaper (

7 Congressional Research Service (


9 See “Should we be concerned about JASRA?”, Tariq Al-Suqair, Al Yaum newspaper, September 21, 2016 (

Executive Summary

هنالك نظرية أخرى بشأن استقالة رئيس الوزراء سعد الحريري وهي إن الرياض اعطته إنذار أخير مما دعاه لوقف التسوية مع حزب الله وبالتالي جعل حزب الله المدعوم من ايران من جديد في وضع مواجهة جديدة مع إسرائيل أو ربما حرب معها. إن تعزز وضع الرئيس بشار الاسد المستقر والإطمئنان الذي حصل عليه  من داعمية الروس والايرانيين يعني أن محاولات الرياض للإطاحة به بالقوة من السلطة عن طريق استخدام الثوار الذين تدعمهم الرياض قد باءت بالفشل وربما يكون هذا هو الخيار الآخر المفضل لها لمواجهة التهديد الذي تشكله إيران في المنطقة. ربما تكون استقالة الحريري خطوة لتوجيه اصابع اللوم لحزب الله متهما اياه بافشال لبنان بعدم التعامل بالشكل الملائم مع وضع اللاجئين والفشل في التخلص مما تبقى من أتباع التنظيمات المتطرفة مثل القاعدة وداعش والجماعات الأخرى على الأرض اللبنانية.
ربما تكون النتيجة المحتملة أن يشعر حزب الله بأنه مجبر بالبدء في مواجهة مع إسرائيل حيث ان التجارب السابقة في منطقة الشرق الاوسط أظهرت أن هذا يحقق نوع من التوحد داخل الدول العربية. إلا أن الأمر لن يكون هكذا هذه المرة على الأرجح حيث أن السعودية وإسرائيل متفقتان في الوقت الراهن على الأقل على ضرورة تحجيم طموحات إيران في الهيمنة على المنطقة باستخدام وكلاء مثل حزب الله. يعتقد بعض المحللين ان أي حرب بين اسرائيل وحزب الله ستكون من اجل المحافظة على سلامة حدودها. هنالك اعتقاد بان قيام اسرائيل باجتياح كامل مثل الذي جرى في العام 2006 ليس جزءا من تفكير اسرائيل العسكري، إلا أن ذلك ربما يكون خطة طوارئ في حال دعا الأمر. إن إسرائيل لن تبدأ بالحرب حيث أنها ستفكر في موقفها دوليا وإنها لن تحصل على دعم في منطقة الشرق الاوسط وما ورائها عند قيامها بعمل عسكري ضد جيرانها. إذا سيكون الهجوم من ايران او حزب الله قبل شن إسرائيل عملية دفاعية لتحييد ذلك الخطر. لا تزال الصرخات الدولية بشأن استخدام قوة غير متكافئة تتردد في أذهان مخططي الجيش الاسرائيلي وكان ذلك اتهام طال قوات جيش الدفاع الاسرائيلي خلال الحرب على غزة في العام 2008. من غير المرجح كذلك ان اسرائيل لا ترغ أن ينتهي بها الامر كوكيل للرياض التي ترغب في اضعاف قوة وسلطة حزب اسرائيل؟. سيتم بدقة حساب أي مزايا وعيوب لنقل الحرب إلى مكان آخر. لقد بيّن التاريخ إن أي صراع تخوضه إسرائيل تتم مراقبته بدقة ولأجل ذلك فان هنالك أولوية كبيرة لأي اجراءات تجعل قواتها تعمل في اطار قوانين الصراع المسلح والقانون الدولي.
يبدو أن الملك سلمان بن عبد العزيز آل سعود وابنه الامير محمد بن سلمان عازمان على الاستمرار في خوض حرب الوكالة ضد ايران من أجل اعاقة طموحاتها في الهيمنة على منطقة الشرق الاوسط في اليمن وسوريا ولبنان.
لا يبدو من الواضح ما الذي سيحمله المستقبل للبنان، إلا أنه يبدو على الارجح ان قبضة حزب الله المدعوم من ايران ستقوى في البلاد سياسيا وعسكريا وإنه سيحافظ على نفوذه الواسع في العراق وسوريا الأرجح، وربما يزداد هذا النفوذ وهو الأمر الذي لا يبشر بخير لمستقبل استقرار المنطقة نظرا لان الحرب السورية قد بدأت تهدأ وذلك في مصلحة الرئيس بشار الأسد وبالتأكيد لمصلحة ايران.

إن حملة ولي العهد محمد بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز ضد الفساد في النخبة السعودية الحاكمة أثار مخاوف جدية في منطقة الشرق الأوسط والعالم. لقد اعتبرت تلك وسيلة لتعزيز قاعدة سلطة عائلة والده الملك سلمان بن عبد العزيز آل سعود وتغيير الشكل العدائي في الدولة وتحويلها لدولة معتدلة شبيهة بدبي وإن كانت أكبر منها. إلا أن ذلك قد يجعل اولئك المعتقلين من نخبة العائلة الحاكمة يقاومون محاولاته لاحداث تغيرات اساسية في الوضع الراهن في البلاد. علينا أن ننتظر ونرى شكل وحجم هذه المقاومة ان وجدت، الا أنه من المهم المحافظة على السلام والاستقرار بعد عمليات الاعتقال وذلك من أجل انسياب مرن لنظامه الجديد الذي يسعى اليه. إن بعض المراقبين يعتبرونه شخص يشجع على خرق القانون من ثم يقوم بالمحاسبة وإنه وجد الدعم من والده وقاعدة داعمة كبيرة ومخلصة في البلاد.
يقول المحللون إن حملة التطهير هدفت للذهاب أبعد من سالة الفساد وإن هدفها التخلص من أي معارضة محتملة للاجندة الاصلاحية الطموحة للأمير محمد بن سلمان والتي تجد قبولا كبيرا من الشباب السعودي ولكنها تجد مقاومة من بعض الحرس القديم الذي يرتاح بشكل أكبر لتقليد المملكة في التغيير التدريجي وحكم الإجماع والتوافق. لقد أشاد الكثير من السعوديين بالحملة ضد الفساد واعتبروها حملة طال انتظارها.

تراقب العيون في منطقة الشرق الأوسط والمجتمع الدولي عن كثب ما يجري في السعودية ويأمل الكثيرون في نجاح رؤية محمد بن سلمان وخطواته الاصلاحية حيث أن السعودية هي الدولة الاغنى والاكبر في منطقة الشرق الأوسط وهي مهمة للمحافظة على السلام والاستقرار في المنطقة. إن آخر ما تحتاجه منطقة الشرق الأوسط هو ربيع عربي جديد أو الأسوأ محاولة انقلابية يتبعها صراع وحالة من عدم الاستقرار لن يكون هنالك مفر منها.