Two chambers of the US Congress have recently crushed President Obama's veto on the law on the prosecution of sponsors of terrorism (Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, JASTA). This is a symbolic decision that deserves special attention. The first thing that attracts attention is the circumstances that surround the decision of US law-makers.
Obama will soon step down as US president. It is an open secret that a person is remembered best by the last thing that they do. From this point of view, Obama's presidency will go down in history as a period of tough confrontation between the White House (the executive branch) and the Congress (the legislature).
The Obama administration has been conflicting with Congress on all strategic issues during the entire presidency of Barack Obama. Suffice it to recall health insurance and immigration policy reforms. There were also reforms in the fields of energy, environmental legislation and in power structures. There was also a "nuclear deal" with Iran. Congress was showing stubborn resistance to all of those innovations. Obama's Democratic Party has eventually lost its majority in both houses, and many of his fellow party members in Congress refused to support his initiatives.
However, Obama has never given up on making his reforms a reality. He continued running his policies and could find opportunities to break the resistance of Congress. In the end, however, he received a knockout blow, when both houses overrode his veto on the JASTA law almost unanimously. Regardless of the essence of the controversial law, the demarche of US law-makers came as a clear signal: the Obama era is now over.
The main feature of the era of President Barack Obama is a split within the American elite that triggered the confrontation between the White House and Congress. The split also made possible Obama's election as the head of state and empowered him with the leverage that combined direct pressure with skilful maneuvering. The unity of the House of Representatives and the Senate on JASTA can be taken as a signal that the elites have overcome discrepancies and are ready for a new consensus.
Another important principle is the essence of the JASTA act, which served as the basis to demonstrate the unity of the American political elites. The point of the act is not about the effort to "punish" Saudi Arabia, the government of which is allegedly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Needless to say that there is no legal act that would officially blame Riyadh for the attacks.
The JASTA act was approved to distribute US jurisdictions throughout the world. This process has already been started in financial and environmental fields, as well as in the "fight against corruption" (as understood by American justice). During the last several years, the world has witnessed how, in particular, French and German banks were forced to pay billions of dollars in fines for acts committed outside the United States (for using US dollars in settlements). In addition, one may recollect the "diesel gate" of the United States against the Volkswagen Group.
Now the USA is dealing with terrorism. JASTA, in fact, gives the US the right to accuse anyone in the world, including sovereign states, of supporting terrorism and, therefore, judge the accused under US laws, bring down a sentence and impose sanctions accordingly. It does not matter whether it goes about Saudi Arabia, the 9/11 attacks, or any other country, which, in the opinion of US prosecutors, media intelligence and other US agencies is involved in actions that cause damage to the USA, its citizens and corporations.
Congress voted for this law almost unanimously. JASTA acts as a conductor of the principle of US exceptionalism in the world. One can say that America has found a platform for unity with itself - the ideology and practice of not only global leadership or even reign, but also exceptionalism. In this new capacity, the United States is keen to play the role of a global legislator.
Why, did Obama veto the JASTA law that seemingly served as a perfect practical expression of his beliefs and feelings?
When trying to persuade congressmen and senators not to adopt the law, Obama pointed out a possibility that JASTA standards could be used against the United States by citizens of other countries that had suffered from the actions of the American army, security services and so on.
Undoubtedly, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Yemenis, the Libyans, the Iraqis, as well as citizens of many other countries around the world have reasonable grounds to sue America, and the Americans know it. However, they already have protection mechanisms.
Thus, the US does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), reasonably believing that this body will be able to prosecute American military men who were accused of committing crimes in other countries. Moreover, there is a law that enables the United States to disembarrass its citizens detained by provisions of the ICC. The regulations of the law can be extended to ensure similar protection to the Americans judged in other countries.
Therefore, Obama's concerns look somewhat exaggerated. America will never recognize even a theoretical possibility for the responsibility of American citizens to foreign states and their courts.
After the presidential veto, the JASTA text was amended to give the US Supreme Court the right to give the government 180 days to resolve the above-mentioned problems. In other words, there are still opportunities left for extra-judicial and political decisions. As a result, JASTA becomes an additional tool for Washington to control US allies. They can either act like Washington's good boys or answer for their actions in a courtroom.
Finally, one should pay close attention to more important implications of the JASTA law. If US citizens have the right to appeal to US courts to file lawsuits against foreign governments, and citizens of other countries may seek protection in their courts against actions, it means that such actions may be taken by anyone against anyone. This aspect questions the entire system of international law. JASTA, in fact, creates conditions for the start of a legal war of all against all in global scale. This is chaos that the USA creates in a hope to be able to manipulate it afterwards.
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