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Justice Againts Sponsors of Terrorism Act - Veto

Floor Speech

Date: Sept. 28, 2016
Location: Washington, DC

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Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, the decision whether to override the President's veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act has been a difficult one.

Every Member of this body has vivid memories of September 11: the fires raging in the towers, smoke billowing from the Pentagon, a plane destined for the Capitol, but taken down by brave Americans--the sense that this Nation would never be the same.

I strongly support the ability of Americans who are victims of terrorism on U.S. soil to receive compensation and their fair measure of justice. That, at its core, is the goal of this bill.

I have met with the families. I know many of those killed or injured in the attacks were not only the breadwinners in their families, but also mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins and friends. I know the families' deep and abiding sense of grief is just as intense today as it was 15 years ago.

This bill has elements that are very strong and have my unqualified support. For example, it expands the Antiterrorism Act to allow victims to hold accountable individuals who aid and abet or conspire to commit terrorist attacks.

I have decided to support the bill today, but continue to be concerned about unintended consequences that may require Congress to revisit this bill in the future.

My key concern relates to the exception to the immunity of foreign governments. Proponents of this bill argue that the exception is narrow, that it applies only if a foreign nation, with ill intent, takes unlawful actions that cause an act of terrorism on our soil.

But other nations that are strongly opposed to American actions abroad could respond by using the bill as an excuse to adopt laws that target our own government's actions.

A September 15 Washington Post editorial said it well: ``It is not a far-fetched concern, given this country's global use of intelligence agents, Special Operations forces and drones, all of which could be construed as state-sponsored `terrorism' when convenient.'' Those of us on the Senate Intelligence Committee know that, if other countries respond to JASTA in this manner, it could jeopardize our government's actions abroad. If that happens, it is likely that our government would be forced to defend against private lawsuits, which could pose a threat to our national security.

I had hoped some agreement could be reached to narrow the bill's scope to limit those unintended consequences, such as by limiting the bill to the September 11 attacks.

I believe the threat of unintended consequences is real and must be mitigated. To that end I have signed a letter with several of my colleagues who feel as I do that this issue will have to be revisited.

I intend to work with my colleagues on a bill that would limit this bill to the 9/11 attacks, which were singularly devastating to our country. In addition, I intend to look into whether we should limit the bill to apply only to those directly impacted by an attack--including individuals, their estates and property damage, rather than companies with only tangential connections.

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