Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act - Veto Message From the President of the United States

Floor Speech

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


Mr. JOLLY. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to share my concerns with S. 2040, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA. The President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA Director, and the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee have all issued statements against this legislation, and after having spoken with local veterans in Pinellas County who have retired from the armed services, I have come to the decision to support the President's veto.

`Terrorism' at the hands of a foreign government is simply another term for an act of war, and we should respond to these acts with every ounce of resolve our nation can muster. We have done so for generations, relying on military, diplomatic and political leadership to respond appropriately and deploy our men and women in uniform to defeat our enemies. Countless men and women have sacrificed their last full measure for the cause of our freedom and security.

But we don't litigate acts of war in civil courtrooms. We litigate them on battlefields, with valor and with overwhelming force.

By authorizing courtroom litigation of acts of war, we empower other nations to do the same. And we imperil the security of our military and diplomatic personnel, as well as our assets in regions around the globe.

Consider the number of times our nation intervenes for the cause of freedom and security around the globe.

Now consider if our personnel and assets on the ground were subject to civil liability in those nations. It compromises our mission, and it compromises the security of our men and women in uniform and those in our diplomatic corps.

Mr. Speaker, when the President vetoed this legislation, he stated that the United States already has means to act against nations who would wish to commit acts of terrorism against the United States by designating them as State Sponsors of Terrorism. When this designation is made, all sovereign immunity protections for individuals are removed, subjecting the violating country to a multitude of sanctions.

Likewise, on Monday Defense Secretary Ash Carter sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee stating that, while he ``agrees with the intent of the bill, which is to honor 9/11 victims,'' the potential second- and third-order consequences of the legislation ``could be devastating to the Department and its service members.'' Secretary Carter shared concerns that other nations might enact reciprocal policies, threatening the sovereign immunity of our service members based on justifications that are far less stringent.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also stated that ``any legislation that risks reciprocal treatment by foreign governments would increase the vulnerability of U.S. service members to foreign legal action while acting in an official capacity,'' and that any court proceedings could ``put the United States in the position of choosing between the disclosure of classified or sensitive information, and subjecting a U.S. service member to an adverse foreign court ruling.'' Today, CIA Director Brennan added his concerns, that he believes this action ``will have grave implications for the national security of the United States. The most damaging consequence would be for those U.S. Government officials who dutifully work overseas on behalf of our country.''

These concerns are affirmed by many national security experts who penned an open letter asking for the veto to be upheld. The letter was signed by many prominent former members of the executive branch, including Stephen Hadley, Richard Clarke, and Thomas Pickering.

Nothing can heal the wounds of the surviving families of September 11, 2001. Nothing can heal the wounds of a nation whose heart breaks for those innocent lives lost at the hands of our enemies. We can honor their legacies by making the world more secure--by exerting our national security leadership, our military force, around the globe to contain the threat of terror. I believe JASTA would ultimately undermine our ability to secure freedom and to secure our homeland.

We will never forget the tragedy and loss of that day. We will never forget the heartbreak. And let us never weaken our resolve to defeat the forces of terror, so that we may ensure that we as a nation, and our brothers and sisters who suffered such loss, never face such a tragedy again.