Tag Archive | "Saudi Arabia"

Photo Credit: National Park Service

President Obama to Veto 9/11 Tort Legislation to Protect Sovereign Immunity

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Photo Credit: National Park Service

On Monday, September 12, 2016, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that despite bipartisan support, President Obama is likely to veto legislation approved by Congress, which would allow the families and victims of the September 11, 2011 attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any role it might have had in the attacks. The name of this bill is the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA).

While the highly emotional motivation behind this piece of legislation is completely understandable: Protecting the United States and the concept of sovereign immunity, which protects U.S. diplomats, U.S. service members and U.S. companies from the possibility of being hailed into courts around the world.

In a rare showing of bipartisanship, Congress has placed President Obama in a perilous position. By passing this legislation, many initial observers view President Obama’s veto as preventing families and victims of the 9/11 attacks from seeking justice. However, the eyes of patrons championing this view are clouded by emotion and the atrocity of the 9/11 attacks. President Obama correctly understands that there are ways for families and victims of the 9/11 attacks to seek justice without alienating a long-time ally in Saudi Arabia, and without leaving United States citizens and entities vulnerable to legal action brought by foreign nations. Furthermore, the purpose of JASTA was all-but eviscerated by the subtle changes the Senate made to the bill just before passing it. The net effect of these changes make it all-but impossible for the 9/11 victims and their families to actually recover damages, even if they can prove Saudi Arabia’s involvement.

In a world already stretched thin from numerous international conflicts, the international legal implications of a world without sovereign immunity, as we know it, are unfathomable. Additionally, if JASTA were to pass, it would likely provoke Saudi Arabia, and potentially other countries, to remove billions of dollars of assets from U.S. soil. From a purely strategic point of view, at a time when the United States is tightly locked in a proxy war in Syria and Iraq against ISIS, this is simply not the time to lose any friends in the Middle East.

Even if President Obama does veto this piece of legislation, it’s possible Congress might have enough votes to override his veto. If this were to occur, it would be first veto-override of President Obama’s presidency.

Joseph Apisdorf is currently a second-year law student at University of Denver Sturm College of Law and managing editor of the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

Posted in DJILP Online, Featured Articles, Joseph ApisdorfComments (0)

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

News Post: Looking into the Alleged Iranian Plot

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

The United States claims to have uncovered a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.  The U.S. filed a criminal complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar alleging that Mr. Arbabsiar solicited a Drug Enforcement Agency informant, thought to be a Mexican drug cartel member, to bomb a D.C. restaurant while the ambassador was present.  The complaint further alleges that Mr. Arbabsiar, a U.S. naturalized citizen, conspired with a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to pay the hit men from the Mexican drug cartel $100,000 as a down payment, followed by $1.5 million more if the attack was successful. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced Monday, October 17th,  that Iran would be willing to consider the evidence alleging Iranian involvement in the plot.  The announced willingness of Iran to consider the issue contrasts the response by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Khamenei called the allegations “meaningless and absurd” and contends that the allegations are part of scheme by the United States to isolate Iran.

Khamenei is not the only critic of the allegations alleging Iranian involvement.  Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and author, told CNN that the plot “just does not fit the Quds Force’s [modus operandi].”  If Iran was targeting Saudi Arabia, there are a lot of other places to have carried out an attack, not on U.S. soil.  An attack of a Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil would clearly be construed as an attack on the United States and contrary to “Iran’s interest in any legitimate way.”

The allegations are supported by four pieces of evidence: taped conversations between the informant and Mr. Arbabsair, taped conversations between Mr. Ababsair and his alleged co-conspirator in the Quds Froces, details about the $100,000 down payment transfer, and a confession by Mr. Arbabsair made after his arrest on September 29thCritics remain skeptical as to the motivation behind Mr. Ababsair’s confession and the strength of the connection between Mr. Ababsair and the Quds Forces.  The original complaint against Mr. Arbabsair, which remains sealed, might explain part of the motivation behind Mr. Arbabsair’s confession.

As of now, Mr. Ababsair is in U.S. custody, while his co-conspirator is at-large and believed to be in Iran.  The U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, announced Monday, October 17th, that the issue has been referred to the U.N. Security Council.  President Obama has promised to push for the “toughest possible sanctions” against Iran.

Posted in DJILP Online, DJILP StaffComments (0)

Sources: CNN, New York Times, Arab Times

News Post: What Does the Right to Vote Mean for Saudi Women?

Sources: CNN, New York Times, Arab Times

Sources: CNN, New York Times, Arab Times

On Sunday, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia granted women the right to vote and the right to run in municipal elections.  This decision came on the heels of a number of royal decrees and civilization projects aimed at modernizing Saudi Arabia.  Many throughout the world commend this momentous declaration for women’s rights, however acknowledging, despite these changes, that women’s rights remain very limited in Saudi Arabia.  The question remains, what real change will these rights bear on women’s status in Saudi Arabian society?

According to the White House, this is, “an important step forward in expanding the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.”  The White House welcomed the announcement and noted it recognizes the significant contributions women make in Saudi Arabian society.  Yet, the King’s announcement was the result of the ever-increasing pressure, largely from the growing number of Saudi women activists, to grant women the right to vote.  In the past year, the activists have become much more active and adamant in increasing women’s rights.  The activists have written formal requests to the government to demanding the right to vote and to run for election, as well as attempted to gain entry into voting centers this past April for the chance to vote in the latest elections.  In June the activists also took to the streets in cars, defying the ban on female drivers, in efforts to obtain the right for women to drive and travel freely throughout the nation.   Many activists hail Sunday’s announcement as “great news,” but do so with the continued demand that further barriers be removed so that women can function without requiring a male guardian.

Ahmed Al-Jarallah sees the announcement as nothing short of completing the democratic process in Saudi Arabia.  He says that King Abdullah’s declaration is just the beginning because the King “does not want to marginalize the role of women in the Saudi society according to religious constraint.” Thus, he sees that there are more changes to come, and feels the royal decree will allow women to carry out their activities without a male guardian.  This expansive view of Sunday’s decree is, however, in the minority.

While the King’s declaration provided reason for jubilation, many political activists caution to temper the expectations of upcoming change.  “Some women wondered aloud how they would be able to campaign for office when they were not even allowed to drive. And there is a long history of royal decrees stalling, as weak enactment collides with the bulwark of traditions ordained by the Wahhabi sect of Islam and its fierce resistance to change.” Many question how quickly change will occur, and how many women will actually be able to participate since the religious traditionalism that dominates the country still allows, if not encourages, men to limit women’s participation in the legal realm.

Further, “Some analysts described the King’s choice as the path of least resistance.” By giving women this right, he may be able to ignore demands for an elected Shura.  Granting women the right to vote was also less controversial than giving women the right to drive.  Moreover, under the current system, often controlled by religious edicts, it is required that a male guardian accompany females when a female wants to travel or take part in daily commercial activities, if allowed to participate at all.  The problem in many instances is not with Saudi Arabian law, but with the vigor of traditional beliefs.  Thus, Fawazaih Bakr, an Education Professor in Riyadh said, “We are now looking for even more,” because this “is not something that will change the life of most women.”

There is no doubt that King Abdullah’s decree was a step in the right direction for women’s rights and their struggle for equality in Saudi Arabia.  Yet, there are serious reservations about whether this declaration was intended only as a symbolic step in hopes of avoiding the greater push for overwhelming change, or if this is the first step of many to come for veritable changes to women’s rights.  Activists are happy to see this step forward for women’s rights, but they will not stop here in their fight for equality.  Although unlikely that any monumental change will come fast, or without much resistance from traditional Saudi Arabia, Sunday’s decree does bring new hope for a future of equality for men and women within Saudi Arabia.

Posted in DJILP Online, DJILP StaffComments (1)

University of Denver Sturm College of Law