Law

'Underhanded' tactics? Op-eds opposing 9/11 bill look very similar

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, explains his opposition to the JASTA legislation

 

Newspaper op-ed sections across the country have in recent weeks carried impassioned columns opposing a controversial law allowing families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government.

The articles, however, are strikingly similar. Several use near-identical passages to make their case against the law -- raising questions about whether the Saudi government or its allies are helping circulate a cookie-cutter column. 

The Daily Caller first reported that a number of opinion pieces by at least five authors, and published in five newspapers in October and November, strongly resemble one another and appear to originate from the same source. 

All speak out against The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which was enacted in September after Congress overrode a veto by President Obama. It allows American citizens to file claims against foreign governments related to terrorist attacks if those governments helped finance the attacks -- and is intended to allow 9/11 families to sue the government of Saudi Arabia over claims the Kingdom helped finance the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which it denies. 

Kristen Breitweiser, a 9/11 widow and activist, told FoxNews.com she was surprised to see the similarities in the anti-JASTA columns. 

“To learn about what may have been an underhanded effort to use the military against 9/11 families, it shocks the conscience,” she said.

For instance, in a Nov. 4 piece in The Tennessean, retired Air Force Major Gen. William Russell Cotney warned that the law will undermine sovereign immunity and hurt U.S. soldiers and diplomats abroad:

“The principle known as sovereign immunity has governed relations between states for centuries. It holds that governments cannot be sued for civil wrongs without their consent. In international relations, it preserves the right and responsibility of governments to settle disputes with other governments on behalf of their citizens.”

The piece echoes a similar piece by Angela Sinkovits – a U.S. veteran writing for The Denver Post – on Oct. 5, where she uses almost exactly the same language.

“The principle of sovereign immunity has governed relations between states for centuries. It holds that governments cannot be sued for civil wrongs without their consent. In international relations, it preserves the right and responsibility of governments to settle disputes with other governments on behalf of their citizens,” she writes.

Similar language also appears in a guest column by Don Pugsley – a former special forces Green Beret officer -- in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on Nov, 28.

The Daily Caller also located a letter to the editor in the Concord Monitor on Nov. 20 by a Ken Georgevits, who uses a similar chunk of text.

Among other similarities, both Pugsley and Cotney use this paragraph in their pieces:

“No nation wants this. In fact, several countries have raised their deep concerns about JASTA with the United States government, including the Gulf Cooperation Council, the European Union, the Netherlands, Turkey and Pakistan — countries where many thousands of U.S. servicemen and women are or have been present.”

While the similarities point to a level of coordination, it isn't clear who is behind it. The Caller noted the Saudis have employed a number of lobbyist firms since the law was passed as a way to push back. The Hill reported in November that the Saudis have employed 14 lobbying firms in order to seek an overhaul to the law on Capitol Hill.

“It’s not pleasant for 9/11 families to have our biggest sources of opposition to come from our White House and our State Department but, adding to that, a lot of the lobbying firms the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has hired are run by well-entrenched former elected officials, or by those from the Armed Services or other leadership positions, and frankly it’s bipartisan and a big problem,” Breitweiser said. 

FoxNews.com has reached out to the Saudi Embassy in the U.S. for comment. 

The fight over JASTA is far from finished. Last week, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced a bill to narrow the scope of the law, so that governments could only be held liable "if they knowingly engage with a terrorist organization directly or indirectly, including financing."

The senators both say the fix is designed to make it less likely the law would affect the United States, while opponents say it is designed to weaken the law. 

FoxNews.com's Adam Shaw contributed to this report.

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