‘Ripple effect’ feared in veto override bill

Mike Turner among few in GOP to vote with Obama.

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Rep. Mike Turner was the lone Ohio Republican and one of only 18 U.S. House Republicans last week to vote against overriding President Barack Obama’s veto of legislation that would allow the families of 9/11 attack victims to sue Saudi Arabia.

In opposing the legislation, Turner found himself in an unfamiliar place: backing the Democratic president. Turner, R-Dayton, is a frequent critic of Obama, and has not been shy about his dislike for many of Obama’s foreign policy decisions. He’s voted four different times to override Obama’s veto in the past, according to his office.

Few Democrats also backed the president. In the Ohio delegation, only Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, voted against overriding the veto, the first successful veto override in Obama’s presidency.

In a statement, Turner, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said he is “deeply concerned” that the bill is flawed. Beyond that, he worries that it will increase the risks faced by the U.S. military.

While he didn’t elaborate further, one of the key concerns about the bill is that it would allow people in other countries to sue the United States, just as the 9/11 bill would allow families to sue Saudi Arabia.

“The basic problem with the bill is it broadens the range of legal actions that can be brought because of the actions of terrorists or other overseas actors,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of Lexington Institute, a center-right military think tank.

He said the U.S. pulled troops out of Iraq because they were not given immunity even though they were in a war zone. The bill, he said, could cause a “ripple effect down the road that could really backfire for America’s war fighters.”

“This is the kind of legislation that attracts broad bipartisan support — not because it’s been thought through but because emotions are so high,” he said.

Obama made similar points last week, arguing that U.S. men and women around the globe could face reciprocal laws because of the veto override.

Pete Mansoor, the Gen. Raymond E. Mason Jr. chair in military history at Ohio State University, said allowing the bill to become law is “a slippery slope, because as soon as you say this is going to bring justice to 9/11 victims, then should we allow Iraqi citizens to sue the U.S. government over Abu Ghraib?”

Mansoor believes many of those who voted to override the veto “are having buyer’s remorse.”

“Clearly they voted the way they voted because they didn’t want their vote used against them in an election season,” he said. “I think that’s just political cowardice, quite frankly.”

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said Turner’s vote might not be politically popular, but it’s justified, abiding by a longtime standard of sovereign immunity that nations around the world have respected.

If other countries were to apply the same standard, he said, a pilot who accidentally drops a bomb on the wrong target could be sued.

“If we can change the law, other countries can change the law,” Korb said.

Not all experts think the veto override was ill-advised. Matt Mayer, a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said many of the concerns may not be realized. He said 9/11 victims’ families have already filed at least two lawsuits — one against the Iranians, one against the Saudis.

“I get the concerns,” he said. “But it’s one of those things that’s more theoretical than actual at this point. And let’s see what happens…at the end of the day it will do more good than harm.”

The veto override may not be the last word on the topic. Speaking at his weekly news conference last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said he is hoping to “fix” the bill “so that our service members do not have legal problems overseas while still protecting the rights of the 9/11 victims.”

But he said he wasn’t sure if Congress would try to fix the law after the election.

Thompson said Turner’s justification for voting against the veto override is legitimate.

“I think what Turner sees is we can’t expect to have one standard for ourselves and a different standard for everyone else,” Thompson said. “Other countries will try to impose the same standard on our war fighters.”