Veteran entrepreneurs and business owners are integral to Wisconsin’s communities and our economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, veterans are twice as likely to own a business as the general population. However, due to the unique challenges veterans face, the percentage of veteran-owned businesses surviving 10 years or more is significantly lower than the percentage of all businesses surviving for the same time period. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) creates additional barriers to success for veteran business owners, and presents serious consequences for our military service members.
This legislation is intended to allow the families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any role it had in terrorist operations. Congress voted to approve the legislation earlier this year, and voted to override President Obama’s veto in September. While the aim of the legislation is certainly admirable, it carries serious consequences for veterans, service members, and military families in Wisconsin and across the country.
Of most concern is the possibility of civil or criminal liability by foreign governments for U.S. military personnel. This legislation risks reciprocal treatment of U.S. service members by foreign governments. The increased possibility of litigation or liability would have a chilling effect on service members and veterans taking the personal and financial risk of starting businesses. The consequences for current business owners would have a similar chilling effect, discouraging growth opportunities such as equipment or expansion investment or workforce growth. There are also broader economic effects of this legislation. If Saudi Arabia makes good on their threat to sell off their American assets, that could have a devastating impact on our economy not only here in Wisconsin, but across the nation.
In addition, JASTA presents serious consequences for our national security and the ability of our military to execute their mission. Litigants pursuing action against a foreign government in U.S. court, or those from another nation pursuing action against the United States in a foreign court, could seek sensitive government information, including classified material, in order to establish their case. This would jeopardize national security or place the United States in the position of disclosing sensitive or classified information or suffering adverse rulings.
The desire to give the families of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, their day in court is understandable. However, the precedent set by this legislation, and the consequences it presents for our economic prosperity and national security, are too grave to ignore.
Saul Newton is a U.S. Army veteran and executive director of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce.