Tuesday, July 30, 2013

International Law - Jurisdiction Debate: 1996 Saudi Truck Bombing on U.S. Military Barracks

"On June 21, 2001, a federal grand jury in the United States indicted 13 Saudi Arabian nationals and one Lebanese national in connection with the truck bombing that killed 19 members of the American military services and wounded nearly 400 others in an apartment building in Saudi Arabia in 1996.  The building was being used as a barracks for U.S. military service personnel.  The bombing allegedly was pursuant to an organized terrorist agenda designed to drive Americans out of the Persian Gulf region." - Frederic L. Kirgis (American Society of International Law)

The Saudi Government denied U.S requests (or demands) for extradition of the 13 Saudi nationals to U.S. jurisdiction after the U.S. federal grand jury indictment.

How do you view this issue of international jurisdiction?  This is an open conversation on international law.

In the case of the Saudi Arabian Truck Bombing, it appears to me, when I remove all national bias, that the Interior Minister of Saudi Arabia was correct in his assertion that the jurisdiction falls under the legality of Saudi Arabia and not the United States.  Using the World Court (or Permanent Court of International Justice) ruling in S.S. Lotus ruling to support the Saudi position, the World Court decision stated that “Now the first and foremost restriction imposed by international law upon a State is that – failing the existence of a permissive rule to the contrary – it may not exercise its power in any form in the territory of another State. In this sense jurisdiction is certainly territorial; it cannot be exercised by a State outside its territory except by virtue of a permissive rule derived from international custom or from a convention” [1].  It would also seem plausible to support the Saudi position with the Act of State Doctrine as a supplement to the argument based on the Lotus case.  In Underhill v. Hernandez, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Melville Fuller wrote that “Every sovereign state is bound to the respect the independence of every other sovereign state, and the courts of one country will not sit in judgment on the acts of the government of another done within its own territory” [2].   In addition, we can call attention to Supreme Court decision on Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino, even though it is corporate-commercial in nature, as the decision ruled that “the judicial branch would not examine the validity of an act of expropriation within its own territory by a foreign government” [3].  The only difference between the Sabbatino ruling and the Saudi position is the difference between states and individuals.  

It is interesting that if one of the suspects would have held American nationality, that the United States would have had an argument for jurisdiction.  Unfortunately, this argument does not hold true in the case of American victims on foreign soil even though the United States attempted to argue jurisdiction based on Universal Jurisdiction which is “generally recognized for such acts as piracy, slave trade, genocide, attacks on civil aircraft and war crimes, but it has not been quite as widely accepted for acts of terrorism”[4].  Based on the military presence and nationality of the victims, The United States could possibly argue concurrent jurisdiction which is defined as “jurisdiction over persons or things having connections with other states where the exercise of such jurisdiction is unreasonable”, but it does not seem unreasonable that Saudi Arabia claim territorial jurisdiction for a murderous act committed in its territory.  How do you think the United States would react if Saudi Arabia wanted to investigate 9-11?  The United States position seems reach for grey areas and doesn’t receive much assistance from the definitions of the three main concepts of jurisdiction as “"Prescriptive jurisdiction" is defined as the application of a state's law to the activities, relations, or status of persons again, whether by the legislative, executive, or judicial branch. "Adjudicative jurisdiction" is the authority to subject persons or things to the process of a state's courts or proceedings, and "enforcement jurisdiction" is the authority to compel compliance or punish noncompliance with the laws of a state” [5].

I hold the opinion that territorial jurisdiction is nine-tenths of the law and I hold the opinion that Saudi Arabia is justified in refusing joint jurisdiction or extradition.

[1] S.S. Lotus (France v. Turkey), PCIJ Series A, No. 10, at p. 18 (1927), http://www.worldcourts.com/pcij/eng/decisions/1927.09.07_lotus.htm

[2] Gerhard von Glahn & James Larry Taubee, Law Among Nations: An Introduction to Public International Law p. 201(9th ed. 2010)

[3] Gerhard von Glahn & James Larry Taubee, Law Among Nations: An Introduction to Public International Law p. 201(9th ed. 2010)

[4] Frederic L. Kirgis, Indictments Regarding the Bombing of U.S. Quarters in Saudi Arabia, American Society of International Law(July 28, 11:01 am), http://www.asil.org/insigh74.cfm#_ednref3

[5]Kathleen Hixson, Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Under the Third Restatement of Foreign Relations Law of the United States, 12 Fordham International Law Journal, 131 (1988),  http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1207&context=ilj

 

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