Sue the Saudis–But Not Wells Fargo?


The US Senate and accountability

The US Senate has beaten Obama’s veto of the bill allowing Americans to sue the Saudi government for damages from the World Trade Center attack. The vote was a whopping 97 to 1 to hold Saudi Arabia accountable.

Holding a sovereign country accountable for harmful military actions of its citizens sounds good—until fussy follow-up questions are asked:

How long will it take to collect? Maybe never. But the Senate might have added this advice: Hire very young lawyers because the process will take decades to even reach a courtroom.

How much will this cost the USA? 97 senators swung the precedent door wide open: it could ignite expensive lawsuits against America by people in countries where American military forces allegedly did civilian damage. That is why Obama vetoed the bill. Now Iraqis, Afghans, Bosnians, Germans, Japanese, Italians and French can more easily sue for alleged damages by American forces in past wars.

Is the US Senate on a new accountability kick? Will the 97 senators also hold themselves accountable for making top bank execs accountable to consumers for what their banks do? It’s one thing to publicly chastise the top Wells Fargo top exec, John Stumpf, but another to send him to the pokey for “willful ignorance” of what his bank did. That would be accountability of a different and refreshing sort.

And what a precedent! CEOs responsible for what their corporations do to consumers. But there are risks, like losing campaign contributions.

Accountability has its limits.

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