Interesting legal development – a group of Gulf War veterans are suing the banks and chemical companies that facilitated Hussein’s procurement or manufacture of chemical weapons to which the troops were exposed during the first phase of the Gulf War.
“Sixteen veterans from the Persian Gulf War filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, N.Y., against 11 chemical companies and 33 banks from throughout the world that allegedly helped Iraq construct and support its extensive chemical warfare program.
The banks named in the suit include Deutsche Bank AG of Germany, Lloyds Bank of the United Kingdom, Credit Lyonnais of France, State Bank of India, Banca Roma of Italy, National Bank of Pakistan, Arab Bank of Jordan, Bank of Tokyo and Kuwait Commercial bank. The companies that the suit claims have sold chemicals or materials to Iraq are headquartered in France, Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain and the United States – ABB Lummus Global Inc. in Delaware.”
The companies all do business in New York, where the suit was filed, so there is no issue of extraterritorial jurisdiction (the fatal flaw to date of that pet tranzi project, international courts).
The lawsuit will have to clear some very difficult legal hurdles before any recovery can be had. If these hurdles are cleared and the veterans receive damages, then the end result could be extreme reluctance on the part of any private business to sell anything, or provide any services, with a military application to any government. After all, liability for the damages, or even collateral or unintended damages, caused by weapons sold to a government, would probably shut down or impede the sale of weapons by the private sector to governments. Attempts to force governments to indemnify their suppliers would be, interesting, to say the least. Depending on exactly how the case goes off, it could clear the way for lawsuits against gun manufacturers for shootings and other crimes. Second order effects could will include the nationalization of defense industries and weapons manufacturers to bring them under the umbrella of sovereign immunity, or other special treatment for these firms.
If the firms were violating the law when they made the sales, then I can see holding them liable for the foreseeable effects of their illegal activity. If the sales were legal when made, then I begin to have a problem with this lawsuit, on both jurisprudential and policy grounds. The jurisprudence of imposing liability for actions that were legal when done is very troubling, of course. The policy implications, a few of which are noted above, are also troubling, although the notion of governments being pariahs in the marketplace for things that hurt people has a certain very definite attraction.