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Sue the bastards

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.

11 comments to Sue the bastards

  • George Peery

    …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.

    Probably not, Robert. The US Government is a big consumer. Damage claims of this sort are simply part of “the cost of doing business.” And that cost is just passed along to the taxpayer. That’s you and me, Robert.

  • Sandy P.

    There was a joke going around after 9/11 that the arabs were telling, something about what did Americans do after their terror attacks? Call their lawyers. After 9/11 they weren’t laughing.

    Now we shoot-to-kill and call our lawyers. And our lawyers are the best.

    If we can’t bleed you red, we’re gonna bleed you white or green, or into the red.

  • Guy Herbert

    I guess when you have the US costs rule and ambulance-chasing lawyers, the merit of the suit is irrelevant.

    Being exposed to injury and death is part of what you get paid for as a volunteer soldier. Instead of looking to a third party (or the taxpayer) for extra payments on top of the liquidated damages they get in their compensation packages, US (and British) troops should get used to the fact.

    On the other hand, why don’t the civilians injured in that war have a claim against those same soldiers, whose deliberate actions caused them harm? The causal link would be a lot easier to demonstrate. While the military sufferers of “Gulf War syndrome” have consistently failed to show that anything specific that happened in the Gulf War is the cause, there’s no trouble doing that with shrapnel wounds.

  • Kodiak


    With you regarding paragraphs 1 & 2.

    The 3rd one is puzzling. Civilians or (self) mandated States (as Belgium) ought to have the right to sue crime perpetrators & that’s what International Courts are for (all-purpose or ad-hoc ones). As for Gulf War Syndrome, justice should be entitled to determine whether Coalition Nations have purposedly sent their troops to the front without accurate information about specific threats.

    As for the US veteran, they should sue the consummate, zealous US salesman in weaponry: Donald Rumsfeld, our excellent WMD detector & accomplished human rights activist.

  • Ted Schuerzinger


    Rumsfeld wasn’t the one sucking up to the wicked Robert Mugabe this year.

  • A_t

    heheh… Ted, i’m sure Kodiak’ll be weeping into his beer at that one, knowing his love for Chirac & all. Plus, pointing out one despicable thing Rumsfeld managed not to do is hardly redeeming!

  • Kodiak


    Rumsfeld unable to suck up to the next wicked twerp?

    Come on !


    Ted Schuerzinger,

    Have a good trip to Zimbabwe !

    In the meantime think about a valid reply about Rumsfeld’s criminal behaviour & ring me up when you’ve got something decent to add…

  • Guy Herbert

    I suspect I wouldn’t agree with you Kodiak if I could understand you. (You are far from your normal fluent self today.)

    What I’m getting at is an civil action in tort in the American courts. (I suspect the French equivalent would be quasi delict.) In common law countries one doesn’t sue for a crime and a crime can rarely be inadvertent.

    Further I’m not in favour of the idea of an International Criminal Court, which implies a single criminal jurisdiction overriding diverse national ones.

  • Dishman

    In the US it’s fairly easy and common to sue someone who has committed a crime. I’ve done it myself. A criminal conviction helps a lot, but isn’t strictly necessary (ie O.J. Simpson).
    The question is, did the defendants engage in negligent or criminal acts, causing harm to the plaintiff?

    It’s pretty clear that the veterans in question had a legal right (and obligation) to be doing what they are doing. If they were exposed to harm because of criminal actions by the defendants, then the defendants may be liable.

    As for gun manufacturers, there is currently legislation pending to explicitly protect them from suit. It’s expected to pass.

  • Of course, the jurisdictional issues aside, the real problem might be proving that the plaintiffs were in fact injured by chemical weapons. I keep hearing about alleged incidents during the first Gulf War where soldiers at some distance (X) from a chemical weapon release now have strange immune problems because of their small exposure to the toxins. However, if you get these problems at distance X, shouldn’t there be somebody with a much more immediate and acute problem if they were at distance .5X? We have a group with all sorts of diseases but nobody with classic, readily identifiable nerve gas symptoms–only these mysterious “immune’ diseases, remarkable in their vagueness. If enough poisons were released to affect so many soldiers, SOMEBODY should have gotten a clear, unmistakable does of the stuff.

  • OldFan

    Not a single instance of any harm to any US servicemember can be traced to any Iraqi chemical weapons, real or imagined. NObody displayed ANY of the symtoms of nerve, blister or choking agent exposure in any consistent fashion, i.e. in more than one or two people at any location. Lots of symtoms seemed to pop up much later and also seemed to change over time – which is totally inconsistent with the damage mechanisms of these chemical agents [but not with psycho-somatic illness, barking moonbat-itis or plain old fraud].

    Sadly, none of this will matter. Junk science [remember silicone breast implants?] will be dished out to a jury of carefully selected techo-illiterates, easily swayed by tales of great personal anguish.

    As with Agent orange, emotion will trump facts yet again, and contingeny fee lawyers will be the sole beneficiaries.