White House will veto bill allowing victims’ families to sue Saudi Arabia for involvement in attacks
In the wake of the release of formerly-classified portions of the 9/11 Report detailing Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the attacks, the Republican-controlled Congress passed legislation allowing U.S. citizens to file lawsuits “against a foreign state or official for injuries, death, or damages from an act of international terrorism.”
“House lawmakers passed the bill by a voice vote under suspension of the rules, about an hour after a solemn ceremony on the Capitol steps to remember the 9/11 attacks,” Roll Call reports.
But Barack Obama opposes the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act”, and will veto the bill when it reaches his desk – despite the fact his veto would likely be a futile act.
“The ease with which it cleared the House, combined with the bill’s unanimous passage in the Senate in May, suggests that a presidential veto would likely be overturned,” Roll Call reports.
The bill was spurred by information revealed in 28 previously-redacted pages of the government’s report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The report reveals al Qaeda funded the attacks by moving money through banks controlled by the Saudi government. The extent to which the Saudis knew about the terrorist activity was not determined.
“The 28 pages show that, according to FBI documents, several numbers found in the phone book of Abu Zubaydah, a senior al-Qaida operative captured in Pakistan in March 2002 who is still being detained at Guantánamo Bay, could be linked, at least indirectly, to phone numbers in the US. Among them was a number “subscribed to” by a company in Aspen, Colorado, that managed the residence of the then Saudi ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan,” The Guardian reports.
“In addition, according to an FBI document, the phone number of a bodyguard at the Saudi embassy in Washington, “who some have alleged may be a” – several words have been redacted – “was also found in Abu Zubaida’s (sic) possession,” The Guardian reports.
So why is Obama protecting the Saudi government from lawsuits by the 9/11 victims’ families?
For one, some argue the bill could open the United States to counter-suits by foreign nationals for acts committed by the U.S. government. An international court could argue the passage of the bill forfeits the U.S. government’s right to argue sovereign immunity.
Obama also feels the bill would jeopardize joint U.S.-Saudi efforts to combat terrorism.
The United States is currently supplying the Saudis with equipment and arms to fight terrorist-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen’s ongoing civil war.
The Obama administration just approved a $1 billion weapons deal with the Saudis.
“The deal would provide Saudi forces with over 150 M1A2 Abrams battle tanks, along with supplies of ammunition and various shipments of small arms, to replace equipment lost in the Yemen war, according to the White House,” The Washington Times reports.
But is that enough to shield the Saudi government from its role in the 9/11 attacks – whether it was intentional or simply negligent?
Congress says no, including Obama’s allies.
“If Saudi Arabia participated in terrorism, of course they should be able to be sued,” says New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, who will become the Senate Democrat leader when Harry Reid retires in January. “This bill would allow a suit to go forward and victims of terrorism to go to court to determine if the Saudi government participated in terrorist acts. If the Saudis did, they should pay a price.”