The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would allow families of the 9/11 terror attack victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia if that country is found to have helped in funding terrorism. The House 9/11 bill was passed September 9, just two days before the 15-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
According to NBC News, the new 9/11 bill passed the Senate in May and with House ratification will proceed to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature or veto. The White House has been wary of the bill, claiming that it would set a precedent for foreign citizens to sue the United States. President Obama is widely expected to veto the bill, at which point the House and Senate would require a new vote with a two-thirds majority in each chamber to overturn the veto.
“It’s difficult to imagine the President signing this legislation,” according to a statement made by White House press secretary Josh Earnest, referring to the 9/11 bill. “That continues to be true.”
A co-sponsor of the 9/11 bill, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, called on the White House to sign it into law.
“I’m pleased the House has taken this huge step forward towards justice for the families of the victims of 9/11. There are always diplomatic considerations that get in the way of justice, but if a court proves the Saudis were complicit in 9/11, they should be held accountable… If they’ve done nothing wrong, they have nothing to worry about. I hope for the sake of the families who have suffered such losses and fought so hard, the Administration will not veto this bill.”
The bill, officially named the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, would permit 9/11 victim’s families to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia if that government is found, in a separate court, to have been involved in funding the attacks. Currently, such a suit would be impossible under U.S. law. Saudi Arabia, long considered a close ally of the United States, denies any such involvement, despite 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 being Saudi nationals. The Washington Post reports that the Saudi government has strongly opposed the bill, and has threatened to sell off U.S. assets. The signing of the bill would likely cause friction in an often strained relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The vote comes just two months after 28 classified pages of 9/11 documents were unsealed, as reported by The Atlantic. The documents include accusations of Saudi Arabia involvement, including Saudi government officials, in financing the 9/11 terror attacks. Though the Saudis attempted to prevent the declassification of these documents, a government official later made a statement claiming that the nation “welcomed” their release.
CNN discusses the White House reluctance to sign the 9/11 bill into law, with White House Press Secretary Earnest issuing a statement in May.
“I know that the advocates of this legislation have suggested that they have taken into account our concerns by more narrowly tailoring the legislation. But, unfortunately, their efforts were not sufficient to prevent the longer-term, unintended consequences that we are concerned about. This legislation would change longstanding international law regarding sovereign immunity. And the President of the United States continues to harbor serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.”
Advocates of the bill, however, say that the bill would only apply to state actors who sponsor terrorism, would set no such negative precedent for the United States itself to be sued, and would be contingent on proof of criminal wrongdoing on the part of an outside actor, in this case Saudi Arabia.
The 9/11 bill passed by wide margins in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and so with the threat of a White House veto, the Obama administration may be in for a tough fight with the Congress over the legislation.
The 15-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks will be Sunday, September 11. Bi-partisan members of both the House and Senate took part in a memorial service for the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks just after the House passed the bill.
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