The Senate passed a bill today that would allow families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks to sue Saudi Arabia for possible involvement in the terrorist actions of that fateful day. It was passed with a unanimous vote on Tuesday, even though the White House threatened to veto the legislation.
Now that the Senate has passed the bill, it will go to the House where it will go through another vote. This act alone is enough to build up tensions between the already tense relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
The bill is known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. It’s sponsored by senators John Cornyn of Texas and Chuck Schumer of New York who believe that Saudi Arabia should pay for possible involvement with the actions of September 11.
This bill won’t be free, however. It will take billions of dollars from the United States economy if these victims sue another country’s government. The Obama administration, which is avidly against the bill, estimates that it will cost $750 billion in treasury securities.
Cornyn wants to send a clear message to Middle Eastern countries to show that terrorism will not be tolerated.
“[It] will combat terrorism with every tool we have available, and that the victims of terrorist attacks in our country should have every means at their disposal to seek justice,” he said.
Schumer supports this statement and also wants justice for those who suffered at the hands of terrorism.
“[They] will pay a price if it is proven they have done so,” he reported.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina expressed some concerns about this bill. He deals directly with foreign affairs and was concerned that if the bill were to pass, it would open the door for other countries to turn around and sue the United States for other transgressions.
Senator John McCain is also concerned that the bill will drastically damage the thin relationship between the United States and the Middle East. He believes it would isolate Saudi Arabia and undo any efforts we’ve made in the past to amend relationships.
Saudi Arabia has already announced that they would retaliate hard and fast if the United States passes this bill. But families of 9/11 victims are outraged that the bill may not pass both the House and the Senate.
The House is currently split on the bill. Democrats seem to firmly support the bill, even though it goes against the White House, and the GOP party is split over the decision. There has been much argument over the minutia of the bill, since a bill of this magnitude could derail foreign relations in both the Middle East and in other areas.
“It was obvious to me from day one (that) this is a delicate issue legally and you gotta be really careful with it,” says Senator Jeff Sessions, a former federal prosecutor and Alabama general attorney. “We talked with the State Department. We made recommendations that got accepted. And then there was no more complaints, I understood, at the time.”
Yet, GOP Senator Cornyn is convinced this is the only way to truly get justice for the actions against the September 11 victims.
“We should use every means available to prevent the funding of terrorism, and the victims of terrorism in our country should be able to seek justice from people who do fund that terrorist attack,” Cornyn said during this week’s discussions.
If this bill is passed, it will change foreign relations as we know them. It rewrites contracts with other countries, and invites possible foreign lawsuits landing on the United States. Justice is an important factor in helping the families of victims of the 9/11 attack, but suing the United States may not be the answer.
[Image via Andrew Burton/Getty Images]