The Senate has defied Barack Obama and approved a bill that will allow victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for its alleged involvement in the terrorist strikes, reports CNN.
The Obama administration had spoken against the bill, warning that it could open up the possibility of victims bringing similar allegations against the United States in the future.
This legislation would change long standing international law regarding sovereign immunity and the President of the United States and continues to harbor serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has threatened that Barack Obama will veto the bill.
“Yes, as I think I’ve mentioned before, it’s – given the concerns we’ve expressed – it’s difficult to imagine the President signing this legislation and that continues to be true.”
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, was passed unanimously by the Senate, reports Reuters. It will now go to the U.S. House of Representatives. A committee aide told reporters that the Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing about JASTA in the near future.
The Saudi government denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and strongly objects to JASTA. The Saudis have even warned that they might sell up to $750 billion in U.S. securities and other American assets in retaliation if JASTA becomes law.
Under JASTA, Saudi Arabia and similar countries with alleged terrorist ties would not be able to invoke their sovereign immunity in federal court.
The Sydney Morning Herald predicts that a “showdown” between the United States and Saudi Arabia will now take place.
“The seeming inevitability of a showdown between America and its fabulously wealthy but disgruntled ally Saudi Arabia firmed on Tuesday, when the US Senate voted unanimously to allow victim families to sue the kingdom for any part it might have had in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.”
The report adds that “the relationship between Washington and Riyadh is becoming increasingly mired in the American political and legal processes.”
Saudi rulers say that, if tensions continue to mount, they will certainly sell their US assets to protect themselves from the kind of US court-ordered asset freeze which the US regularly inflicts on Saudi Arabia’s neighbor, Iran.
The Saudis also warn that playing games with the principle of sovereign immunity will undermine the integrity of international law, turning it into “the law of the jungle.”
“What (Congress is) doing is stripping the principle of sovereign immunities which would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle [sic]”
Previous efforts to make Saudi Arabia legally accountable for 9/11 have failed, mainly due to a 1976 law that bestows legal immunity on foreign sovereign nations.
The impact of JASTA would be significant — the bill would deny such immunity to foreign countries in the event that the countries were deemed responsible for the deaths of Americans in the US.
Democratic senator Chuck Schumer spoke out in favor of the JASTA legislation, saying that if the Saudi did not have a hand in the 9/11 terrorism, then they should have nothing to fear.
“If the Saudis did not participate in this terrorism, they have nothing to fear about going to court; if they did, they should be held accountable.”
Senate endorses bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue Riyadh for damages https://t.co/8NrDXiybb1— B4IN Israel (@B4INIsrael) May 18, 2016
US Senate approves legislation allowing September 11 victims and their relatives to sue Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/gbac7nbAMq— Rappler (@rapplerdotcom) May 18, 2016
[Photo By Susan Walsh/AP Photo]