U.S. House Overwhelmingly Approves Bill Allowing 9/11 Families to Sue Saudi Arabia; Obama Vows Veto

Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Family members at 9/11 memorial site (photo: Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

By Britain Eakin, Courthouse News Service

 

WASHINGTON (CN) — Two days before the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow victims' families to sue Saudi Arabia in federal courts.

 

After a quick voice vote with no opposition, 9/11 families observing in the upper level of the House chamber erupted in cheers and applause.

 

"Fifteen years is a long time to wait. This bill is needed. We need justice. I think it's a strong deterrent. I am proud of the United States Congress and the legislative body of this country for standing up and passing this bill," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said on the House floor before the vote.

 

Families pushed hard for the legislation, fueled by suspicion that Saudi Arabia had played a significant role in the attacks.

 

In July, a declassified chapter of the 9/11 Commission's report revealed that the FBI and CIA believed that five Saudi officials, including two intelligence officers, helped the hijackers.

 

That connection was not lost on Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.

 

"Look around the world — in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East, in Africa — wherever you see evidence of radical Islam, that extremism can usually be traced to preachers of hate from Saudi Arabia. The kingdom has blood on its hands. Is it the blood of the victims of 9/11? Possibly. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis," he said on the House floor before the vote.

 

Saudi Arabia continues to deny any involvement in the attacks.

 

A version of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act sailed through the Senate unanimously in May.

 

However, President Barack Obama could veto the bill when it lands on his desk — and has lobbied against it.

 

Critics say it could undermine the 1976 Sovereign Immunities Act (pdf), which grants immunity from federal lawsuits to nations not designated as state sponsors of terrorism by the United States. The bill would prevent Saudi Arabia and other nations with alleged terrorist ties from invoking immunity in the U.S. federal court system.

 

Additionally, critics say the bill might expose Americans to retaliatory legislation in courtrooms abroad and will strain relations with Saudi Arabia, a longtime U.S. ally. The kingdom has already threatened to sell off hundreds of billions in U.S. assets if the bill becomes law.

 

But that reasoning has not resonated with either chamber of Congress. The House and the Senate both passed the legislation with strong bipartisan support, pushed by the efforts of 9,000 victim family members and survivors of the attacks who organized heavily around the issue.

 

Some lawmakers find the idea of blanket immunity unpalatable.

 

"The Muslims that I know that are my neighbors in Texas, and those with whom I meet here in Washington, do not deserve blanket blame for themselves or for Islam, but neither should there be blanket immunity for those who may have committed wrong," Doggett said before the vote.

 

"Give these 9/11 families their day in court. And accord the Saudis all of the rights in that judicial proceeding that they so regularly deny their own citizens," he added.

 

To Learn More:

Angry 9/11 Families See Obama Capitulation to Saudi Threat Over Congressional Bill on 9/11 Lawsuits (by Mark Mazzetti, New York Times)

Convicted 9/11 Plotter Claims Members of Saudi Royal Family Helped Finance Attacks…He’s not Alone (by Steve Straehley and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)

Judge Rules Saudi Kingdom Immune from Legal Action by 9/11 Victims’ Families (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Federal Court Reinstates Saudi Arabia as Defendant in 9/11 Survivors’ Lawsuit (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama Sides with Saudi Royals against U.S. Families in 9/11 Lawsuit (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

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