The US Senate has just passed a bill that will enable the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for damages.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) legislation was passed unanimously. The next step is to transfer the Act to the US House of Representatives where no vote has yet been scheduled as BBC informs.
The bill didn’t find support of President Barack Obama who will veto the bill. However, a Democratic senator is “confident” he’d be overruled.
Josh Earnest, White House spokesperson, said President Obama keeps on “strongly opposing” the bill as it is violating the principle of sovereign immunity and increasing the vulnerability of US interests in foreign courts. “Given the concerns, it’s difficult to imagine the president signing this legislation,” Earnest said.
The bill was sponsored by Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Cornyn states: “Victims and families who have lost loved ones in terror attacks deserve the opportunity to seek justice”.
What the Congress is doing now is definitely playing to the strong emotions. A relative of a 9/11 victim recently told the New York Times “it was stunning to think the government would back the Saudis over its citizens.”
If the bill becomes a law, that will mean that families of 9/11 victims will get a possibility to sue any member of the government of Saudi Arabia who could have played a role in any element of the attack.
To be fair, it is necessary to note that Saudi Arabia continues to deny any involvement in the attacks taken place on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Moreover, there is no absolute evidence that Saudi Arabia officials participated in 9/11 attacks providing financial support to the hijackers.
The representatives of Saudi Arabia announced that the kingdom’s $750bn worth of assets will be sold in the US if such legislation becomes law.
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, connects his country’s objection to the bill with the principles of international relations. “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,” he said.
Last year, families of 9/11 victims filed claims against Saudi Arabia for providing material support to al-Qaeda. However, a US judge dismissed the claims.
According to US District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan, New York, Saudi Arabia had sovereign immunity from damage claims filed by families of nearly 3,000 people suffered in the attacks, and from insurers that covered losses suffered by building owners and businesses.