The House has passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a bill that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for its suspected ties to the terrorist attack. President Barack Obama is expected to veto the legislation.
On Sept. 9, the House unanimously passed the bill by voice vote. The legislation had also been passed unanimously by the Senate in May. Lawmakers in support of the bill have framed it as a moral imperative.
“The victims of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks on U.S. soil have suffered much pain and heartache, but they should not be denied justice,” said Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, according to The Hill.
Saudi Arabian officials have long been suspected of having aided the Al Qaeda hijackers who carried out the 9/11 terrorist attack.
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In July, Congress declassified previously redacted pages from the 9/11 Commission. Those pages did not directly implicate the Saudi Arabian government directly funded or provided financial aid to the hijackers, but did note suspicious ties.
Currently, victims of terrorist attacks can only sue countries that have been officially deemed a state sponsor of terrorism. The bill in question would loosen those restrictions, allowing the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally.
Obama is expected to veto the bill. The White House has strongly argued against the legislation, cautioning that it could ruin relations with a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and set a new precedent that could jeopardize U.S. diplomats who currently enjoy immunity in foreign countries.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that Obama was likely to still veto the bill, no matter how popular it has been in Congress, CNN reports.
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“This legislation would change longstanding international law regarding sovereign immunity,” Earnest said. “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.”
Saudi officials have denied any connection to the 9/11 terrorist attack and have threatened to sell $750 billion in U.S. assets if the bill is passed.
Schumer pushed back against the Obama administration’s concerns.
“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,” Schumer said. “If they’ve done nothing wrong, they have nothing to worry about.”
The legislation puts Obama in a difficult spot. He is strongly opposed but faces the prospect of striking down a popular bill that the families of terror victims are championing during an election season.
Obama has 10 days to consider the bill before either vetoing it or allowing it to pass. Advocates for the bill are worried that it could be defeated by a pocket veto, or if Congress adjourns its current session while Obama is still considering the bill, The Washington Post reports.
Congress is likely to have the votes necessary to override a veto but lawmakers are eager to adjourn soon so that they can focus solely on campaigning for re-election.
Terry Strada, the national chair for the organization of 9/11 victims’ families attempting to sue Saudi Arabia, is urging lawmakers to stay put until they can ensure that the bill will pass.
“This is more important than campaigning,” Strada said. “You can campaign after. You will never have a chance to pass [the bill] again. This is the priority.”