Over the past year, the leaders of Saudi Arabia have built a lobbying machine in Washington, D.C. The Middle Eastern rulers are expected to use this resource to contain the fallout of possible revelations from a fully declassified 9/11 Commission Report.
Saudi Arabia is dead set against the U.S. Congress passing the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, legislation that would enable the families of American victims of terrorist attacks to sue foreign governments that funded the groups responsible.
The potential for a class-action lawsuit against one of most powerful U.S. allies coincides with public pressure for the Obama administration to declassify 28 redacted pages of the 9/11 Commission Report.
Saudi officials have supported the declassification of the report, but there is concern the redacted pages will confirm the long-held suspicion that numerous officials in the lower levels of the Saudi government aided and abetted Al-Qaida leading up to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Evidence like that could make the Saudi government liable for damages. Waiting for the passage of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act is a collection of 9/11 victims’ families, who want to be able to sue the Saudis for their alleged role in enabling Al-Qaida.
The Saudis have responded by threatening to sell off $750 billion in U.S. Treasury securities that are held in the U.S. if the bill is passed. Selling those assets that could destabilize the markets. Some have called this threat a bluff.
“The Saudi government for 70 years has survived on a deep security relationship with the U.S.,” Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told CNNMoney. “I don’t think they want to trash that relationship.”
Meanwhile, the Saudis has added seven new lobbying firms to represent their interests in Washington, D.C., in the past 16 months. In 2015, the oil-rich nation spent $9.4 million on lobbying, according to The Hill.
The potential for a class-action lawsuit arrives at a tenuous time in U.S.-Saudi relations.
The oil-rich nation has suffered economic strain after a huge drop in oil prices. As the price of crude falls, Saudi Arabia's economic stability weakens.
“The oil income has been like the super glue between the Saudi government and the Saudi citizens,” Plotkin Boghardt, a Washington Institute Fellow, told The New York Times. “With this glue beginning to melt away, it opens up a whole situation that we’ve never seen before and they’ve never seen before.”
Meanwhile, diplomacy between Saudi leadership and the Obama administration has become tense after the Iran nuclear deal, which signaled U.S. cooperation with Iran. Saudi Arabia has been engaged in proxy wars with Iran for years, and has viewed President Barack Obama’s willingness to cooperate with its enemy as a betrayal.
As the president and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attempt to mend fences with one of America’s most integral economic allies, the potential for a 9/11 class-action lawsuit could derail the process.
Attorney Sean Carter, who is representing the 9/11 victims’ families in their pending lawsuit, has acknowledged that their efforts could throw a wrench in a key U.S. alliance, but countered that this could have been avoided if the 9/11 Commission Report had never been redacted.
“The administration has really kicked this can down the road since coming into office in early 2009,” Carter told NPR. “And this is sort of what happens when you take that approach.”