After US Senate vote, White House reaffirms intent to veto 9/11 bill
LONDON - US President Barack Obama’s threat to veto a Senate-approved bill that could allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government still stands, the White House said.
The US Senate unanimously passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) and the measure will head to the US House of Representatives for a floor vote. If it passes the House, as is expected, it would be sent to Obama.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama would likely veto the bill. “This legislation would change long-standing international law regarding sovereign immunity,” Earnest said, “and the president of the United States continues to harbour serious concerns that this legislation would make the United States vulnerable in other court systems around the world.”
“Given the concerns that we have expressed, it’s difficult to imagine the president signing this legislation,” Earnest said.
The Obama administration has lobbied against the bill and the Saudi government warned that, if the legislation was enacted, it would sell off its US investments. A day before the Senate passed the bill, the US Treasury Department released a breakdown of the kingdom’s holdings of US debt, which stood at $116.8 billion as of March.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al- Jubeir accused the US Congress of “stripping the principle of sovereign immunity, which would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle”.
The Saudi government has yet to make any formal statement on the passing of the Senate bill but if the pro-government Saudi media are any indication, Saudi officials are unlikely to be enthused by it.
“There has been a deliberate US intention against Saudi Arabia since the issuance of a report on the 9/11 attacks although the report said that there was no proof that Saudi Arabia or key officials financially helped al- Qaeda,” wrote Mazen Hammad of the Saudi daily Al-Watan.
“Passing the bill by the Senate clarifies the ill intentions… This step reflects foolishness and a desire to blackmail Saudis and be unfair to them. Saudis are waiting for a similar decision from the Congress,” he said. “The United States is digging a trap for Saudi Arabia.”
Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of the Al Arab News Channel, wrote on his Twitter account: “It’s a dangerous development that puts the bilateral relations at risk.”
John Lehman, a member of the 9/11 commission, told CNN that up to six Saudi officials supported al- Qaeda in the run-up to the attacks. He also said the 28 pages of the report that have yet to be declassified contained “no smoking gun”.
He said he endorsed the final report’s finding that there was “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” the terrorists.
The Saudi government denies any role in the attacks and has repeatedly called for the declassification of the 28 pages.
“The late Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal supported the declassification of the 28 pages of the congressional inquiry as early as 2003,” Washington-based Saudi analyst Fahad Nazer said. “He argued that Saudi officials should be given an opportunity to address whatever issues or concerns those pages may raise.
“He also made it clear that the Saudi government had no concerns about their content because ‘we know we are clear of any accusations’.”
The 9/11 Commission’s co-chairmen, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, issued a statement saying that the 28 pages “were based almost entirely on raw, unvetted material that came to the FBI”, much of which was deemed inconclusive by the September 11th panel.
“Accusations of complicity in that mass murder from responsible authorities are a grave matter,” they wrote, while adding that “such charges should be levied with care”.