GCC, Arab League blast US 9/11 lawsuit legislation

Sunday 18/09/2016
Complicated relationship

LONDON - The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Arab League have thrown their support behind Saudi Arabia after the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow relatives of victims of the September 11th, 2001, attacks to sue the kingdom for compensation.

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) would limit sovereign immunity of countries. The bill, which the House passed unanimously on a voice vote two days before the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania and New York, could result in the United States becom­ing vulnerable in courts around the world, the Obama administration said. The US Senate unanimously passed the measure in May.

US President Barack Obama has said he would veto the measure.

The Arab League denounced JAS­TA, with a statement by Secretary- General Ahmed Aboul Gheit saying: “This law is contrary to principles of the UN charter and the estab­lished rules of international law.” He said the bill was not based on international norms or principles of relations between states.

GCC Secretary-General Abdul Latif al-Zayani said the bill contra­dicted “the bases and principles of relations among countries, as well as the principle of sovereign immu­nity, a firm principle in the interna­tional laws and norms”, adding that “undermining this principle would inflict negative repercussion on re­lations between countries”.

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Ab­dullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan said: “This law is not equal with the foundations and principles of rela­tions among states and represents a clear violation given its negative repercussions and dangerous prec­edents.”

Media in the GCC also came out swinging. “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its people and society have become suspects without a crime, only on hypothetical grounds,” wrote Abdulaziz Sager, head of the Gulf Research Centre, in the Saudi daily Okaz, stressing that US inves­tigations into the 9/11 attacks “did not find a shred of evidence show­ing that Saudi Arabia was directly or indirectly involved in the incident”.

“In case this bill was used to tar­get Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s leadership would be obliged to re­consider the nature of its relation with the United States… All options will be available and the United States will not be immune from losses,” Sager added.

The lead editorial in UAE’s Al- Khaleej, titled US extortion, echoed similar sentiments, describing the legislation as “an attempt to politi­cally and financially extort the Arab Gulf States, a breach of mutual re­lations among our countries and a violation of the most basic rules of international law.

“The United States practises blatant extortion, however, isn’t it time for Arab countries to take a clear and decisive stance to protect their interests from this tyranny that targets them?”

With a more aggressive defence of the kingdom, Saudi writer Mo­hannad Mubaidin wrote in Al-Yaum newspaper that Washington was responsible for “the on-going war in Afghanistan, destroying, occu­pying and undermining Iraq as well as all crises and open wars in Leba­non, Gaza, Syria, Yemen and Libya” ,stressing that Washington “will continue to exploit the September 11th [attacks] as an excuse against Islam and the Arabs”.

The Saudi government had warned that if the legislation were enacted, it would sell its US invest­ments. 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”.

In July, the missing 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission Report were declassified. “The conclusion of the 9/11 Commission is — or was, as they wrote — they found ‘no evi­dence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi of­ficials individually funded al-Qae­da’,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said upon the documents’ release.

Chairman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, and Vice- Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, urged the public to read the results of follow-up investiga­tions by the CIA and the FBI as they debunked conspiracy theories and unfounded allegations.

Despite Riyadh and Washing­ton working closely on numerous regional issues, including the war Syria and the fight against the Is­lamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda, Saudi-US relations during the Obama administration seriously stumbled over the US attitude to­wards Iran.

Riyadh and other GCC capitals have viewed Washington as bolstering Tehran and enabling it to increase its destabilising activi­ties in the region, especially after sanctions were lifted as a part of the Iranian nuclear deal.

Saudi Arabia, which has maintained strong ties with both main political parties in the United States, is said to remain optimistic about the future.