US Senate passes 9/11 bill angering Saudi Arabia

US Senate approves a bill that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for damages on the basis of allegations that it sponsored the attacks.

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

A group of firefighters stand in the street near the destroyed World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.

The US Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a controversial bill that would pave the way for families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for damages on the basis of accusations that it sponsored the terrorist attacks in the United States, 15 years ago.

The bill titled "Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act," or JASTA, sailed through the Senate by a unanimous vote and may lead to a possible confrontation between Congress and the White House, which says President Barack Obama plans to veto the legislation.

Saudi Arabia had earlier warned that it would sell off securities and assets worth $750 billion that it holds in the US if the bill passes into law.

Reacting strongly to the US Senate’s decision to pass the bill, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al Jubeir said the stance taken by his country on the issue is based on the principles of international relations.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir

He said, "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."

White House spokesman Josh Earnest during his daily press briefing seemed to back the Saudi minister's point of view.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest

He said, "This legislation would change long-standing, international law regarding sovereign immunity."

Republican Senator John Cornyn, one of the proponents of JASTA, gave a different take.

He rejected the notion that JASTA would target the Saudis, saying, "we have yet to see the 28 pages that have not been yet released about the 9/11 report, and that may well be instructive."

US Republican Senator John Cornyn

Cornyn went on to say that it was up to the courts to decide if the Saudis had any role in the 9/11 attacks.

Charles Schumer, a senator from New York who supports JASTA, said the US was "one step closer to justice for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack."

When asked if Senate Democrats would support the veto, the senator said he would vote against Obama.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said the version of the bill passed on Tuesday eased his worries that it might leave US allies more vulnerable to lawsuits, for example if groups based within their borders but not supported by their governments were behind a terrorist attack.

Classified '28 pages'

In 2004, a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence prepared and presented an 838-page report outlining the events that led to the 9/11 attacks.

But a 28 page-long chapter was taken out of the report by the Bush administration, which cited fears that it could put national security at risk.

It is believed that the report holds important information regarding the attacks and President Obama's administration has also refused to disclose the censored part of the report, giving the same justification.

The chapter allegedly contains information linking Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 attacks.

The report, however, states separately that "we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organisation."

TRTWorld, Reuters