Over the objections of both the Obama White House and the Saudi government, the U.S. Senate passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act on Tuesday, which grants legal permission for the families of September 11 victims to sue the Saudi government.
By a voice vote on the Senate floor, the measure passed unanimously.
Mr. Obama vigorously opposes the bill; a White House veto is expected.
“Given the concerns that we’ve expressed, it’s difficult to imagine the president signing this legislation,” said White House spokesman, Josh Earnest.
The Saudi government has repeatedly denied it played any role in the September 11 attacks.
Although the Saudi government had no response to the bill’s passage on Thursday, its September 2015 introduction in the Senate provoked a bitter response from Riyadh.
In April, reacting to the momentum the measure gained, the Saudi government reportedly issued a threat the bill’s passage would inspire the withdrawal of up to $750 billion in Saudi investment from the U.S.
Emphasizing the principle of sovereign immunity, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Riyadh’s position on the measure is based on basic principles of relations between states.
“In fact what they [Congress] are doing is stripping the principle of sovereign immunities which would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle. That’s why the [Obama] administration is opposed to it, and that’s why every country in the world is opposed to it.”
Co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Charles Schumer (D-NY), the bill’s approval is concurrent with repeated calls for the White House to approve the release of a redacted 28-page section of the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.
Critics of the White House’s refusal contend the withheld pages contain information which exposes Saudi complicity in funding and support for al-Qaeda terrorists which carried out the attacks.
The House is expected to take up the Senate’s measure within weeks.
CNN’s Jake Tapper characterized the bill’s passage as a “major blow to President Obama”.
[The Guardian] [Business Insider]