Congress Overrides Obama Veto; 9/11 Families Can Sue Saudi Officials — and Associated U.S. Companies?
President Barack Obama and Saudi Arabia's King Salman walk together to a meeting at Erga Palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wednesday, April 20, 2016. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster (source)
by Gaius Publius
This story is straight-forward but has two interesting wrinkles. The House and Senate recently (and unanimously) passed a bill that drills a loophole into the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act and allows victims of terrorism to sue foreign sponsors of attacks on U.S. soil.
The families of 9/11 victims had pushed hard for it. Most congressional Democrats and Republicans were united in supporting it. Only the executive branch, meaning President Obama, was opposed (more on that in a moment). So the bill passed ... and Obama vetoed it.
The Senate has now overridden his veto, 97–1 (only Harry Reid opposed; two not voting), quickly followed by the House override (348–77).
Here's the write-up via The Hill:
Senate overrides Obama 9/11 veto in overwhelming voteHere's what the legislation (acronym: JASTA) would do:
The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia.
The 97-1 vote marks the first time the Senate has mustered enough support to overrule Obama’s veto pen.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was the sole vote to sustain Obama’s veto. Not a single Democrat came to the Senate floor before the vote to argue in favor of Obama’s position. ...
The White House lashed out at the Senate vote, calling it "embarrassing."
“I would venture to say that this is the single most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done, possibly, since 1983,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The legislation ... was crafted primarily at the urging of the families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks who want to sue Saudi Arabian officials if they are found to have links to the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.Which means the Saudis, naturally, were opposed:
The Saudi Embassy and a high-priced team of lobbyists it hired waged an intense campaign to persuade lawmakers to sustain the override, but it came too late.So there's money involved, and given the wealth of the Saudis, a lot of it. Still, not enough to "persuade" either house of Congress to support the president's veto.
The Saudi government's opposition is easy to understand — they don't want to be sued for ginning up anti-U.S. terrorism while selling us oil. But what about Obama's opposition?
I'll give you two data points, in the form of administration quotes, that offer an explanation for Obama's veto. First, Obama says he doesn't want to put what's been characterized as "U.S. military, intelligence and foreign service personnel [and] U.S. government assets" at risk. The Hill again:
Obama warned in a veto message to the Senate last week that the bill would improperly give legal plaintiffs and the courts authority over complex and sensitive questions of state-sponsored terrorism.From the last sentence, you can see that the Saudis and Obama are working together on this. No surprise. A little more on what Obama says he fears, via USA Today:
He also cautioned that it would undermine protections for U.S. military, intelligence and foreign service personnel serving overseas, as well as possibly subject U.S. government assets to seizure. ...
“The consequences of JASTA [the bill] could be devastating to the Department of Defense and its service members — and there is no doubt that the consequences could be equally significant for our foreign affairs and intelligence communities,” [Obama] wrote in the letter, which was later circulated by a public affairs company working for the embassy of Saudi Arabia.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, would provide an exception to the doctrine of "sovereign immunity," which holds that one country can't be sued in another country's courts. ...Stripping the U.S. of immunity may not be bad. After all, fear of punishment has deterred many destructive deeds, and internationally, we're no angels. But John Cornyn, a sponsor of the bill, argues that this mischaracterizes it, saying the bill "only targets foreign governments who sponsor terrorist attacks on American soil, plain and simple."
The White House has argued that the bill would prompt other nations to retaliate, stripping the immunity the United States enjoys in other parts of the world. "And no country has more to lose, in the context of those exceptions, than the United States of America..." Earnest said.
If so, is President Obama protecting the U.S., or protecting the Saudis? And if just the latter, why? (I can think of several reasons — for example, America's determined dependence on oil, which ties us to that murderous regime; also, a certain future library and foundation that need funding, plus a regime that likes to contribute to foundations. Among others.)
Second, there's this intriguing bit from an earlier, pre-veto write-up by Reuters:
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters the president will veto Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act within the constitutionally mandated 10-day window, which ends Friday evening.Notice that Josh Earnest was implicitly quoted in the second paragraph above. "Or companies"? Presumably U.S. companies, based on the construction of the sentence. So how could U.S. companies be sued if the "9/11 families" sued the Saudi government? And which ones?
The Obama administration opposed the bill on grounds that other countries could use the law as an excuse to sue U.S. diplomats, service members or companies.
Did U.S. Companies Help the 9/11 Hijackers?
In the hunt for that information, I found this, from Zero Hedge (emphasis in original):
Unleash the revisionist history. Congress released on Friday a long-classified report exploring the alleged ties of the Saudi Arabian government to the 9/11 hijackers.Fascinating. Almost ascends to the level of John LeCarré, but with even larger implications. This much very high level protection of the Saudi government and its ruling family (after all, it's Obama doing the protecting) must mean there's something big, something very high level, to protect.
The missing 28 pages from the 9/11 report begins as follows:
"While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government..."The "28 pages," the secret document was part of a 2002 congressional investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks and has been classified since the report's completion. As CNN reports, former Sen. Bob Graham, who chaired the committee that carried out the investigation and has been pushing the White House to release the pages, said Thursday he was "very pleased" that the documents would be released.
The pages, sent to Congress by the Obama administration, have been the subject of much speculation over what they might reveal about the Saudi government's involvement in the attacks masterminded by terrorist Osama bin Laden when he led al-Qaeda.The pages were used by the 9/11 Commission as part of its investigation into the intelligence failures leading up to the attacks.
A telephone number found in the phone book of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida, who was captured in Pakistan in March 2002, was for an Aspen, Colo., corporation that managed the "affairs of the Colorado residence of the Saudi Ambassador Bandar," the documents show.
The 9/11 story is certainly not dead. Thanks to the 9/11 families, we're getting a little bit closer to knowing what actually happened.