On Sept. 28, the Senate voted to override President Obama’s veto on a controversial bill allowing victim families to sue Saudi Arabia. The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, hence forth the 9/11 Bill, allows those affected by terrorism to sue foreign governments who sponsored said acts of terror. The bill comes as a response to the terror attack in 2001 which the government of Saudi Arabia allegedly helped fund. Originally passing through Congress, Obama vetoed the bill immediately. Congress refused to listen to the President’s opinion and passed the bill anyway 348-77 in the House and 97-1 in the Senate.
Anything titled with a name that invokes such emotion causes intense feelings and the phrase ‘9/11’ is no exception. No bill, at least in recent years, has received such bipartisan support. The Senate has been gridlocked on important bills for basically eight years but they came together to override a presidential veto 97-1. That is pretty impressive.
But what exactly is in the 9/11 Bill? The Bill states:
“For an injury arising from an act of international terrorism committed, planned, or authorized by an organization that had been designated as a foreign terrorist organization under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189), as of the date on which such act of international terrorism was committed, planned, or authorized, liability may be asserted as to any person who aids and abets, by knowingly providing substantial assistance, or who conspires with the person who committed such an act of international terrorism."
The implication of this is that a government that allegedly funded terrorism can be sued for any destruction or loss of life the terrorism caused. This would mean that if the bill was passed, Saudi Arabia will be facing a long line of lawsuits for their possible funding of Al-Qaeda’s schemes.
This is a very dangerous precedent to set. Until now, a government has never been sued for alleged crimes. In fact, Iraq is now looking into suing the United States of America for war crimes committed during the war following 9/11.
If relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were strained before this vote, they are all but in shambles now. Saudi Arabia has a troubling history of being friendly with terrorists and causing controversies around the world. Yet, the U.S. is technically an ally with Saudi Arabia. They are a Sunni Islam kingdom in an area dominated by Shia in a time when we are at odds with many countries in the area. Saudi Arabia also supplies 8.1 percent of our oil. Relations between the two countries have been complicated ever since they began in 1933. This could change in the next few weeks. In fact, Saudi Arabia has threatened to sell $750 billion of US assets. Though this will most likely not happen, a threat is still a threat.
It is very understandable that 9/11 victims’ families want the justice that they have not received. But what cost will this form of justice come at? How can individual families hope to fund lawsuits against a government? How can they hope to win a legal fight against whatever powerful team of lawyers the Saudis decide to use? Especially when the only direct evidence of the Saudi tie is found in convicted terrorist testimony and a 28-page government report that does not contain any specific evidence. The fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals does not implicate the government in the events of 9/11.
This bill has all the hallmarks of a feel-good bill. It sounds like a nice idea on paper, it feels good to do something for victims, yet at the end of the day will probably accomplish nothing. How does one even put a price on the devastation of September 11? How do you put a monetary value on a loved one?
David Csordas is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.