Congress over­rides Obama veto of 9/11 suits

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGEN­CIES

Democrats joined Repub­li­cans on Wednes­day to hand US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama his first veto over­ride, vot­ing over­whelm­ingly to al­low fam­i­lies of vic­tims of the Sept 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks to sue Saudi Ara­bia in US courts for the Mid­dle Eastern king­dom’s al­leged back­ing of the at­tack­ers.

Both the House and Se­nate voted de­ci­sively to re­verse Obama’s de­ci­sion to scut­tle the leg­is­la­tion. Democrats in both cham­bers aban­doned the pres­i­dent in large num­bers de­spite warn­ings from Obama and top na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials that flaws in the bill could put US in­ter­ests, troops and in­tel­li­gence per­son­nel at risk.

“If we elim­i­nate this no­tion of sov­er­eign im­mu­nity, then our men and women in uni­form around the world could po­ten­tially start see­ing our­selves sub­ject to re­cip­ro­cal loss,” Obama said dur­ing a town hall meet­ing-style in­ter­view on CNN, re­fer­ring to po­ten­tial law­suits.

“It’s a dan­ger­ous prece­dent,” he said.

Law­mak­ers said their pri­or­ity wasn’t Saudi Ara­bia, but the 9/11 vic­tims and their fam­i­lies who con­tinue to de­mand jus­tice 15 years af­ter at­tack­ers killed nearly 3,000 peo­ple in New York, the Wash­ing­ton area and Penn­syl­va­nia. Fif­teen of the 19 hi­jack­ers were Saudis.

“Over­rid­ing a pres­i­den­tial veto is some­thing we don’t take lightly, but it was im­por­tant in this case that the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims of 9/11 be al­lowed to pur­sue jus­tice, even if that pur­suit causes some diplo­matic dis­com­forts,” said Sen­a­tor Chuck Schumer, D-New York, a chief spon­sor of the bill.

Speak­ing at a fo­rum in Wash­ing­ton, CIA Di­rec­tor John Brennan said he was con­cerned about how Saudi Ara­bia, a key US ally in the Mid­dle East, would in­ter­pret the bill. He said that the Saudis pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant amounts of in­for­ma­tion to the US to help foil ex­trem­ist plots.

Obama said that a few law­mak­ers who backed the bill weren’t aware of its po­ten­tial im­pact. He didn’t name them. “And, frankly, I wish Congress here had done what’s hard,” he said. “It was, you know, ba­si­cally a po­lit­i­cal vote.”

But Repub­li­cans and Democrats said the White House had been slow to re­spond to the bill and mis­cal­cu­lated law­mak­ers’ in­tent to act on the leg­is­la­tion along with the 15th an­niver­sary of the ter­ror at­tacks. When Obama and se­nior na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cials such as De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter fi­nally weighed in, it was too late.

The Se­nate passed the bill by voice vote in May. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion then made the mis­take of think­ing the bill would stall in the Repub­li­can­con­trolled House.

On Sept 9, two days be­fore the 15th an­niver­sary of 9/11, the House passed the bill by voice vote with lit­tle de­bate.

A bi­par­ti­san group of 28 sen­a­tors led by Bob Corker, of Ten­nessee, sug­gested that de­fects in the bill could open a le­gal Pan­dora’s box, trig­ger­ing law­suits from peo­ple in other coun­tries seek­ing re­dress for in­juries or deaths caused by mil­i­tary ac­tions in which the US may have had a role.

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