Obama ve­toes 9/ 11 Bill; could be over­ri­den by Congress

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE -

Wash­ing­ton: Pres­i­dent Barack Obama re­jected a bill on Fri­day that would have al­lowed the fam­i­lies of 9/ 11 vic­tims to sue the gov­ern­ment of Saudi Ara­bia, ar­gu­ing it un­der­mined na­tional se­cu­rity and set­ting up the pos­si­bil­ity Congress may over­ride his veto for the first time in his pres­i­dency.

Obama’s move es­ca­lates the fight over an emo­tional is­sue that has over­lapped with the cam­paign de­bate over ter­ror­ism and the Mid­dle East. The bill had sailed through both cham­bers of Congress with bi­par­ti­san sup­port, clear­ing the fi­nal hur­dle just days be­fore the 15th an­niver­sary of the 9/ 11 at­tacks that killed nearly 3,000 peo­ple in New York, Wash­ing­ton and Penn­syl­va­nia.

The pres­i­dent said the bill, which doesn’t re­fer specif­i­cally to Saudi Ara­bia, could back­fire by open­ing up the US gov­ern­ment and its of­fi­cials to law­suits by any­one ac­cus­ing the US of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism, rightly or wrongly.

“I have deep sym­pa­thy for the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Sept 11, 2001,” Obama wrote to the Se­nate in a veto mes­sage about the bill, the Jus­tice Against Spon­sors of Ter­ror­ism Act. But, he said, “the JASTA would be detri­men­tal to US na­tional in­ter­ests more broadly.”

Congress is de­ter­mined to try to over­turn the veto, which re­quires a two- thirds vote in the House and Se­nate. Pre­vi­ous at­tempts to over­turn Obama’s ve­toes have all been un­suc­cess­ful.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., has said an over­ride would pass in the Repub­li­can- con­trolled House. Yet the Se­nate would be the greater chal­lenge. Af­ter fu­ri­ous lob­by­ing to try to peel off sup­port­ers, the White House said Fri­day it was un­clear whether enough had de­fected to avert an over­ride.

A coali­tion of 9/ 11 vic­tims’ fam­i­lies, mean­while, said they were “out­raged and dis­mayed.” In a re­sponse cir­cu­lated by their lawyers, the fam­i­lies in­sisted the bill would de­ter ter­ror­ism, “no mat­ter how much the Saudi lob­by­ing and pro­pa­ganda ma­chine may ar­gue oth­er­wise.”

Though the con­cept of sov­er­eign im­mu­nity gen­er­ally shields gov­ern­ments from law­suits, the bill cre­ates an ex­cep­tion that al­lows for­eign gov­ern­ments to be held re­spon­si­ble if they sup­port a ter­ror­ist at­tack that kills US cit­i­zens on Amer­i­can soil. Op­po­nents say that’s a slip­pery slope con­sid­er­ing that the US is fre­quently ac­cused wrongly by its foes of sup­port­ing ter­ror­ism.

The bill had trig­gered a per­ceived threat by Saudi Ara­bia to pull bil­lions of dol­lars from the US econ­omy if it was en­acted. Saudi For­eign Min­is­ter Adel bin Ahmed Al- Jubeir said in May the king­dom never is­sued threats, but had merely warned that in­vestor con­fi­dence in the US would shrink if the bill be­came law. —

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