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