Plaintiffs face obstacles in bid for 9/11 reparations
Last month, Congress cleared the way for the families of people killed in the 9/11 terror attacks to sue the Saudi Arabian government for any role it may have played.
Congress enacted a law allowing Americans to pursue litigation over losses resulting from acts of terror carried out on U.S. soil, starting with the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Claims against Saudi Arabia had been stalled in appellate court by a 1976 law granting foreign governments “sovereign immunity” from U.S. legal action.
Plaintiffs lauded passage of the bill — and Congress’ decision to override President Barack Obama’s veto of it — as a landmark victory.
“I’m looking for truth, accountability and justice for the brutal murder of my husband and nearly 3,000 other innocent men, women and children,” said Terry Strada, a mother of three whose husband, Tom, died in the north tower. “That’s what seems to be getting lost here. That brutal murder took place.”
Despite the more favorable legal landscape, the 9/11 plaintiffs — some 9,000 of them — still face formidable obstacles in their fight to win reparations from the conservative desert kingdom, the homeland of 15 of the 19 hijackers. And even their lawyers acknowledge that families will probably never get what many say they want most: a formal Saudi admission of complicity.
The first obstacle is that there is likely to be continued political battles over the bill. Some lawmakers are already looking for ways to soften it.
Obama opposed the bill because it could open up To win a judgment, plaintiffs must make the case that the Saudi government played a direct role in the 9/11 attacks. U.S. companies and individual U.S. officials to legal action in foreign courts over conducting private or government business.
In much of the Arab world, the new law was greeted with scorn, as Arabic-language online commentary questioned why the United States had not been held accountable for death and destruction resulting from its military actions in the region.
The Saudi government has hinted that it might divest itself of billions of dollars in U.S. assets to prevent them from being seized. Other possible retaliation could include scaling back cooperation in counterterrorism efforts and access to crucial air bases.
“Weakening … sovereign immunity will affect all countries, including the United States,” the kingdom’s information minister, Adel Al-Toraifi, said in a statement carried earlier this month by the Saudi state news agency.
A bigger difficulty for the 9/11 plaintiffs will be prevailing in court.
In order to win a judgment, the families and their lawyers would have to make the case that the Saudi government played a direct role in the attacks — something the kingdom has always vehemently denied.
There has been no finding by the 9/11 Commission, FBI or any other official investigating body that senior Saudi officials played a part in the plot.
The closest any of them comes is ambiguous language by the commission that was widely interpreted as leaving open the possibility of lower-ranking Saudi officials’ involvement.
Families were heartened earlier this year when Congress released 28 formerly classified pages from one of its investigations, which found evidence that some of the hijackers “were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi government.”
As attorneys embark on discovery proceedings, the roles of some individuals — as well as the kingdom’s indirect support for al-Qaida — will come under renewed scrutiny, lawyers say
Terry Strada said that what the families wanted most was a full examination of the facts. Strada strongly believes that Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for 9/11. “All we want is our day in court,” she said.