On Friday, President Obama vetoed a bill that would have allowed the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for any alleged role the Gulf State played in the attacks — a move that will likely trigger the first veto override of his presidency.
Long before the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed Congress, Obama made it clear that the bill would not receive his signature. In February, Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Senate that the bill would put America in legal jeopardy — if the U.S. weakens sovereign immunity provisions, other countries could do the same, opening the door to new lawsuits against America’s government, corporations, and citizens.
But future diplomatic headaches are less frightening to your average congressman or senator than future challengers’ attack ads. And in most congressional districts, 9/11 widows are more popular than the Saudi royal family. Thus, Capitol Hill approved the legislation unanimously.
“I have deep sympathy for the families of the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who have suffered grievously,” Obama wrote in his three-page veto message. “I also have a deep appreciation of these families’ desire to pursue justice and am strongly committed to assisting them in their efforts.”
But this bill, he insisted, “does not enhance the safety of Americans from terrorist attacks, and undermines core U.S. interests.”
In July, Congress declassified the 28 pages of the of the 9/11 Commission Report that dealt with potential links to Saudi Arabia. The pages suggest that some of the 9/11 hijackers were in contact with men suspected of being Saudi intelligence officers.
Hillary Clinton came out in support of the bill, shortly before the New York primary last April.
On Friday, New York’s Democratic senator Chuck Schemer promised Obama’s veto would be “swiftly and soundly overturned.”
“If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation. If they were culpable in 9/11, they should be held accountable,” Schumer said. “The families of the victims of 9/11 deserve their day in court, and justice for those families shouldn’t be thrown overboard because of diplomatic concerns.”