President Barack Obama vetoed legislation on Friday that would have allowed family members of people killed on 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia's government for its alleged involvement in the attacks. The veto came hours before the bill was set to become law.
Earlier this month, the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously approved the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Congress could now override the president's veto with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber.
In a statement accompanying his veto (viewable in full below), Obama said that while he had "deep sympathy" for families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks, and a "deep appreciation" for their "desire to pursue justice," signing the bill into law "would be detrimental to US national interests."
Obama said the proposed law "would neither protect Americans from terrorist attacks nor
improve the effectiveness of our response to such attacks," and would open up the US to lawsuits in courts around the world. Currently, foreign governments have immunity from lawsuits in US courts, and the US enjoys the same protection abroad.
The president also highlighted the killing of Osama bin Laden and US efforts to "pursue relentlessly" other members of al-Qaeda who helped plan the deadliest terrorist attack in US history. Saudi Arabia has vehemently denied involvement in the attack, but many suspect the country somehow played a role.
Earlier this year, the US released 28 redacted pages from the official report about 9/11 that many had suspected detailed Saudi involvement. The newly released pages included a passage that said "neither the CIA nor the FBI was able to definitively identify... the extent of Saudi support for terrorist activity globally or within the United States and the extent to which such support, if it exists, is intention or innocent in nature."
The Saudis — touted as a powerful US ally in the Middle East — threatened to retaliate against the passage of the law by selling off $750 billion worth of US debt holdings.
Lobbyists for the Saudis scrambled all summer to scuttle support for the bill and pick it apart with a public relations campaign. The Podesta Group, run by lobbyist Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton's campaign chief, John Podesta, blasted out pitches to journalists "urging you to raise your voice to back President Obama's veto," according to emails obtained by VICE News from the Department of Justice.
"As you may know, I work for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," wrote the Podesta Group's John Anderson in one email. He goes on to say that while "everyone sympathizes with 9/11 victims and their families," the bill would open up the US and its diplomats to legal retaliation around the globe.
The emails obtained from the Justice Department include letters from a slew of countries "expressing concern" to members of Congress, courtesy of the public relations firm Qorvis. Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan, and Pakistan all urged US lawmakers to rethink the bill.
The letter from Sudan, categorized by the State Department as a "major" human rights abuser, sums up the beef: "Passing such a law would open the way for many states to pass similar laws, which would affect the international system as a whole, and would set a risky precedent to international relations."
"It may, also, have a significant economic damage," the letter added.
In his veto message, Obama did not mention the potential economic fallout of the proposed law, but he did note that "a number of our allies and partners have already contacted us with serious concerns about the bill."
The president concluded his veto message by saying the bill "does not enhance the safety of Americans from terrorist attacks, and undermines core US interests."
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