China / World

9/11 families get OK to sue Saudi Arabia

By Reuters in Washington (China Daily) Updated: 2016-09-30 07:41

US Congress rejects a call by Barack Obama not to move forward with the proposed law

Congress on Wednesday overwhelmingly rejected President Barack Obama's veto of legislation allowing relatives of the victims of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks to sue Saudi Arabia, the first veto override of his presidency, just four months before it ends.

The House of Representatives voted 348-77 against the veto, hours after the Senate rejected it 97-1, meaning the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act will become law.

The vote was a blow to Obama as well as to Saudi Arabia, one of the United States' longest-standing allies in the Arab world, and some lawmakers who sup-ported the override already plan to revisit the issue.

Obama said he thought the Congress had made a mis-take, reiterating his belief that the legislation set a dangerous precedent and indicating that he thought political considerations were behind the vote.

"If you're perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that's a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do," he said on CNN.

Obama's 11 previous vetoes were all sustained. But this time almost all his strongest Democratic supporters in Congress joined Republicans to oppose him in one of their last actions before leaving Washington to campaign for the Nov 8 election.

Veto overrided

"Overriding a presidential veto is something we don't take lightly, but it was important in this case that the families of the victims of 9/11 be allowed to pursue justice, even if that pursuit causes some diplomatic discomforts," Senator Charles Schumer, a top Senate Democrat, said in a statement.

Schumer represents New York, site of the World Trade Center and home to many of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks, survivors and families of victims.

The law, known as JASTA, passed the House and Senate without objections earlier this year.

Support was fueled by impatience in Congress with Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, promotion of a severe form of Islam tied to militancy and failure to do more to ease the international refugee crisis.

The law grants an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on US soil, clearing the way for lawsuits seeking damages from the Saudi government.

Riyadh has denied long-standing suspicions that it backed the hijackers who attacked the United States in 2001. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals.

Family members had tied their last push for the bill to the 15th anniversary of the attacks this month, demon-strating outside the White House and Capitol. On Wednesday, two fire trucks displayed a giant US flag out-side the Senate.

"We rejoice in this triumph and look forward to our day in court and a time when we may finally get more answers regarding who was truly behind the attacks, "TerryStrada, whose husband died in the attacks, said in a statement.

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