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US senators vow to override Obama's veto on 9/11 Saudi legal action

Published 24/09/2016

The move sets Barack Obama up for a possible first veto override by Congress
The move sets Barack Obama up for a possible first veto override by Congress

Democrats and Republicans have vowed to override US president Barack Obama's veto of a Bill to allow families of September 11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for the kingdom's alleged backing of the terrorists who killed nearly 3,000 people.

Mr Obama rejected the Bill on Friday, warning of a host of unintended and severe consequences if it were enacted.

The legislation, according to Mr Obama, could leave American troops and diplomats overseas vulnerable to lawsuits in foreign courts from people seeking redress for actions taken by armed groups that are backed or trained by the United States.

The Bill's proponents disputed Mr Obama's rationale, arguing the measure is narrowly tailored and applies only to acts of terrorism that occur on US soil.

New York Democratic senator Chuck Schumer, who sponsored the Bill, said: "This is a disappointing decision that will be swiftly and soundly overturned in congress.

"If the Saudis did nothing wrong, they should not fear this legislation. If they were culpable in 9/11, they should be held accountable."

Fellow Bill sponsor, Texas' Republican senator John Cornyn, criticised Mr Obama for failing to listen to the families of the victims and said he looked forward to the opportunity for US congress to override the veto.

The Bill, which has strained already tense relations with a key US ally in the Middle East, passed the House by voice vote earlier this month. The measure cleared the US senate in May, also by voice vote.

Saudi foreign minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir had warned politicians they were on a path to turning "the world for international law into the law of the jungle".

Saudi Arabia had no immediate comment on the veto, which came two days after senators voted convincingly to back a 1.15 billion US dollar (£884 million) sale of American weapons to the kingdom.

The legislation gives victims' families the right to sue in US courts for any role that elements of the Saudi government may have played in the 2001 attacks which killed thousands in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania.

Under the terms of the Bill, courts would be permitted to waive a claim of foreign sovereign immunity when an act of terrorism occurs inside US borders.

Fifteen of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and speculation continues over alleged links at least a few of them had to other Saudis, including government officials.

The allegations were never substantiated by US investigations into the attacks.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is at odds with Mr Obama over the legislation, saying through a spokesman she would sign the Bill if she were president.

Jesse Lehrich added Mrs Clinton supports efforts to "hold accountable those responsible" for the attacks.

Mrs Clinton's Republican opponent Donald Trump criticised the outgoing president for the veto, and also promised to sign the Bill if he enters the White House.

A two-thirds majority vote is required in the US house and senate to override a veto. Mr Obama has vetoed nine Bills during his two terms in office, none of which were overridden.

The senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said earlier this week that "our assumption is that the veto will be overridden".

His spokesman, David Popp, said the senate will consider the veto override "as soon as practicable in this work period".

With no recorded votes on the Bill, it is unclear exactly how many members will back the override.

Many politicians could be having second thoughts about bucking the president after defence secretary Ash Carter gave weight to concerns the Bill could backfire on service members.

Mr Carter said during testimony on Thursday before the senate armed services committee that it could be a problem if another country was "to behave reciprocally towards the United States".

Meanwhile, Mac Thornberry of Texas, the Republican chairman of the committee, amplified the military's concerns and urged Republicans to study the Bill's consequences.

"The risks of discovery or trial in foreign courts, including the questioning of government employees under oath, will disclose sensitive information and subject Americans to legal jeopardy of various kinds," Mr Thornberry said.

Democratic senator Richard Blumenthal said he is confident US congress will overwhelmingly override Mr Obama's veto.

"This veto denies Americans the opportunity to hold those evil extremists accountable through the very system of justice that they tried - and failed - to strike down," the Connecticut senator said.

AP

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