Last week, President Obama vetoed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would allow the 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for its apparent involvement. Many leaders in Congress claimed they had the votes needed to overcome the veto (2/3 in both houses), but it almost seemed too good to be true.
On Wednesday, the votes finally occurred and it wasn’t even a contest. The Senate overrode Obama’s veto 97-1, and the House overrode the veto at 348-77. JASTA will become law, and the principle of sovereign immunity now has an exception for terrorism. Congress doesn’t deserve praise often, but this is one of those days.
JASTA is likely to have several important effects. Here’s a brief rundown:
A Chance for Justice
As a simple matter of justice, JASTA is a very positive development. Until now, there’s been a lot of violent retribution in response to the 9/11 attacks, but the vast majority of it was directed at unsavory people and governments that had little or no connection to the attacks themselves. Thus, real justice has remained elusive.
In the name of 9/11, the US first invaded Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban government. This occurred in spite of the fact that the Taliban is not the same thing as Al Qaeda and actually offered to extradite Osama bin Laden for prosecution, under fairly reasonable conditions. The US opted not to pursue diplomacy, however, and threw the country of Afghanistan into chaos that still persists to this day. The Iraq invasion was also partly justified on Iraq’s alleged involvement in 9/11 – even though Saddam Hussein’s government was actually a bitter enemy of Al Qaeda and like-minded groups. This too created a situation of unimaginable suffering for the Iraqi people that also persists to the present.
Thus, it’s been darkly ironic that Saudi Arabia, the country that appears to have the most substantial links to the 9/11 attacks, suffered no consequences whatsoever in the aftermath of 9/11. Their alliance with America was preserved intact as America threatened or bombed many of its neighbors. The US government eventually got around to finding and executing Osama bin Laden in 2011 – nine years after he might have been captured if the US had accepted the Taliban’s offer. Given this history, it’s fair to say justice hasn’t been fully served in the case of 9/11, and Congress’s action this week will do something to rectify this situation.
New Evidence Could Jeopardize the Saudi Alliance
The discovery procedure involved in the 9/11 lawsuits may reveal new information that has previously been withheld. If this information further confirms suspicions of Saudi complicity in the attacks, it may have negative implications for the US-Saudi alliance. And given that the Saudi government is currently engaged in an aggressive war against neighboring Yemen, with US support, an end to the alliance would be a positive development for peace.
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