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House OKs Bill to Let 9/11 Families Sue Saudi Arabia

The House passed on Friday controversial legislation which would allow the families of victims of the September 11th attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.
IMAGE: Bergen Record photo of 9/11 flag raising
A detail from the famous Bergen Record photo of firefighters raising the flag over Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001.

On the eve of the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the House unanimously passed on Friday controversial legislation clearing the way for the families of victims to sue Saudi Arabia if that country is found legally responsible for helping back the deadly terrorist acts.

The bill, which passed the Senate in May, now heads to President Obama’s desk. The White House strongly opposes the legislation and worries the legislation leaves the U.S. open to similar suits.

Critics also argue the bill will put U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia in jeopardy and potentially set a dangerous precedent of Americans suing foreign governments.

The president is expected to veto the bill.

Related: Senate OKs Bill to Allow 9/11 Victims' Families to Sue Saudi Arabia

The White House on Friday referred back to the administration's earlier statements strongly opposing the legislation.

"It's difficult to imagine the president signing this legislation. That continues to be true," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in May.

At its core, the back and forth over the measure centers on the belief, held by a number of 9/11 families and a bipartisan group of lawmakers that Saudi Arabia was involved in the September 11th attacks: 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudi.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, a co-sponsor of the bill, told reporters in May that he is confident that if the bill is vetoed the Senate would be able to override it because they do not believe the arguments the White House is making stand up.

Image: Sen. John Cornyn and Sen. Chuck Schumer
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) take questions during a news conference concerning the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), on Capitol Hill, May 17, 2016, in Washington, DC. On Tuesday, the Senate passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) bill. The bill would allow survivors and relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks to file lawsuits seeking damages against the government of Saudi Arabia.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

“I’m pleased the House has taken this huge step forward towards justice for the families of the victims of 9/11. There are always diplomatic considerations that get in the way of justice, but if a court proves the Saudis were complicit in 9/11, they should be held accountable," Schumer said in a statement on Friday after the measure's passage. " If they’ve done nothing wrong, they have nothing to worry about. I hope for the sake of the families who have suffered such losses and fought so hard, the Administration will not veto this bill.”

Related: On Saudi Arabia Trip Obama Seeks to Quell Tensions

Bill co-sponsor, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the bill's passage, just days before September 11th, is especially meaningful.

“Today’s vote sends an unmistakable message that we should combat terrorism with every tool we have, and that the families of those lost in attacks like that on September 11th should have every means at their disposal to seek justice,” Cornyn said in a statement. “As we prepare to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the tragic events that took the lives of so many family members, friends, and first responders that day, we have the chance to help those who have already lost so much. It’s time to make this bill a reality, and I hope the President will sign it into law.”

The Saudi Foreign Minister has previously said that Saudi Arabia's opposition to the bill was based on basic principles of sovereign immunity.

"In fact what they [Congress] are doing is stripping the principle of sovereign immunities which would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle," Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said in May in a statement." That's why the [Obama] administration is opposed to it, and that's why every country in the world is opposed to it."