Congress overrides Obama, allows terrorism victims to sue Saudis

The US Congress voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to override a veto by President Barack Obama on a bill that would allow the families of September 11, 2001, terrorist attack victims to sue the Saudi government.

The 100-member upper chamber of Congress was nearly unanimous in opposition to Obama's veto, with only one senator voting against the effort, easily giving it the two-thirds majority needed to overturn Obama's veto.

The lower House of Representatives then followed suit, voting 348-77 to override the veto. It was the first time in Obama's nearly eight years in office that Congress has overridden a measure he vetoed.

"To give the victims who have lost so much an opportunity to express themselves in this way is the appropriate thing to do at this time," Senator Bob Corker said, while acknowledging the risk of "unintended consequences" from the move.

The White House has warned that the legislation would run contrary to US interests by placing any efforts to hold foreign governments responsible for terrorist acts in the hands of courts and by opening US officials, diplomats and soldiers up to prosecution in foreign courts.

Obama told a townhall forum of military veterans that he believed Congress' override of his veto was a "mistake."

"It's a dangerous precedent, and it's an example of why sometimes you have to do what's hard," he said, noting he understood that lawmakers were reluctant to be perceived as unsympathetic to terrorism victims' families.

Speaking after the Senate vote, spokesman Josh Earnest called the move "the single most embarrassing thing the United States Senate has done possibly since 1983" and "an abdication of their basic responsibilities as elected representatives of the American people."

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) cleared Congress earlier this month just ahead of the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Family members of victims of the 2001 terrorist strikes, in which hijackers crashed jets in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, have long sought to sue Saudi Arabia, claiming links between the kingdom and al-Qaeda, the terrorist network that carried out the attack.

Saudi officials have reportedly threatened to sell the kingdom's assets in the United States if such legislation becomes law.

The measure would narrow the sovereign immunity of other governments in federal courts, allowing lawsuits against foreign states for injuries, death and damages inside the United States as a result of a tort, including an act of terrorism, committed anywhere by a foreign state or official.

Last update: Thu, 29/09/2016 - 10:00

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