WASHINGTON: Two leading US presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, on Monday backed a bill that would allow families of 9/11 victims to sue governments whose nationals were involved in the attack.
Although the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, approved by the Senate’s judiciary committee last month, does not specifically mention Saudi Arabia by name, a number of victims’ families have already announced their intention to sue the government in Riyadh.
“Obviously we’ve got to make anyone who participates in or supports terrorism pay a price. And we also have to be aware of any consequences that might affect Americans, either military or civilian or our nation,” Mrs Clinton told ABC News on Sunday night.
On Monday, her campaign released a more definitive statement saying families and victims of terror need to “hold accountable those responsible. As president, she’d work with Congress on that end”.
“I support legislation by Senator Chuck Schumer that would allow Americans, including the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, to use US courts to determine if foreign entities are culpable for terrorist attacks in the United States and seek restitution for the damages and lives lost,” said Senator Sanders.
The dispute caused a major rupture in US-Saudi relations and earlier this week Saudi Arabia threatened to pull $750 billion from US economy if Congress approved the bill.
The controversy cropped up days before US President Barack Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia. He is due to leave for Riyadh on Tuesday. Saudis blame President Obama for the rehabilitation of Iran as a major player in the Middle East by signing a nuclear deal that allows Tehran to revive its much-sanctioned economy.
28 PAGES: The Obama administration is not only trying to block the 9/11 bill but also trying to prevent Congress from releasing some documents that highlight the alleged Saudi role in the Sept 11, 2001, attack.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have been pushing to declassify 28 pages of an 838-page congressional report on the worst terror attack on American soil.
American media reports claim that these 28 pages — locked away in a secure basement room at the Capitol — confirm Saudi involvement with some of the 9/11 hijackers.
The documents are expected to unveil an alleged Saudi role in the attack and the bill has proposed to take away immunity from governments in cases “arising from a terrorist attack that kills an American on American soil”.
Thousands of victim families have been trying for years to persuade the US government to release those 28 pages and to sue Saudi Arabia.
Initially, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tried not to get involved in this dispute and whenever asked for comments, both replied that they did not know enough about this issue to take a clear stance.
But when media reports, and opinion surveys, suggested that most American citizens wanted some action against governments allegedly involved in the 9/11 attack, they changed their positions.
Hillary Clinton made it obvious that she would not support the Obama administration’s efforts to hide the document or block the bill.
Mr Sanders went a step further, urging the administration to “declassify the 28-page conclusion of the 9/11 commission’s report on the potential sources of foreign support received by the hijackers”.
And a former Florida senator, Bob Graham, urged the US government not to allow the Saudis to blackmail them. Mr Graham, who co-chaired a joint congressional investigation into the attacks, claimed that Saudi officials were worried their ties to the terrorists would be revealed during a trial if the bill were passed.
The US administration, however, feels that if the Saudis went ahead with their threat, it would have an adverse effect on the global economy. Obama officials are spending the week lobbying with both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, urging them not to pass the bill.
But the movers of the bill point out that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and so far the Saudis had faced no scrutiny in the United States.
“I think it’s even more objectionable that the US government has been supporting Saudi Arabia and erecting roadblocks to the passage of the legislation,” said Senator Graham