JASTA — Congress should override this veto
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After a decade of struggle, the Congress passed by unanimous vote in both chambers the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) which the president has vetoed. As soon as this week the Congress will determine whether to override. 

I am a strong advocate for JASTA.  I urge these as some of the facts and context which justified the initial Congressional support of JASTA and compel a vote to override the president’s veto.

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Diplomacy was always an option available to the federal government to bring justice and closure to those most devastated by the tragedy of 9/11. In similar circumstances, the United States has entered into negotiations with countries for which there was reasonable suspicion they contributed to harm to Americans.

Looking back to our Civil War, England had declared neutrality. After the conflict, the Union secured reparations from England for Americans injured or killed and property destroyed by the Confederate warship Alabama, which in violation of the neutrality pledge had been built in an English shipyard. More recently and akin to the Sept. 11 attacks, a $2.7 billion compensation ($10 million for each victim) was diplomatically and militarily secured from Libya for its role in the explosion of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In both these instances our government understood it had an obligation to engage on a state-to-state basis to address American victims’ legitimate claims.

Why was there no such initiative after 9/11? The administration of President George W. Bush did not want to antagonize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or by opening discussions with the Kingdom on its possible role in 9/11 undercut a rationale for the impending war with Iraq. The Department of State, therefore, did not pursue a diplomatic option. President Obama’s diplomats continued that reluctance, refusing to broach the subject even as more and more information trickled out suggesting Saudi entanglements with the terrorists. Is it now the position of the administration that those most grievously affected should have neither a diplomatic nor legal path to justice, but rather must singularly bear the burden? Have they not borne enough?

For more than fifteen years, the U.S. government has withheld much of the information disclosing the truth of 9/11. Our government clings to the belief that the sophisticated attack was planned, practiced, and executed by the 19 hijackers, most of whom could not speak English, had never been in the United States, and had little education, without any external support while they were in the United States. To say that this view strains credulity is an understatement. What is the truth as to whether there was external support and if so by whom?

The 28 page chapter from the final report of the Congressional Joint Inquiry on 9/11 released on July 15 after 13 years of classification provided a sliver of the that truth. If members of congress want more evidence of a Saudi role, demand the release of long withheld information on matters such as the tangle of events in Los Angeles and San Diego. Is it credible that all the activities of Saudis supportive of the hijackers could have been coincidental? Most of the hijackers lived in Florida, Virginia and New Jersey, but the relations between the hijackers and Saudi interests in those locales is largely unknown to the American people.

While the decision to override is primarily a moral and ethical issue, what has 9/11 cost the American taxpayers and what is it likely to cost in the future if the expense is paid exclusively by them, not by those who facilitated 9/11? Billions. As just one example, legislation passed in 2016 provides free life time medical service to responders and survivors. This year the cost will be $330 million. In 2025 it is estimated to be $570 million.

Saudi Arabia and others urging you to sustain the veto of JASTA have claimed that the Kingdom’s reforms in the last 15 years have cleansed it of culpability for 9/11. Of course the Kingdom is a valuable partner but what does that have to do with judgments about its actions leading up to Sept. 11, 2001? The very suggestion flies in the face of the principle of responsibility for one’s actions.

As we look at events since 9/11, just what has the Kingdom done? Has it abandoned its practice of supporting mosques and madrasas where intolerance and jihad are preached and a new generation of terrorists motivated and trained? Has it removed from its schools the textbooks which teach that all but Wahhabisists are perversions and should be exterminated? Has it stopped funding terrorist organizations outside Saudi Arabia?

The Congress is called to render a final judgment on whether Americans will have their day in court and the opportunity to make the case before a jury of their peers that Saudi Arabia was a facilitator in the murders of 9/11. Let our legal system work.  Let the truth be known.

Sen. Bob Graham was a U.S. Senator from Florida from 1987-2005, serving as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee from 2001-2003.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.