Senior Bush officials write to oppose Saudi 9/11 bill

Senior Bush officials write to oppose Saudi 9/11 bill
© Getty Images

A pair of senior officials from the George W. Bush administration on Tuesday publicly protested legislation on Capitol Hill that would allow victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.

Former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal expressing deep concern about the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which sailed through the Senate earlier this year and could be on tap for the House this autumn.

ADVERTISEMENT

The bill “is far more likely to harm the United States than bring justice against any sponsor of terrorism,” the two former GOP officials claimed. “Counterterrorism policy in the past eight years has been a failure, but this bill won’t fix it.”

JASTA would change U.S. law to allow victims of terror attacks to sue countries suspected of supporting those activities. The legislation has primarily been discussed in the context of Saudi Arabia and lingering suspicion that the kingdom from which 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers hailed was in some way supportive of the attacks.

Currently, victims of terror attacks are permitted to sue countries designated as sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, but not countries without such a designation. 

Opponents of the bill, including the White House, have worried that it would deeply undermine the global system of sovereign immunity and would have tremendous repercussions for the U.S. and its close allies.

“We have far more to lose than other nations from creating exceptions to sovereign immunity that others could use against us,” Bolton and Mukasey wrote. “There is no shortage of people hostile to America, even in nominally friendly countries, who would welcome JASTA’s passage.

“An errant drone strike that kills noncombatants in Afghanistan could easily trigger lawsuits demanding that U.S. military or intelligence personnel be hauled into foreign courts.”

Additionally, allowing lawsuits to go forth would demand that lawyers are entitled to an evidence-gathering process known as discovery, Bolton and Mukasey note, which would allow them to pour through “highly sensitive diplomatic communications” and interviews with “high public officials.”

“The harm to Saudi Arabia is something no sovereign nation would willingly suffer: the exposure of diplomatic and state secrets in a public proceeding in a foreign country,” they claimed. "The same is true for the United States."

House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHow does the 25th Amendment work? Sinema, Fitzpatrick call for long-term extension of Violence Against Women Act GOP super PAC drops .5 million on Nevada ad campaign MORE (R-Wis.) has expressed skepticism about the bill, potentially imperiling its odds in the House.

But lawmakers released 28 previously secret pages detailing suspected Saudi ties to the 9/11 hijackers in July and may be under pressure to act. Despite the threat of a veto, JASTA was approved unanimously in the Senate in May, suggesting that the political mood supports passage.

The 28 pages outlined several seemingly suspicious connections between Saudi government officials and the 9/11 hijackers but failed to include a smoking gun definitively linking the kingdom to the terror attacks.

CIA Director John Brennan has repeatedly insisted that the findings were only preliminary and were further explored — and debunked — by subsequent investigations. 

Critics of the Saudi Arabia are not giving up the fight, however.

Last week, former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) — who, as a former leader of the Senate Intelligence Committee, waged a relentless battle to expose the 28 pages — called for the release of additional information about the hijackers, which he said would show connections with Saudi Arabia.

In addition to opposing the bill, Bolton and Mukasey also scoffed at suggestions that the Bush administration would have covered up Saudi involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks.

“It is jaw-dropping that many who describe Mr. Bush as a warmonger believe simultaneously that he is covering for the Saudis,” they wrote. “If the Saudis were involved in 9/11, it would be as much an act of war as the attack was.

“Only in America would someone argue that a lawsuit is an appropriate response to an unprovoked attack.”