Earlier this year, after pleading guilty to conspiring to kill Americans in the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui admitted that his activities were funded in part by members of the Saudi royal family.
This was not the first time the Saudi government has been tied to terrorism in America.
Leaked information from the censored 28 pages of the 9/11 congressional inquiry report show a number of phone calls between the Saudi embassy and hijackers’ handlers leading up the attacks, as well as a transfer of $130,000 from the family of former Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar to the handler of another hijacker.
Shortly after 9/11, though it was known that 15 out of 19 of the hijackers were Saudi citizens, the FBI began evacuating Saudi officials from the US, including one bin Laden family member who appeared on the terror watch list. According to former FBI agent Mark Rossini, the FBI was barred from serving subpoenas to produce evidence that would link the attacks to any of the Saudi officials being evacuated.
Today, the families of 9/11 victims wishing to seek legal justice for their lost loved ones are unable to sue members of the Saudi royal family and other Saudi institutions, all because of a 1976 law granting immunity to foreign countries in American courts.
“As our nation confronts new and expanding terror networks that are targeting our citizens, stopping the funding source for terrorists becomes even more important,” said Republican Senator John Cornyn, highlighting the importance of holding the Saudi government legally accountable.
When Senator Cornyn and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer sponsored a bipartisan bill that would rescind foreign nations’ immunity in cases of terrorist acts that lead to American deaths on US soil, it seemed like a no-brainer.
That is, until the White House began lobbying Congress to block it.
Why would the Obama administration fight to protect Saudi interests over those of American families? For one, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir has threatened to sell off $750 billion in treasury securities and other US assets if the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) passes.
However, many economists doubt the likelihood of this threat, due to the difficulty of its execution and the fact that it would severely weaken the Saudi economy.
Another reason the Obama administration has given for opposing JASTA is the legal risk to which it might expose the US government and corporations, should foreign countries enact similar legislation limiting our legal immunity.
Passing JASTA would “expose the United States of America to lawsuits and take away our sovereign immunity and create a terrible precedent,” warned Secretary of State John Kerry.
This risk may be real, but is it any reason to shield the financial backers of al Qaeda? Our legal system is based on the premise that no one is above the law. Shouldn’t that hold true in the cases of Prince Bandar and his family? We think so, and we hope our elected officials feel the same.
Sources: Kludt, Tom, Elise Labott and Ted Barrett, “Saudis warn of economic reprisals if Congress passes 9/11 bill,” CNN, 17 April 2016.
Mazzetti, Mark, “Saudi Arabia Warns of Economic Fallout if Congress Passes 9/11 Bill,” The New York Time, 15 April 2016.
Sperry, Paul, “How US covered up Saudi role in 9/11,” The New York Post, 17 April 2016.