Obama to veto bill allowing 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia

President Barack Obama would veto a bill passed by both houses of Congress that would allow families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for damages, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday.

Six Gulf Arab countries have blasted the bill passed by the US Congress calling it a dangerous precedent and attack on sovereignty. Their concerns were echoed by the Arab League.

The US House of Representatives unanimously passed the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” (JASTA) on Friday. A version of the bill had passed in the Senate in May, also without opposition.

The Federal Sovereign Immunities Act of 1976 had been used to shield Saudi Arabia from lawsuits over the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. JASTA creates an exception to FSIA, allowing US citizens to sue foreign countries for terrorism that kills Americans on US soil.  Fifteen out of nineteen of the men that hijacked commercial airliners and used them as missiles to take down the World Trade Center and damage the Pentagon were Saudi subjects.

On Monday, the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council expressed “deep concern” about the bill, with Secretary General Abdullatif al-Zayani calling it “contrary to the foundations and principles of relations between states and the principle of sovereign immunity enjoyed by states.”

“Such laws will negatively affect the international efforts and international cooperation to combat terrorism,” said the Emirates Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, according to the state news agency WAM. Two of the 9/11 hijackers were Emirati.

“It’s not hard to imagine other countries using this law as an excuse to haul U.S. diplomats or U.S. service members or even U.S. companies into courts all around the world,” White house spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters in a daily briefing. “I do anticipate the president would veto this legislation when it is presented to him,” he said.

The White House has said that President Barack Obama would veto the bill over concerns that it could open the US to similar lawsuits from other countries, but unanimous support for JASTA in both chambers means that Congress would easily be able to override it.