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Congress Gives the Go-Ahead to 9/11 Lawsuits Against Saudi Arabia

Congress has recently overridden President Obama’s veto on the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which is the first time that it has overridden any of Obama’s vetos. This controversial law allows for private citizens to sue the country of Saudi Arabia for the country’s role the 9/11 attacks in American courts.

Saudi Arabia has long been accused of having provided support to the terrorists who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks. After all, 15 of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Ladin, the late leader of Al Qaeda, had ties to the royal family, as his grandfather was the royal family’s architect.

However, the Saudi Arabian government’s role in the September 11 attacks appeared to be larger than what most Americans thought it was when Congress released the now-famous “28 pages” pulled from a 2002 congressional inquiry into the attacks earlier this year. Within that document, there are numerous examples of how Saudi Arabia appeared to have provided support to the hijackers.

This assistance ranged from an alleged Saudi intelligence officer who financially provided two of the hijackers a place to stay and helping them find an apartment in San Diego to a known senior Al Qaeda operations coordinator maintaining contact with various U.S.-based employees of the Saudi ambassador to the United States. When this information was made public, families of many of the victims wanted to hold Saudi Arabia responsible for its role in facilitating the attacks.

Saudi Arabia Liable For 9/11?

Aiding and abetting someone in committing a crime is a well-known crime in and of itself. A person can also be sued in civil court for assisting another in carrying out criminal activity. Currently, a person can only sue other people and organizations in civil court for their role in aiding and abetting in a crime that led to various injuries, such as a wrongful death or a significant loss of property.

However, JASTA will allow people who have suffered a physical injury, loss of property, or death as a result of a terrorist attack committed in the United States to file a lawsuit in federal court against a foreign state for the role that any of its officials, employees, or agents played in supporting the attack while acting in their official capacity. This act imposes liability on foreign states for knowingly providing help to known terrorist organizations who then carry out attacks on the United States. While most laws do not apply to events that have happened before they are enacted, JASTA also retroactively applies to events happening on or after September 11, 2001.

Normally, foreign governments are immune from lawsuits within the United States. Allowing people to sue foreign governments may negatively impact the federal government’s relationship with that foreign country. With this concern in mind, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act does permit the Attorney General to stop any lawsuit on behalf of the Secretary of State. This can only be done in the event that the United States is engaged in good faith talks with the defendant concerning a resolution for the claims being brought against the defendant.

However, the stay on the lawsuit will only be allowed to last for 180 days, after which the Attorney General will have to request a 180-day extension to continue the stay if the discussions are still ongoing. Although the law, and, thus, the 180-day stay period, has yet to be tested, it does appear that the stay cannot be used to infinitely stall a lawsuit and otherwise provide the country immunity from terrorism-related lawsuits.

With the passage of JASTA, the families of those who died in the September 11 attacks can finally receive some form of justice by being able to bring lawsuits against Saudi Arabia for providing assistance to the hijackers and enabling them to carry out their attacks. It will also provide the victims of future terrorist attacks a path of recourse against any foreign government that decides to aid and abet members of terrorist organizations in their efforts to commit future terrorist attacks on American soil. If you or a loved one wish to bring a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia for the 9/11 attacks, it would be in your best interest to contact a personal injury attorney to discuss your new right to a lawsuit under JASTA.

Kristen Johnson


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