Two senior Republican senators want to narrow the scope of the law for possible suits against Saudi Arabia over the September 11 attacks. A group of victims' families said it would weaken the legislation known as JASTA.
Lindsey Graham and John McCain, Republican senators who often speak on foreign issues, said on Wednesday that they would introduce an amendment to the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, known as JASTA.
"All we're saying to any ally of the United States (is), you can't be sued in the United States for an act of terrorism unless you knowingly were involved, and the same applies to us in your country," Graham said in a Senate speech.
The JASTA act became law in September after President Barack Obama's veto was overwhelmingly rejected by the Senate and the House of Representatives. At that time, lawmakers said they wanted the scope of the law to be narrowed in an effort to ease concerns about its potential effect on Americans living abroad.
Under the law as it stands, there is an exception to the legal principle of sovereign immunity in cases of terrorism on US territory. It clears the way for lawsuits seeking damages against the Saudi government. Authorities in Riyadh have always denied backing the hijackers who carried out the attacks in 2001.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Terry Strada, national chair of 9/11 Families and Survivors United For Justice Against Terrorism, claimed Graham and McCain were seeking to "torpedo" the law by making changes demanded by Saudi Arabia's lobbyists.
"We have reviewed the language, and it is an absolute betrayal," Strada said. "The president-elect has made his support for JASTA crystal clear, and there is zero risk that he will support this kind of backroom backstabbing of the 9/11 families."
Saudi Arabia retains a number of lobbying firms in Washington, including Squire Patton Boggs, which has a $100,000-a-month contract with the kingdom, according to registration documents filed with the US Justice Department. Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and former Louisiana Senator John Breaux are on the firm's team, which is providing the Saudi Royal Court with "legal and strategic policy advice and advocacy."
The Embassy of Saudi Arabia hired Qorvis MSL Group and Flywheel Government Solutions last month to educate governors and lieutenant governors "on the impacts and potential risks/threats that JASTA poses on their states' business and economic interests, members of the military and national security," according to the agreement.
jm/gsw (Reuters, AP)