The truth about the Saudi bill

Provision to issue a stay on lawsuits can range from six months to “indefinitely” despite the US Congress’s adoption of bill.

It’s beginning to look like all of the uproar over the law that will allow victims of the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia will be much ado about nothing in the long run.

This has been a subject of daily consternation in the White House. The US Congress passed the bill and the White House instantly warned that it would have drastic consequences.

They argued that if they remove the sovereign protection for Saudi Arabia, people around the globe would start suing the US government and its employees en masse. 

US President Barack Obama vetoed the bill and, for the first time in his entire seven-plus-year presidency, the Congress overrode the veto. That is highly unusual.

The support for the bill in Congress was simply overwhelming. That is, for about 20 minutes.

We are starting to see reports that dozens of senators are now writing letters and voicing concerns that they were not aware of the potential repercussions.

They’ve started to float the idea that they might change the bill in the “lame duck” session – that is when Congress reconvenes after the election and the politicians know if they are keeping or losing their jobs.

READ MORE: US Congress overrides Obama’s veto on 9/11 bill

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, described it this way at Thursday’s briefing: Congress is experiencing a “rapid onset of buyer’s remorse”.

This law is not nearly as tough as pretty much every politician and journalist has made it look.

I’ve long held the belief that most of them don’t actually read the bills they are voting or reporting on. It’s not that difficult to do; it’s just a few pages.

If they had read it, they would have seen that there is a provision that the Obama administration can certify that the US government is negotiating a settlement with Saudi Arabia and then a judge has to stay the lawsuits for six months.

Those stays can be re-issued over and over.

The Obama administration would like the matter to go away in its entirety [EPA]
The Obama administration would like the matter to go away in its entirety [EPA]

I asked how long; the response from a hill staffer was: “Indefinitely”.

Still, the Saudi government does not want the US government to admit they are “negotiating” over 9/11.

That would imply some guilt and the government has always insisted they had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks.

The Obama administration would like this to go away in its entirety.

If I was a betting person and there was a bookie who took political bets, I would guess that after Congress members know their individual jobs are safe, they will dramatically change the bill or even throw it out in its entirety.

They would have the political cover to do that if even one lawsuit is filed: for example in Pakistan over drone deaths.

This US Congress, with many of its members up for re-election, were able to say they let the victims of 9/11 seek justice. Even if many of them knew that there was a back door out in the bill.

READ MORE: President Barack Obama vetoes 9/11 bill

Earnest was asked at Thursday’s press briefing if there was a way for the federal government to intervene.

He answered that he wasn’t a lawyer and wasn’t sure but the justice department might know. Not exactly the most straightforward answer.

So no one in Washington DC is saying exactly what this bill does; only that it is really, really good or really, really bad.

It is typical Washington and they will get away it. They are very good at hiding things in this town even from the people who are affected the most.

I talked to a woman whose husband died in the 9/11 attacks. She has been one of the bill’s chief lobbyists, forcing this action after 15 years of trying.

I asked her what she thought about the government’s ability to delay this indefinitely.

She said she wasn’t aware that was the case. It was her understanding they could only delay it for six months.

That might explain why she clapped along with other families when the president’s veto was overridden.

The politicians told them they were standing behind them; the details of just how are apparently not as important.

Congressmen call for release of 9/11 report

Source: Al Jazeera