White House Explains Opposition to 9/11 Families’ Saudi Arabia Liability Bill


One issue that has been thrust into the 2016 presidential election is a controversial bill that would allow Saudi Arabia to face liability for the 9/11 attacks in American courts, which has in turn elicited threats of a massive sell-off of American assets by the Saudi government. The bill is supported by 9/11 victims’ families, is opposed by the Obama administration, and is not being touched with a 10-foot pole by either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, each of whom professed insufficient knowledge of the legislation over the weekend.

At Monday’s White House daily briefing, Press Secretary Josh Earnest gave an excellent, if hilariously self-serving, explanation of the administration’s opposition to the bill. For the sake of clarity, please substitute the phrase “humanitarian efforts” with “drone strikes” in the following response:

Earnest is actually referring to the principle of “state immunity,” which is codified in US law by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. It’s a principle that keeps us from getting sued in foreign courts for all of our “humanitarian efforts.”

The bill puts Sanders and Clinton in a tough spot, pitting them against the 9/11 families who have particular resonance in the region where they both hope to score victories, and the Obama administration, which is right about the bill. Opposing the bill would also superficially contradict their positions on the right of victim’s families to sue gun manufacturers for damages, although the two concepts are entirely different. Try fitting all of that, plus Earnest’s explanation, into a 15-second sound bite.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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