The passage of a bill that would expose Saudi Arabia to legal action for any role it may have played in 9/11 has been hailed as a “big victory” by campaigners.
The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) bill was passed in the US Senate unanimously on Tuesday, and could now provide access to classified information about the country’s connection to the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001.
The bill has raised tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia, which denies any involvement or sponsorship of the terrorist attacks 15 years ago.
It has also paved the way for a battle between Congress and the White House, which has threatened to veto the legislation.
But it has been welcomed by former Florida Senator Bob Graham, who co-chaired an inquiry into intelligence before and after the 9/11 attacks.
“It not only is going to open up the courts of justice to the families and the victims of 9/11... it also has the potential of exposing a tremendous amount of information relative to Saudi Arabia’s involvement in 9/11,” he told Yahoo News.
Mr Graham, who previously ran for a presidential nomination for the Democrats, has campaigned for the declassification of 28 pages of a 2002 investigation into the attacks, which he said contained a “smoking gun”.
Saudi Arabia has warned that if the legislation passes, it will begin selling off US assets, including Treasury Securities, worth up to $750bn.
The passage of the bill comes as the Obama administration decides whether to declassify the 28 pages, which reportedly cite evidence of Saudi involvement with the plot.
This is in contrast to the findings of the September 11 Commission, which said it found “no evidence" that the Saudi government as an institution - or senior Saudi officials - "individually funded” the terrorists.
But questions over Saudi involvement have lingered, with many families of victims attempting to hold members of the Saudi Royal family to account for what they claim is support of terrorism, the New York Times reports.
However, these attempts have been blocked due to sovereign immunity to lawsuits in US courts.
The bill would provide an exception to the existing laws if foreign countries are proved to have had involvement in terror attacks that kill US citizens on home soil.
This could potentially leave other countries exposed to lawsuits in federal courts for any injuries, deaths or damages in the US.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who is a sponsor of the bill, said: “For the sake of the families, I want to make clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that every entity, including foreign states, will be held accountable if they are found to be sponsors of the heinous act of 9/11.”
“If the Saudis did not participate in this terrorism, they have nothing to fear about going to court,” he said.
But Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir rejected the objectives of the bill.
“What [Congress is] doing is stripping the principle of sovereign immunities which would turn the world for international law into the law of the jungle,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
President Obama continues to “strongly oppose” the bill, a White House spokesman said, arguing the law would erode the principle of sovereign immunity, and would make America increasingly vulnerable to action in foreign courts.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies