The US Congress has just overwhelmingly (only one vote supporting him in the Senate) for the first time overridden a veto by President Obama. This was of the JASTA bill that ends sovereign immunity from lawsuits of governments of nations that are deemed by a court to have been supporting terrorism. This bill, now law I guess, is specifically directed at the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), and is wildly popular, with families of those who died on 9/11 itching to sue the KSA government for its alleged involvement in the 9/11 terror attacks carried out by al Qaeda. This is a massively stupid and dangerous outcome that will have many unfortunate consequences.
Let me begin by linking to the highly informed Juan Cole, who is also appalled by this vote, and labels this awful bill JASTA. Here is a list of the lawsuits he says can be made based on this, some of which I have sympathy for, but I recognize that opening this door leads to seriously insane rabbit hole of too much money for lawyers for sure: Irish-Americans suing UK for people killed during the IRA conflicts with UK in the past; Palestinians suing Israel for squatters seizing their land in the West Bank; US Jews suing the PLO for terrorist attacks against American Jews in Israel; Ukrainian-Americans suing Russia for American-Ukrainians killed in Ukraine in recent years; old pro-Qaddafi Libyans suing UK and France for supporting terrorist groups overthrowing the Libyan government leading to Libyan-Americans getting killed there; Kenyan victims of British anti-Mau-Mau efforts suing UK for their dead; and abroad Saudi citizens suing the US over supporting Israel in its illegal settlements, Pakistanis suing the US over drone attacks in Waziristan, and on and on and on and on...
I will repeat Cole's views on the KSA and 9/11 while adding some of my own personal observations from my personal knowledge of these matters. So, for starters we have that part of why this vote was so overwhelming is that KSA is not so popular these days in the US. The Left does not like it because it is a reactionary Wah'habist regime that may suppress womens' rights more than any other legitimate government in the world (I think they are probably better than what is going on in the Islamic State, but that horrendous entity may be about to fall, and it has drawn on ideologies emanating from KSA). The Right does not like it because they have turned Islamophobic in this Age of Trump, and, well, KSA is home to the two most sacred sites of Islam, Mecca and Medina. And, of course, the leader of al Qaeda in 9/11, Osama bin Laden, was from KSA, and the vast majority of those who actually carried out the 9/11 attack were Saudi citizens, even if the immediate leader, Mohammed Atta, was Egyptian. On top of which it does appear that low level government officals and even members of the KSA royal family were at least aware of the plot and may have provided some support, although it is clear their superiors were unaware of doing so.
Let me add something about the Saudis involved in 9/11 that has been public information but that most Americans are unaware of or its implications, although it does not prove that the Saudi government was not behind the attack or actively supporting it. Almost all of the Saudis involved came from one province, Asir, in southwestern KSA, just north of Yemen. I have been there. The mountain Asiris (the highest mountains in KSA are there) are culturally and ethnically much more like the mountain Yemenis across the border than they are like other Saudis, although they are Sunnis, unlike the northern Yemenis who are mostly Zaydi Shia, the people behind the Houthis whom the Saudis are fighting against in Yemen. They are much looser about their religion and one sees their women in the fields without veils and in colorful dresses waving at you when you drive by. Like the Yemenis, the men all wear bullet belts and knives, unlike your regular Saudis. And although the region is poorer than most of KSA, despite being one of the few parts of the country where rain-fed agriculture can happen at 10,000 feet in the mountains, they are very proud, viewing themselves as the real pure Arabs in contrast to the lowland Saudis who over the centuries have heavily intermarried with their African slaves. Anyway, they are a somewhat isolated bunch having not much to do with other Saudis. Maybe they were recruited by some rogue Saudi higher up, but more likely it was that Egyptian Salafist, Mohammed Atta and his Egyptian superiors in al Qaeda.
So, this gets us to an important point: is the sovereign government of KSA guilty of supporting the 9/11 attack, which will be what gets tried for these family members who hope to get money out of the Saudis? Before answering that, let me note that it is not like these families have not received compensatory payments for their loss, with these amounting to an average of $1.8 million per family from the US government, far more than any other families of people dead from terrorism have ever received to my knowledge. So, it is not like these people out to sue the Saudis are exactly hurting from a lack of payment for their suffering.
As Cole notes, in fact the Saudi government was opposed to bin Laden and had been trying to capture him for a long time, although their efforts against his supporters in KSA would intensify later after al Qaeda carried out a series of major terror attacks in that country. Originally he was viewed highly favorably by both the US and KSA, a younger son of the much revered Yemeni construction magnate, Muhammed bin Laden, who rebuilt the Grand Mosque of Mecca after damage to it in 1979 when the Ikhwan seized it and damaged it in an uprising against the Saudi monarchy, a replay of a similar uprising a half century earlier. While most of the old man's sons came from Saudi mothers, Osama had a Syrian mother, and long before 9/11/01 he had become estranged from his family. However, he was selected in 1979 or thereabouts to lead the Mujahedeen in Pakistan against the Soviets who were controlling Afghanistan, this selection being made by the KSA intel chief, Emir Turki bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz al Sa'ud, who would lose his position after 9/11. The US CIA supported this appointment, which was partly based on Osama's ability then to draw on his old man's money to build tunnels and caves in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, tunnels and caves that would allow him to escape when the US invaded Afghanistan after 9/11 to overthrow the Taliban regime, with the US getting distracted from pursuing him soon after by invading Iraq.
While the Saudis and the US initially supported Osama bin Laden, this would change after the US put troops into KSA during the 1990 war against Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait, the First Gulf War. Osama opposed the presence of US troops in KSA, the home of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina,and this was his early rallying cry for building up al Qaeda, to rid KSA of the blasphemous US troops that included women driving jeeps and so on. He came to call for the overtrhow of the KSA monarchy, and they wihtdrew his passport in return. He fled to Sudan from where the Saudis attempted to extradite him, with the US also trying to bomb him. As it looked like the KSA government might succeed in their extradition efforts, bin Laden ran to Aftghanistan, and the rest is history. But the bottom line is that for a long time the Saudi government was his strong enemy. They would not remotely support any effort of his to attack the US, and those elements in that government would be strictly rogue elements, although I suspect that these already well-off victim families will be able to hire skillful lawyers who will be able to convince ignorant and biased judges in New York otherwise.
So there we have it. A bunch of thoroughly paid off families will sue the Saudi government by claiming that they actively supported the 9/11 attack, which they most definitely did not, however odious they are in many ways (and I am quite disgusted with their current shenanigans in Yemen). But far beyond this ridiculous travesty, the door is open for a mountain of lawsuits that should not be brought and that further down the road may damage American citizens as well as many innocent people all around the world.