The passage of Senate Bill 2040, the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act,” overriding a presidential veto, will almost certainly result in a lawsuit against the government of Saudi Arabia, seeking compensation for injuries resulting from the events of September 11, 2001. The Saud family, which rules the kingdom by divine right, could face liability for billions of dollars in damages. There is evidence that members of the Saudi Arabian government had advance knowledge of the destruction of the World Trade Center and may have financed the operation.
It is likely that the Sauds will defend themselves by pointing the finger of culpability at others, including people in the highest echelons of the United States government. In the 15 years that have intervened since the collapse of the buildings, the US government’s explanation of the events of that day has never been tested in a court of law. That’s likely to change under the new statute.
The victims’ lawyers will have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the skyscrapers fell down because airplanes crashed into them. That will be a problem. Video of the destruction of the buildings clearly shows explosions immediately preceding and during the collapse, and over 100 witnesses, including news reporters and rescue workers, confirm that evidence. Both buildings came down in a few seconds without apparent resistance from below, an unprecedented act of destruction except in cases of controlled demolition. Expert witnesses will testify that these could only have been demolitions, prearranged not by Saudi Arabians but by the owners and operators of the buildings. There’s also a question, under federal practice, whether the court will be able to allow expert testimony in support of the government’s theory that the buildings collapsed because of fire.
There’s a legal doctrine called “last clear chance” that mitigates the liability of a defendant if some other party had a clear opportunity to prevent the damage. If it is the case that airplanes were deliberately crashed into the buildings, why was the US Air Force not deployed to stop that from happening? It’s routine for jet fighters to intercept off-course airplanes that might present a danger, and there was ample opportunity for the Air Force to respond. In the years since 2001, the US government has offered at least three separate, mutually contradictory explanations for the failure of the military, and we should expect all of them to be trotted out by the defense.
Don’t be surprised if the Israeli government is implicated by the defendants. A group of men who turned out to be Israeli intelligence assets were arrested and held for a couple of months after they were seen celebrating the destruction of the World Trade Center from a vantage point in New Jersey. That little party is almost certain to become a point of contention in any lawsuit against Saudi Arabia.
Any claim for damages resulting from injuries sustained at the Pentagon on September 11 will have to overcome evidence that the Vice President declined to intercept the offending aircraft when he knew it was headed for Washington. There is sworn testimony to that effect from the Secretary of Transportation, who was in a bunker with Richard Cheney when warnings were relayed to him. The litigants could encounter some difficulty even proving that an airplane crashed into the Pentagon. The absence of any trace of a commercial airliner–engine, tail assembly, passengers, luggage–will be a focus of the defense.
I don’t believe the President when he says he vetoed S. 2040 because it threatens the doctrine of sovereign immunity. I think he vetoed the bill because it will bring about the reconsideration of unanswered questions surrounding the events of September 11, 2001, possibly implicating a US president in the slaughter of innocents and revealing a 15-year cover-up that exposes our current leaders as accessories to mass murder.