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National

Lawmakers In Congress Override Obama's Veto Of Sept. 11 Lawsuit Bill

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For the first time since President Obama took office, Congress has overridden his veto, passing into law a bill allowing families of those killed in the 9/11 attacks to sue Saudi Arabia. The families allege that country funded or otherwise supported the attackers, 15 of whom were Saudis. As a U.S. senator back in 2002, Bob Graham co-chaired the congressional inquiry into 9/11. He says it uncovered some links between hijackers who'd been living here in Southern California and Saudi Arabia.

BOB GRAHAM: Only three of the 19 hijackers lived in Southern California. Yet, it is from there that we have most of the information about Saudi involvement - persons who had been in the employ of the Saudi government, persons who were officials at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, all of whom appear to have assisted the three hijackers. What we don't know much about are the other 16 hijackers who operated in places like New Jersey, Virginia, Florida. That information has been suppressed, withheld from the American people since it was initially gathered immediately after 9/11.

MONTAGNE: Now, of course, the Saudi government has said just in recent weeks that it had no connection to the 9/11 attacks. This bill does not only have to do with Saudi Arabia. In fact, it would apply just about any country in the world.

GRAHAM: Well, any country in the world where the government had provided support to a terrorist organization and that terrorist organization harmed Americans on American soil. That's a very limited and specific class of activities. Remember, what this legislation does is allow the litigation to move forward. Currently, the efforts by the families have been thwarted by the concept of sovereign immunity. You cannot sue the king because the king can do no wrong. It's still going to be up to the families to make the case before a jury of their peers that, in fact, there was Saudi involvement.

MONTAGNE: Well, this question of sovereign immunity - it's taken quite seriously by the White House. The European Union has weighed in. It's opposed this bill as in conflict with accepted international law because sovereign immunity does, in fact, protect a government from being taken to court by the citizens of other countries who claim damage on their soil. Are you at all concerned about that?

GRAHAM: I think the United States government has been very disingenuous in this. There have been a number of cases similar to 9/11 in which the United States government has stepped forward and offered its diplomatic assistance to U.S. citizens in achieving both the truth and compensation where that truth indicated that a foreign government had participated.

MONTAGNE: Again though, what do you say to the argument that this would open the door to the U.S. being accused by citizens of other countries? For instance, the U.S. could be sued by families of those killed in drone strikes overseas. The idea is the United States will lack the protection that it now extends to other countries.

GRAHAM: It is possible that that might happen, although I think it's unlikely. But we are positing off the real damage that's been done by denying the truth of 9/11. And I think it includes denying justice to the 3,000 families who bore the greatest loss, the sense of impunity that we have given to Saudi Arabia. I believe that this is the time to begin to bring closure to 9/11, both through giving to the families a means by which they can seek relief and demanding that our government make available to the American people all the information that will allow them to form a judgment as to the Saudis' involvement in 9/11.

MONTAGNE: That is former Senator Bob Graham. Thank you very much.

GRAHAM: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And on 9/11, Democrat Bob Graham was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.