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9/11 victims hope Obama won’t override lawsuit-enabling bill

September 20, 2016 GMT

WASHINGTON — Families of 9/11 victims joined Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Tuesday outside the U.S. Capitol to urge President Barack Obama not to veto legislation that would permit lawsuits against Saudi Arabia or any other “foreign actors” suspected of complicity in the attacks.

“I respect him and his office and his reasons,” Blumenthal, D-Conn., said of Obama, who is pondering a veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which passed both House and Senate. “But I disagree strongly and powerfully with those reasons.’’

Surrounding Blumenthal were 50 or more family members of 9/11 victims who held up signs imploring the president not to veto the bill, known by the acronym JASTA. Failing that, survivor families are asking Congress to override the veto.

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More than 160 victims of 9/11 had Connecticut connections.

Among those speaking Tuesday was Kaitlyn Strada, a 19-year-old freshman at Fairfield University, who was 4 when her father, Tom, a corporate bond specialist at Cantor Fitzgerald, died at the World Trade Center.

“My father will never see me graduate college or walk me down the aisle one day,” she said, standing just in front of her mother, Terry, who chairs the organization 9/11 Families & Survivors United for Justice Against Terrorism.

“I and the thousands of other children who lost their mother or father, parents who lost their children . . . all deserve opportunities to hold those (who aided in the attacks) responsible for the death, pain and suffering inflicted on all of us at the hands of terrorism,” she said.

JASTA grew out of suspicions that Saudi agents or government officials gave the 9/11 hijackers invaluable logistical aid in carrying out their deadly plot, which brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center and badly damaged the Pentagon.

Fifteen or the 19 hijackers were Saudi.

If enacted, JASTA would change the law surrounding “sovereign immunity” — the doctrine that immunizes foreign states and agents for acts committed outside U.S. boundaries.

“Everybody deserves a day in court,” Blumenthal said. “The courtroom doors ought to be open to everyone.’’

In July, Congress released 24 classified pages of its 2004 9/11 report, relating to Saudi connections to the hijackers. While the pages contain no smoking gun, there were tantalizing references to Saudis with possible government links helping the hijackers to achieve their insidious goals.

Obama has until Friday to decide whether to veto the bill. White House press secretary Josh Earnest last week said that among other reasons for a possible veto, the president is concerned that foreign governments might use it to sue the United States.

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“The concept of sovereign immunity is one that protects the United States as much as any other country in the world,” he said.

But Blumenthal insisted that JASTA would not unfairly target Saudi Arabia, which has been a steadfast ally of the U.S. in the Middle East despite its embrace of an extreme form of Islam — Wahhabism — that considers unbelievers to be heathens.

“If the Saudi government is innocent, it has nothing to fear from a day in court,” Blumenthal said. “If it is culpable, it should be held accountable.’’

Blumenthal said he was confident Congress would and could override a presidential veto, if it comes to that.

Asked by a reporter whether he’d had any communication with the White House that led him to believe Obama would not veto JASTA, he replied: “I have no additional information on the record.”

After the news conference, Blumenthal said he did not know which way Obama would go.

“My guess is he’s wrestling with it,” Blumenthal said. “He’s committed to morality and justice, but he has diplomats and foreign policy experts advising him on the other side. Being president is the toughest job in the world.’’

dan@hearstdc.com