Schumer: If Saudi Government Was Complicit in Terrorism, They Should Pay the Price

Susan Jones | April 20, 2016 | 7:37am EDT
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Senate Democrats hold one of their regular news conferences in Washington. (AP File Photo)

( - In a rare break with the Obama administration, leading Senate Democrats on Tuesday emphasized their support for a bill that would allow victims of 9/11 and other terror attacks on American soil to sue foreign countries and groups that funded the terrorists.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who represents many of the 9/11 families, sponsored the “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act,” which passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in late January.

"It's very simple," Schumer told a news conference on Tuesday. "If the Saudis were complicit, if the Saudi government was complicit in terrorism, then they should pay the price for two reasons. One, to recompense the families. They'll never get their loved ones back, but at least some measure of justice.

"But second, it sends a warning to future governments, if you're complicit in terrorism, you're going to pay the price and a trial will determine that. The Saudis -- if the Saudis were not complicit in terrorism, they have nothing to fear in the trial."

Schumer said his bill is "narrowly drawn" and "only deals with acts of terrorism, and terrorism is narrowly defined."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he and most Democrats support Schumer's bill: "The pushback on that is coming from the Republicans," Reid said. "Now, I've spoken with the White House on this...They don't particularly like it, but that's OK.

"My personal feeling, and I can go into more detail if anyone wants, but I think that we should move forward on this legislation. I hope we can."

House Speaker Paul Ryan on Tuesday said he also has concerns about Schumer's bill. "I think we need to review it to make sure that we're not making mistakes with our allies and that we're not catching people in this that shouldn't be caught up in this."

Reid on Tuesday also mentioned the 28 redacted pages in a 2002 congressional report examining the intelligence leading up to the 9/11 attacks. Reid said those 28 pages should be made public, "because it all leads directly towards Saudi Arabia."

As reported, suspicions of high-level Saudi support for the 9/11 terrorists have prompted bipartisan legislation in both the Senate and the House requiring the president to declassify the 28 pages redacted from the 2002 joint House-Senate report.

The intelligence community is now considering the request to declassify.

The debate in Washington came as President Obama left on a fence-mending trip to Saudi Arabia.

A White House spokesman on Tuesday said no matter how justified American terror victims may be, suing another country might invite other countries to sue Americans:

"And that does open up the United States to unique degree of risk, and putting our country, our taxpayers, our service members and our diplomats in legal jeopardy in that way is contrary to our interests," spokesman Josh Earnest said. "It's unwise, particularly when there is an alternative mechanism for us to resolve these kinds of issues with other countries. That's the essence of diplomacy."

Earnest also said the U.S.-Saudi relationship is one that is "characterized by extensive counterterrorism cooperation. That cooperation enhances our national security, it makes the American people safer. The Saudi government happens to think that it enhances the national security of their country, as well, and makes the Saudi people safer, as well.

"That's why we're able to cooperate. It does not mean that there are not differences between our two countries -- there are substantial differences between our two countries. And the president does not hesitate to raise his concerns about those differences as well. I'm confident that he'll do that in the context of the meetings that he's preparing for later this week. I think that is the point."

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