The Biden administration has decided to grant immunity to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, after Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee alleges the administration killed him on the crown prince’s orders.
The court filing was filed by Justice Department lawyers at the State Department’s request because bin Salman was recently appointed as Saudi prime minister and thus qualified for immunity as a foreign leader, the request said. The court heard Thursday night’s deadline for the Justice Department to give its opinion on the prince’s immunity challenge and other arguments to have the charges dismissed.
“The Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, is the head of the government, and accordingly, he is exempt from this charge,” he said, describing the killing as “terrible.”
The decision may spark outrage. The White House had hoped President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia in July would restore the rocky US-Saudi relationship, but relations have continued to sour since then.
Following the Saudi-led OPEC+ oil production cuts, the administration sees the US as a direct attack and the relationship is being reassessed, the White House said. Members of Congress, outraged by the oil cuts and calling for a review, will likely be even more outraged if the prince is granted immunity.
Hatis Cengiz, the Washington-based fiancee of the late journalist who founded DAWN, initially filed charges against Bin Salman and 28 others in federal district court in Washington, DC. The killers accused Khashoggi of “abducting, imprisoning, drugging, torturing and killing” at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His body was never found.
“Biden himself betrayed his word, he betrayed Jamal,” Cengiz told CNN. “History will not forget this wrong decision.”
Cengiz also He tweeted.“Biden saved the murderer by giving him immunity. He rescues the criminal and gets involved in the crime himself. Let’s see who will save you in the afterlife?
DAWN Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson called the impunity a “shocking result” and a “huge deal” for Saudi Arabia.
“President Biden’s guarantee of immunity for Mohammed bin Salman is really beyond amazing,” Whitson told CNN.
The United States intelligence community published a report on Khashoggi’s assassination in February 2021, when Biden took office, saying bin Salman had approved an operation to capture or kill the journalist, which was based on his murder and separatism.
Bin Salman has denied the allegations and requested immunity, stating that his various governments and royal powers grant him immunity and exempt him from the jurisdiction of US courts.
But as crown prince, bin Salman did not enjoy sovereign immunity, which normally includes a head of state, head of state or foreign minister, none of which bin Salman was.
Then, just days before the Biden administration was due to weigh in on immunity last month, bin Salman was promoted to prime minister by his father, King Salman, who normally holds that position.
That was a “ploy” to protect the immunity of the so-called head of state, said DAWN’s Whitson, who then asked the Justice Department for a delay.
Now that bin Salman is prime minister, “the government should advise him to grant him immunity,” said William Dodge, a law professor at California’s Davis School of Law, who previously wrote that the prince did not have immunity.
“It’s almost automatic, and I think that’s why the prime minister was appointed to get out of this,” Dodge said.
The State Department is not required to rule on immunity, but has been invited by the courts. The spokesman said Bin Salman’s request for immunity was based on long-standing common and international law rather than a reflection of current diplomatic relations or efforts.
“This immunity proposal does not reflect an evaluation of the merits of the case. It does not say anything about the broader policy or the context of the relationship,” a department spokesman told CNN. “This was purely a legal decision.”
The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Former Saudi counterterrorism official Saad al-Jaberi, who accused bin Salman of sending a team to kill the prince in Canada within days of Khashoggi’s murder, has sought immunity. The case was dismissed by the same court on other grounds.
“After the Biden administration reneged on its promise to prosecute MBS for Khashoggi’s murder, it not only shielded MBS from accountability in US courts, but also authorized the killing of many detractors and announced that he would never be held accountable,” Aljabri’s son, Khalid, told CNN on Thursday.
During Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia in July, the White House infamously punched the crown prince as still responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
Biden said he brought up the killing early in their meeting and the prince continued to deny responsibility.
“It was about having a direct and direct discussion. I made my position clear,” Biden said.
A four-page US intelligence community report released in 2021 revealed that the 15-member Saudi team that entered Istanbul when Khashoggi was killed in October 2018 included members of the Royal Court’s Saudi Research and Media Affairs (CSMARC). A close adviser to bin Salman, as well as seven members of Mohammed bin Salman’s top personal protection list, known as the “Rapid Intervention Force.”
The report found that bin Salman views Khashoggi as a threat to his government and “widely supports violent measures to silence him if necessary.”
The intelligence report revealed that the Saudis lacked visibility when deciding to harm the father of five. “Although the Saudi authorities had already planned an undisclosed operation against Khashoggi, we do not know to what extent the Saudi authorities decided to harm him,” he said.
Last month, on the fourth anniversary of Khashoggi’s death, DAWN called on the Biden administration to release and publish a full report on the assassination.
When Khashoggi tried to get marriage papers at the embassy in Washington, D.C., officials “made it possible to kill him,” said Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee.
They told him that he could only get the documents he wanted at the consulate in Istanbul, she said. In the year Two weeks before his appointment on Oct. 2, 2018, the day of his assassination, Khashoggi and Cengiz were married in a religious Islamic ceremony, according to the indictment.
“The administration’s decision to encourage the courts to uphold MBS’s sovereign immunity is another sad chapter in a series of failures to hold Saudi leaders responsible for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” a senior congressional Democratic aide said. “Such actions contradict the administration’s assertions of accountability and fly in the face of our own intelligence assessments of MBS’s involvement.”