Jamal Khashoggi death: US determines Mohammed bin Salman is immune in case brought by journalist’s fiancée


The Biden administration has decided to grant immunity to Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, in the case brought by the fiancee of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who the administration says was killed on the prince’s orders.

Attorneys for the Justice Department filed the lawsuit at the State Department’s request because bin Salman was recently appointed prime minister of Saudi Arabia and, as a result, enjoys immunity as a foreign head of government, the filing said. It was Thursday evening ahead of a deadline set by the court for the Ministry of Justice to present its views on the issue of immunity and other arguments of the prince to reject the suit.

“Mohammed bin Salman, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the current head of government and, accordingly, is immune from this lawsuit,” the document says, calling the killing “horrific.”

This decision is likely to provoke an angry reaction. The White House had hoped President Joe Biden’s July visit to Saudi Arabia would rekindle rocky US-Saudi relations, but relations have soured since then.

The White House said the relationship was being renegotiated following Saudi-led OPEC+ oil production cuts that the administration saw as a direct affront to the US. Members of Congress, already outraged by the oil cuts and calling for a review, will likely only get angrier if the prince gets immunity.

Hatij Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, and DAWN, a Washington-based human rights organization founded by the late journalist, initially filed a complaint against bin Salman and 28 others in October 2020 in the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C. They claim that a group of assassins “kidnapped, tied up, drugged, tortured and killed” Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and then dismembered his body. His body was never found.

“Biden himself betrayed his word, betrayed Jamal,” Cengiz told CNN. “History will not forget this wrong decision.”

Genghis too tweeted, “Biden saved the killer by granting him immunity. He saved the criminal and committed this crime himself. Let’s see who will save you in the afterlife?”.

DAWN Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson called the immunity request a “stunning result” and a “tremendous privilege” for Saudi Arabia.

Whitson told CNN, “It’s really not surprising that President Biden basically guaranteed impunity for Mohammed bin Salman, which is the exact opposite of his promise to bring to justice the killers of Jamal Khashoggi.”

The US intelligence community’s report on Khashoggi’s assassination, released in February 2021 when Biden took office, said bin Salman approved the operation to capture or kill the journalist, which ended with his murder and dismemberment.

Bin Salman has denied the allegations and has sought immunity from prosecution, claiming that his government and royal positions have given him immunity and put him outside the jurisdiction of US courts.

But as crown prince, bin Salman was not entitled to sovereign immunity, which normally only applies to a head of state, prime minister or foreign minister, none of whom was bin Salman.

Then, just days before the Biden administration was due to debate the immunity issue last month, bin Salman was nominated to be prime minister by his father, King Salman, who traditionally held the position.

DAWN’s Whitson said it was a “trick” to ensure immunity for the so-called head of state, after which the Justice Department asked for a delay.

Now that bin Salman is prime minister, “the government should recommend that he be granted immunity,” said William Dodge, a law professor at the University of California, Davis School of Law, who previously wrote that the prince does not have immunity.

“It’s almost automatic,” Dodd said, “I think that’s why he was appointed prime minister, to get away with it.”

The State Department was not required to rule on immunity, but was subpoenaed by the court. Their spokesman said their request for immunity for bin Salman was based on joint and international law, not on current diplomatic relations or efforts.

“This offer of immunity does not reflect an assessment of the merits of the case. It doesn’t say anything about broader policy or the state of the relationship,” a department spokesman told CNN. “It was a statutory provision.”

The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bin Salman also waived immunity in the case of Saad Aljabri, a former Saudi counterterrorism officer who accused the prince of sending a hit squad to Canada to kill him days after Khashoggi’s assassination. This case was dismissed by the same court for other reasons.

“After breaking his promise to punish MBS for Khashoggi’s murder, the Biden administration not only shielded MBS from liability in US courts, but effectively gave him a license to kill more detractors, declaring that he would never He will not be held accountable,” Aljabri’s son Khalid said. , CNN said Thursday.

The White House was widely criticized for Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia in July, when the president awkwardly punched the crown prince, saying he was still responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.

Biden said he brought up the murder at the start of their meeting, and the prince continued to refuse to deny responsibility.

“I was honest and direct in discussing it. I made my point clear,” Biden said.

A four-page US intelligence report released in 2021 said that the 15-member Saudi delegation that arrived in Istanbul in October 2018 when Khashoggi was killed included members associated with the Saudi Media and Research Center (CSMARC) in They were the royal court. led by a close adviser to bin Salman, as well as “seven members of Mohammed bin Salman’s elite personal protection detail known as the Rapid Intervention Force.”

The report noted that bin Salman Khashoggi poses a threat to the kingdom and “has widely supported violent measures to silence him if necessary.”

The intelligence report said they did not know whether the Saudis had decided to harm the father of five. “Although the Saudi authorities planned an unknown operation against Khashoggi in advance, we do not know how far in advance the Saudi authorities decided to harm him.”

Last month, on the fourth anniversary of Khashoggi’s death, DAWN demanded that the Biden administration declassify and release the full intelligence report on his assassination.

Khashoggi’s fiancee Cengiz claims that when Khashoggi tried to get the necessary documents to get married at the embassy in Washington, officials “created an opportunity to kill him.”

They told him that the only place he could get the necessary documents was at the consulate in Istanbul, he said. Two weeks before his appointment on Oct. 2, 2018, the day he was assassinated, Khoshuqji and Cengiz were married in an Islamic ceremony, the lawsuit says.

“The administration’s decision to encourage the courts to uphold MBS’s immunity is another disappointing chapter in a series of failures to hold the Saudi leadership accountable for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” said a top Democratic aide in Congress. “Actions like this contradict the administration’s empty assurances of accountability and fly in the face of our intelligence assessment of MBS’ involvement.”


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