In a move that is certain to spark outrage from human rights activists and lawmakers alike, the Biden administration requested immunity on Thursday for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince in a lawsuit naming him for his role in the brutal 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
An attempt to shield the de facto Saudi ruler, who was recently named the nation’s prime minister, is an about-face from President Biden’s campaign promise in which he vowed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would face “consequences” for Khashoggi’s death, according to the Associated Press. However, according to Biden’s administration, the Saudi leader’s senior position warrants immunity.
The crown prince was named in a lawsuit brought by Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a rights group founded by Khashoggi.
“The request is non-binding and a judge will ultimately decide whether to grant immunity,” AP reports. “But it is bound to anger human rights activists and many U.S. lawmakers, coming as Saudi Arabia has stepped up imprisonment and other retaliation against peaceful critics at home and abroad and has cut oil production, a move seen as undercutting efforts by the U.S. and its allies to punish Russia for its war against Ukraine.”
According to the State Department, the call for immunity is “purely a legal determination.”
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) November 2, 2022
Citing longstanding precedent, the State Department insisted it “takes no view on the merits of the present suit and reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
As BizPac Review previously reported in February 2021, the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, a Saudi Arabian top intelligence official and the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service on the prince’s protective detail. The action included visa restrictions on 76 Saudi nationals.
“We are going to hold them accountable for human rights abuses and we’re going to make sure that they, in fact, you know, if they want to deal with us, they have to deal with it in a way that the human rights abuses are dealt with,” Biden stammered at the time.
However, the sanctions did not include the crown prince, despite an intel report that found it was he who ordered the hit on Khashoggi.
The reasoning was that “directly penalizing” the prince would come at too high a price and would threaten the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia.
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) February 27, 2021
In its Thursday statement, the Biden administration pointed to those visa restrictions and said, “From the earliest days of this Administration, the United States Government has expressed its grave concerns regarding Saudi agents’ responsibility for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.” But once again, the crown prince and his role in the slaying were not mentioned.
In a statement, DAWN chief, Sarah Leah Whitson, noted the irony of the administration’s request.
“It’s beyond ironic that President Biden has singlehandedly assured MBS [Mohammed bin Salman] can escape accountability when it was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable,” she said.
“It’s impossible to read the Biden administration’s move today as anything more than a capitulation to Saudi pressure tactics,” she stated, “including slashing oil output to twist our arms to recognize MBS’s fake immunity ploy.”
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