The Biden administration’s moves to protect Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from lawsuits over his alleged role in the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi have drawn a firestorm of criticism over the decision to support immunity for the foreign leader.
Biden’s new position on the crown prince is a complete flip-flop from his fiery campaign rhetoric vowing to hold him accountable for the 2018 slaying that rocked the nation’s capital and his labeling of Saudi Arabia as an international “pariah” state, with the tough words coming before he was put into a position of begging the Kingdom to increase oil production as his policies have destroyed the domestic fossil fuel industry.
The president’s top spox, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the regime’s shielding of MBS from the suits by Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now, a rights group founded by the murdered columnist.
During Friday’s daily press briefing, Jean-Pierre fielded questions from reporters about justice deprived for the slaying of one of their own.
Does the President have any concerns that the administration may be sending the wrong message about his commitment to holding the Saudis accountable on human rights?” Jean-Pierre was asked by a member of the press. “And can you say whether he signed off on that brief?”
“So, just – just let me just say at the top, just so that there’s clarity — and I know that you’ve heard from the State Department on this as well, and other colleagues,” KJP responded before she read from her notes.
Karine Jean-Pierre defends Biden granting immunity to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — even after Biden promised in 2020 to make Saudi Arabia "a pariah." pic.twitter.com/PjPpPWYzy8
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) November 18, 2022
“At the request of a federal district court for U.S. government views on whether Mohammed bin Salman enjoys head of state immunity, the Department of Justice, at the request of the Department of State, informed the court that Prime Minister bin Salman is immune from suit in the U.S. — in U.S. courts while he holds the office of prime minister,” she said.
“It’s nothing to do with the merits of this case; I want to be very clear on this. But this is something that State Department and the Department of Justice has more details on, so I would certainly refer you — refer you to them,” Jean-Pierre added, passing the buck, which is her specialty.
Then came a follow-up question: “And just to press this again, though: Was the president at all involved in the State Department’s decision regarding MBS and this Khashoggi case? Was he consulted by State Department officials, secretary of state, national security advisor, anybody else? Was he asked to weigh in?”
“So, look, again, this is immunity. Determination is a legal one. That’s what I was laying out earlier. The United States consistently has afforded head of state immunity to heads of government, such as prime ministers consistent with customary institutional law,” Jean-Pierre said. “U.S. practice on this issue is longstanding and consistent, including a number of head of state immunity cases from the past four administrations.”
“I think it was a flat-out murder,” Biden said of Khashoggi’s killing during a 2019 CNN town hall when he was running for the White House. “And I think we should have nailed it as that. I publicly said at the time we should treat it that way and there should be consequences relating to how we deal with those — that power.”
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