Despite promises from President Joe Biden of “consequences,” four years after the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, an “uneasy” court granted Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman immunity in the case with the backing of the president.
On Oct. 2, 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents necessary to marry his fiancée Hatice Cengiz only to be set upon, brutally murdered and dismembered, according to the U.S. intelligence community. It was also determined that bin Salman ordered the killing of the journalist leading Cengiz, with the help of the advocacy group Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) to file suit against the prince and nearly 30 other Saudi nationals believed to be responsible.
Tuesday, District of Columbia U.S. District Judge John Bates responded to the Biden administration’s call for immunity to bin Salman with a 25-page opinion that read in part, “Despite the Court’s uneasiness, then, with both the circumstances of bin Salman’s appointment and the credible allegations of his involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, the United States has informed the court that he is immune, and bin Salman is therefore ‘entitled to head of state immunity…while he remains in office.”
As it happened, weeks prior to Khashoggi’s murder, bin Salman had been named prime minister and was therefore given special privileges. “Accordingly,” Bates continued, “the claims against bin Salman will be dismissed based on head-of-state immunity.”
The judge made certain to touch on the facts of the case that had been corroborated by multiple sources and wrote, “Plaintiffs allege that bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s ‘ruthless torture and murder,’ …and that it was planned and carried out by his accomplices, including [Saud] al-Qahtani and [Gen. Ahmed] al-Assiri. The United States has reached the same conclusion: that the ‘horrific’ killing was approved by bin Salman himself.”
“Even defendants acknowledge that Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate, and that the murder was carried out by Saudi nationals…Hence, there is a strong argument that plaintiffs’ claims against bin Salman and the other defendants are meritorious. However, the Court cannot resolve that issue at this time,” Bates explained.
“The Court has a responsibility to decide preliminary issues, such as jurisdiction,” he outlined, “before the merits–however strong the merits may be.”
As previously reported, Biden had imposed sanctions on al-Asiri, a Saudi intelligence official, along with visa restrictions on 76 Saudi nationals early in his administration. “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 it in a way that the human rights abuses are dealt with.”
The tough talk went away last month when the administration petitioned the court in favor of immunity based on precedent.
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) November 18, 2022
“For the foregoing reasons, the Court will grant both motions to dismiss and accordingly dismiss all claims against bin Salman, al-Qahtani, and al-Assiri. A separate Order consistent with this opinion will issue,” Bates concluded.
DAWN leader Sarah Leah Whitson said, “It’s beyond ironic that President Biden has singlehandedly assured MBS can escape accountability when it was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable.”
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