Sun. Dec 4th, 2022

The Biden administration announced Thursday that the high office held by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince should shield him from prosecution for his role in the killing of an American journalist, a reversal from Joe Biden, who passionately condemned Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in his campaign for brutality. killing.

The administration said the prince’s official position should give him immunity in a lawsuit filed by the fiancee of slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the human rights group he founded, Democracy for the Arab World Now.

The request is non-binding and the judge will ultimately decide whether to grant immunity. But it is sure to anger rights activists and many U.S. lawmakers, as Saudi Arabia has stepped up jailing and other reprisals against peaceful critics at home and abroad and cut oil production, a move seen as undermining efforts by the U.S. and its allies to punish Russia for the war against Ukraine.

The story continues below the ad

Read more:

Biden says he brought up the killing of Jamal Khashoggi with the Saudi crown prince in a meeting

The State Department on Thursday called the administration’s decision to try to shield the Saudi crown prince from US courts in the Khashoggi killing a “purely legal decision.”

And despite the crown prince’s support in his effort to block the lawsuit against him, the State Department “does not take a position on the merits of the current lawsuit and reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” a court administration filing said late Thursday.

Saudi officials killed Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It is believed that they dismembered him, although his remains have never been found. The US intelligence community has concluded that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince approved the killing of a widely known and respected journalist who had written critically about Prince Mohammed’s harsh ways of silencing those he considered rivals or critics.

A statement from the Biden administration on Thursday highlighted the visa restrictions and other punishments it has imposed on low-level Saudi officials over the deaths.

“From the earliest days of this administration, the United States Government has expressed its grave concern about the responsibility of Saudi agents for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” the State Department said. The statement did not mention the alleged role of the heir to the throne.

The story continues below the ad

Click to play video: 'Biden punches Saudi crown prince amid criticism over meeting'

Biden punched the Saudi crown prince amid criticism of the meeting

As a candidate, Biden promised to make the Saudi rulers a “pariah” for the murder of Khashoggi in 2018.

“I think it was outright murder,” Biden said at a 2019 CNN town hall, as a candidate. “And I think we should have nailed it like that. I said publicly then that we should treat it that way and that there should be consequences for how we handle that power.”

But Biden has sought to ease tensions with the kingdom as president, including clashing with Prince Mohammed during a July trip to the kingdom, as the US seeks to persuade Saudi Arabia to reverse a series of oil production cuts.

Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz and DAWN sued the crown prince, his top aides and others in federal court in Washington for their alleged role in Khashoggi’s murder. Saudi Arabia says the prince had no direct role in the murder.

The story continues below the ad

“It is beyond ironic that President Biden himself convinced MBS to escape accountability when it was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable,” said DAWN President Sarah Leah Whitson. in the statement. using the prince’s acronym.

Read more:

Saudi crown prince approved killing of Jamal Khashoggi: US intelligence report

In February 2021, Biden ruled out the possibility of the US government punishing Prince Mohammed himself for the murder of Khashoggi, a resident of the Washington area. Biden, speaking after authorizing the release of a declassified version of the intelligence community’s findings on Prince Mohammed’s role in the assassination, argued at the time that there was no precedent for the US to move against the leader of a strategic partner.

The US military has long protected Saudi Arabia from external enemies, in exchange for Saudi Arabia maintaining global oil markets.

“It is impossible to interpret today’s move by the Biden administration as anything more than a capitulation to Saudi pressure tactics, including cutting oil production to wring our hands to recognize MBS’s false immunity,” Whitson said.

A federal judge in Washington has given the US government until midnight Thursday to respond to an argument by the prince’s lawyers that Prince Mohammed’s high official status gives him legal immunity in the case.

The story continues below the ad

The Biden administration also had the option of not expressing an opinion in either case.

Click to play video: 'Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi: Biden administration 'recalibrates' relationship with Saudi Arabia'

Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi: The Biden administration is ‘recalibrating’ the relationship with Saudi Arabia

Sovereign immunity, a concept rooted in international law, holds that states and their officials are protected from certain legal proceedings before the domestic courts of other foreign states.

Upholding the concept of “sovereign immunity” helps US leaders in turn not have to worry about being dragged before foreign courts to face lawsuits in other countries, the State Department said.

Human rights advocates argued that the Biden administration would embolden Prince Mohammed and other authoritarian leaders around the world to commit more abuses if it supported the crown prince’s claim that his high office protects him from prosecution.

Prince Mohammed serves as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in place of his aging father, King Salman. In September, the Saudi king also temporarily transferred his title of prime minister – a title normally held by the Saudi monarch – to Prince Mohammed. Critics called it an attempt to bolster Mohammed’s immunity claim.

The story continues below the ad

Contributed by Eric Tucker and Aamer Madhani.

© 2022 The Canadian Press