The Biden administration says immunity now covers Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the ongoing civil case instituted against him over his involvement in the murder of Washington Post journalist, Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018.
Jamal Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in an operation that the US intelligence agencies believed was ordered by the Saudi Crown Prince.
Didn’t the US government vow to bring him to Justice before?
Yes! But in a court filing, the US Department of Justice asked a District Court for the District of Columbia to grant MBS sovereign immunity since his recent promotion to the role of Prime Minister means he is now a “sitting head of government, and accordingly, immune from the lawsuit”.
The DOJ in a statement said: “The United States government has expressed grave concerns regarding Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific killing and has raised these concerns publicly and with the most senior levels of the Saudi government.”
“However, the doctrine of head of state immunity is well established in customary international law and has been consistently recognized in longstanding executive branch practice as a status-based determination that does not reflect a judgement on the underlying conduct at the issue in the litigation”.
The statement also added that the US government has imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions related to the matter.
How will this affect the murder trial?
The Biden administration’s position to grant MBS immunity isn’t going down well with Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s outspoken girlfriend who initiated the court case against the Saudi Crown Prince. In a Twitter post, she said “Jamal died again today”, and “we thought maybe there would be light to justice from #USA But again, money came first”.
Legal experts are saying that the immunity filing by the DoJ would result in the case being dismissed by the court. The immunity filing is already drawing several criticisms from concerned individuals and groups.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Dawn, a pro-democracy group founded by Khashoggi, condemned the decision saying it is an “unnecessary, elective action that will serve only to undermine the most important action for accountability for Khashoggi’s heinous murder”.
The decision is also expected to face intense criticism from Democratic lawmakers who have pressured President Biden to take a tougher stance against Saudi Arabia.
The decision signals President Biden’s campaign promise to hold Mohammed Bin Salma accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.