Why has Biden administration given clean chit to Saudi Crown Prince in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder case?
The Biden administration has concluded that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, must be granted immunity in a case that was brought against him by the fiancée of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom is said to have murdered at direction of the Crown Prince.
US Justice Department lawyers have made a court filing at the request of the State Department because “bin Salman was recently made the Saudi prime minister and as a result, qualifies for immunity as a foreign head of government,” according to the request. The filing was done just before the court’s deadline for the Justice Department to give its reviews on the immunity question along with other arguments that the prince had made seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.
“Mohammed bin Salman, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the sitting head of government and, accordingly, is immune from this suit,” the filing reads.
The decision is expected to create a ruckus and attract criticism and angry reaction, especially given involvement of human rights groups. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, and DAWN – the Washington based human rights organization that was founded by the late journalist founded – initially had brought the lawsuit against bin Salman and 28 others in October 2020 in the Washington, DC, Federal District Court. They had alleged that “the team of assassins kidnapped, bound, drugged, tortured, and assassinated Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and then dismembered his body”.
The executive director of DAWN, Sarah Leah Whitson, has called the immunity request a “shocking outcome” as she told CNN, “It’s really beyond ironic that President Biden has basically delivered an assurance of impunity for Mohammed bin Salman, which is the exact opposite of what he promised to do to hold the killers of Jamal Khashoggi accountable.”
The clean chit comes after bin Salman was made Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia by his father King Salman, the position that would normally be held by him. This made bin Salman eligible for the sovereign immunity that is reserved just for the heads of the states. Whitson calls it all a “ploy” to save the prince.