The Joe Biden administration has declared that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia should be granted immunity in a US legal case over his role in the murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, effectively blocking yet another effort to hold the kingdom’s leader accountable for the grisly crime.
Khashoggi was a well-known Saudi journalist who fled Saudi Arabia for the US and published columns in The Washington Post criticising Prince Mohammed’s policies.
In October 2018, he was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US intelligence concluded that Prince Mohammed had ordered the operation.
Prince Mohammed, 37, became Prime Minister in September. In a letter to the US justice department on Thursday, the state department said Prince Mohammed should be “immune while in office” as the head of the Saudi government, referring to his role as Prime Minister.
Prince Mohammed has said repeatedly that he had no prior knowledge of the plot, though he has also said he accepted symbolic responsibility for it as the nation’s de facto ruler. The letter said the state department did not take a position on the suit itself and reiterated “its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder” of Khashoggi.
But it asked the justice department to formally request that the federal court in Washington, where the case was filed, grant Prince Mohammed legal immunity. The final decision will rest with the presiding judge.
The action by the Biden administration angered human rights activists, who say that failing to punish Prince Mohammed, widely known as MBS, for the killing of a high-profile journalist could encourage other autocrats to do the same. There was no immediate comment from the Saudi government.
Prince Mohammed’s lawyers argued that he enjoyed what is known as “sovereign immunity” as the head of government.
The judge asked the US government to respond, which it did in the letter sent on Thursday.
Responding to the letter, Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée Hatice Cengiz wrote on Twitter: “Jamal died again today.”
New York Times News Service