WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced Thursday that the senior post held by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince should protect him from lawsuits over his role in the killing of an American journalist, a move Joe Biden campaigned against Mohammad Trump. Prince bin Salman’s vehement condemnation of the shift. brutal killing.
The government says the prince’s official status should grant him immunity from a lawsuit brought by the fiancée of slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the rights group he founded, Democracy Now in the Arab World right.
The request is non-binding and a judge will ultimately decide whether to grant immunity. But that is bound to anger human rights activists and many U.S. lawmakers as Saudi Arabia ramps up jailing and other reprisals against peaceful critics at home and abroad and cuts oil production in a move seen as weakening the U.S. and its allies Efforts to punish Russia for war on Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that the government’s attempt to shield the Saudi crown prince from a U.S. court decision in Khashoggi’s death was “a purely legal decision.”
Khashoggi was killed by Saudi officials at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. They are believed to have dismembered him, although his remains have never been found. The U.S. intelligence community concluded that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia approved the killing of the well-known and respected journalist, who had criticized Prince Mohammed for using harsh methods to silence those he considered competitors or critics.
The Biden administration’s statement Thursday noted that it imposed visa restrictions and other penalties on lower-level Saudi officials amid the deaths.
“From the beginning of this administration, the United States Government has expressed serious concerns about the responsibility of Saudi agents for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” the State Department said. Its statement made no mention of the crown prince’s own alleged role.
As a candidate, Biden vowed to make the Saudi ruler a “pariah” in the wake of Khashoggi’s killing in 2018.
“I think it’s an outright murder,” Biden said as a candidate at a 2019 CNN town hall. “And I think we should do that. I said publicly at the time that we should treat it that way, we should have an impact on how we deal with that — that power.”
But Biden has been trying as president to ease tensions with Saudi Arabia, including a fist bump with Prince Mohammed during a visit to the kingdom in July, as the U.S. struggles to persuade the kingdom to roll back a series of oil production cuts.
Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, and DAWN are suing the crown prince, his top aides and others in federal court in Washington, alleging they played a role in Khashoggi’s killing. Saudi Arabia said the prince had no direct role in the killing.
Sarah Leah Whitson, head of DAWN, said in a statement: “President Biden single-handedly made a promise to the American people that he would do everything in his power to hold him accountable. How ironic it is to guarantee that MBS can get away with it.” Prince’s initials.
Biden ruled out in February 2021 the possibility that the U.S. government would punish Prince Mohammed himself for killing Khashoggi, a Washington-area resident. Biden, speaking after authorizing the release of a declassified version of the intelligence community’s findings on Prince Mohammed’s role in the murder, argued at the time that there was no precedent for the United States to oppose the leader of a strategic partner.
The U.S. military has long protected Saudi Arabia from external enemies in exchange for keeping global oil markets afloat.
“It’s impossible to read today’s move by the Biden administration as bowing to Saudi pressure tactics, including cutting oil production to reverse our arm to recognize MBS’ fake immunization tactics,” Whitson said.
A federal judge in Washington has given until midnight Thursday for the U.S. government to comment on what the crown prince’s lawyers say is that Prince Mohammed’s high-ranking status gives him legal immunity in the case.
A Biden administration could also choose not to speak out in any way.
Sovereign immunity is a concept rooted in international law that holds that states and their officials are protected from certain legal actions in the domestic courts of other foreign countries.
The State Department said that upholding the concept of “sovereign immunity” would help ensure that U.S. leaders in turn would not have to worry about being dragged to foreign courts to face lawsuits from other countries.
Human rights advocates have argued that if the Biden administration backs the crown prince’s claim that his senior position protects him from prosecution, it will encourage more rights violations by Prince Mohammed and other authoritarian leaders around the world.
Prince Mohammed has replaced his aging father, King Salman, as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. In September, the Saudi king also temporarily handed over his title of prime minister — a title normally held by Saudi monarchs — to Prince Mohammed. Critics say it is meant to strengthen Muhammad’s claim of immunity.
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