The decision was made in a trial in a district court in Washington against MBS and 20 others who were accused by the spouse of Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist of the Post who was murdered by Saudi employees in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. the crown prince and his co-accused are responsible for the murder.
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The operation is the latest in a series of controversies following the assassination, which the CIA concluded was the result of an operation authorized by MBS. The Trump administration defended the Saudi leader, but President Biden initially said he would hold him, calling him a “pariah.” But over time, Biden has grown frustrated with what he says is a desire to mend relations with the man who may have been the king of Saudi Arabia for decades.
A State Department official said the decision to grant immunity was a “correct legal decision,” given MBS’s rise to prime ministership. But the State Department and the White House could intervene on policy grounds to prevent the release of the law, which MBS has sought for more than two years.
U.S. District Judge John Bates, who is hearing the Khashoggi case, asked the Justice Department in July to rule on whether MBS should be granted immunity, as his attorneys have argued. requested. On September 27, three days before the Justice Department’s deadline for a response, Saudi King Salman named his son as prime minister. That led to Thursday’s ruling that MBS has the right to the presidency as “head of state.” Bates could reject the State Department’s offer, but denying a government option he requested is unlikely.
The Department’s decision was released late Thursday. “The United States commends to the Court that Mohammed bin Salman, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the current head of state, and therefore, he is not present at this trial,” said the report.
“The Biden administration’s idea of death for MBS is not just a legal mistake, it’s a policy mistake,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, head of the Democratic Party. for the Arab World Now, or DAWN. , who filed the lawsuit with Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. Whitson argued that the death penalty was “a concession” to the Saudi leader that “will no doubt encourage him to continue his crimes.”
MBS began seeking immunity in US courts after being named in a lawsuit filed in Washington federal district court in August 2020 by Saad Aljabri, a former anti-government official. in Saudi affairs. Mohammed’s lawyers asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed on what they said was copyright and other issues. The Trump administration refused to accept that request.
Aljabri, in his amended complaint in 2021, accused the Saudi leader of sending an armed group to kill him in 2018 in Canada, where he fled after the expulsion of MBS each in 2015 and MBS in 2017 the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef overthrew Aljabri. worked closely with the Saudi interior ministry.
Biden’s State Department chose whether the death penalty was a policy question, related to human rights issues, rather than just a legal one, an administration official told me. But there was a strong legal push for prime ministers to receive immunity. And in the end, as is often the case with MBS, the Biden administration caved in to the Saudi leader’s wishes.
The immunity ruling does not simply dismiss Khashoggi’s fiancee’s lawsuit. It shields the crown prince from legal action over issues related to the travel ban and other human rights allegations. According to media reports, two American citizens, Saad Almadi and Mohammed Salem, have been banned from leaving Saudi Arabia since Biden’s visit to the kingdom in July.
The president’s firing during that trip has become a sign of political resistance to the Saudi leader and his demands. The gift of death is not just a friendly welcome, but a shield that is hard to break.