The Biden administration has informed a US court of this Mohammed bin Salman Sovereign immunity should be granted in a civil case related to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, effectively ending a last-ditch effort to hold the Saudi crown prince legally accountable for the murder in 2018.
In a filing released late Thursday night, the Biden administration said the last crown prince Promotion to the position of Prime Minister It means that he was “the current head of government, and is therefore immune” from the lawsuit.
“The United States government has expressed grave concern about the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi and has raised these concerns publicly and with the highest levels of the Saudi government,” the Justice Department said in its filing, adding that the United States has also imposed financial sanctions. and visa restrictions related to the murder.
“However, the principle of head of state immunity is well-established in customary international law and has been consistently recognized in long-standing executive branch practice as a case-based determination that does not reflect a judgment on the underlying conduct at issue in litigation,” he said.
The government filing included an attached file from Richard Fisk, acting legal counsel for the US State Department, ordering the Justice Department to submit an “immunity proposal” to the court.
Legal experts say the US government’s position, which has been filed in US District Court, will likely lead Judge John Bates to dismiss a civil lawsuit brought against Prince Mohammed and his alleged associates by Khadija Cengiz, Khashoggi’s avowed fiancée.
Down, a pro-democracy group founded by the slain Washington Post columnist, was a co-plaintiff in the case, which alleged that Prince Mohammed and other Saudi officials acted in a “conspiracy and premeditation” when Saudi agents kidnapped, bound, drugged, tortured and murdered Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate. in Istanbul in 2018.
Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Dawn, issued a scathing rebuke to the administration in the wake of its decision, calling it “an unnecessary discretionary measure that will only serve to undermine the most important measure of accountability for the heinous murder of Khashoggi.”
It is ironic that President Biden single-handedly asserted [Mohammed bin Salman] He could escape accountability when it was President Biden who promised the American people that he would do everything to hold them accountable. Even the Trump administration has not done so, she said.
In June, Bates called on the Biden administration to consider whether it believed Prince Mohammed should be granted sovereign immunity in the matter, and agreed to give the US government two extensions before it demands that it present its views by November 17.
A legal observer close to the case said it had always been understood that while the US government was not a party to the civil action, its views would be decisive, and that the judge in this matter would very likely go ahead or dismiss the case depending on the US government’s position. .
The Biden administration’s decision — which would effectively end Cengiz’s last hope for justice — is likely to face heavy criticism from Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have pressured the administration to take a tougher line against its partner in the Middle East. A lawyer close to the case said the decision was “catastrophic for accountability, human rights and impunity.”
The legal decision also shows that US President Joe Biden has completely abandoned his campaign promise to hold Prince Mohammed accountable for Khashoggi’s murder.
It raises questions about Biden’s public statements last month, in which he said Kingdom Saudi Arabia He will face “consequences” for driving OPEC + decision to cut oil productionThis is a step that the US administration considered a siding with Russia over the interests of the American allies.
People familiar with the matter said the decision was reached after a “major debate” at the highest levels of the White House, with some senior US officials saying it would be difficult to defend the Biden administration’s claim that human rights are at the center of its foreign policy while simultaneously allowing for “Mohammed bin Salman,” as the crown prince is known, has evaded accountability for his alleged role in the murder.
Cengiz’s lawyers argued that she turned to US courts for help because no other forum – including her native Turkey – had sufficiently independent jurisdiction to adjudicate her complaint fairly. Prince Mohammed denied any personal involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.
It has been clear since June that the future of the issue hinges on the question of whether Prince Mohammed – who is widely seen as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in the eyes of the US government – is considered a monarch, like a president or a king, since he is most often considered Sovereign cases are immune to US lawsuits.
When Biden first entered the White House, he refused to deal with Prince Mohammed directly. His press secretary repeatedly argued at the time that the prince — even though he is seen as the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia — was not Biden’s counterpart.
At the same time, the US intelligence agencies released an unclassified report stating It is likely that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing of Khashoggi. The president’s attitude changed last summer, when he visited Jeddah and met the crown prince, giving the heir to the throne a fist bump.
The question of whether the prince is indeed a king became more complicated in September when King Salman announced that Prince Mohammed would be elevated to the position of prime minister. Human rights advocates considered the decision, which was announced just days before the US government was due to discuss the Cengiz case, as a ploy to avoid accountability for Khashoggi’s killing.
If allowed to proceed with the civil case – which is unlikely – it would allow Genghis and Vaughn to seek the removal of the crown prince. If Prince Mohammed loses the case, he may be liable for damages.
“This means that any time he comes to the US — if he is found guilty — they will be able to serve a notice and issue a fine. It would be humiliating and would effectively mean he couldn’t from traveling to the United States again.
It is unlikely that any of this will come true now.
“The outcast is now above the law,” Riddle said.
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