WH eyes delaying decision on MBS immunity over Khashoggi murder
The request comes after Biden's return from a trip to Saudi Arabia, where he claims to have discussed the murder of the journalist with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Biden administration requested a 60-day extension from a US judge before formally weighing in on whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be granted sovereign immunity in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
In a filing before a US district court, the Department of Justice stated that it had begun a "decision-making process" about whether to file a statement of interest in the case, but that it would be unable to meet the court's requested deadline of August 1.
“The United States is diligently considering the Court’s inquiry but the process for doing so requires consultation among multiple entities within the Executive Branch with respect to complex issues of international and domestic law,” as per the filing.
It is worth noting that the judge approved the US government's request and gave it until October 3 to file a statement of interest.
This is happening just days after US President Joe Biden returned from a contentious trip to Saudi Arabia, where he met with MBS and claimed to have raised Khashoggi's murder in a private conversation.
Following his meeting with MBS, Biden stated that he confronted the crown prince about Khashoggi's murder and suggested that he told the prince that he held him personally responsible for Khashoggi's murder. However, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir stated that he "didn't hear" Biden say that to Prince Mohammed. Biden responded by saying that Al- Jubeir's remarks were false.
Behind closed doors
According to two Saudi officials familiar with the matter, in a closed-door meeting, bin Salman was not having it when fingers were being pointed at him and his Kingdom regarding the murder of his dissident. The situation resembled a personal "but you!" back-and-forth between Biden and the Crown Prince. Bringing up the murder, bin Salman bit back by pointing out Washington's weak response to human rights issues, including the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, and the recent assassination of Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.
Bin Salman argued that the US cannot impose its values on Saudi Arabia, pointing to Washington's failed adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.
US President Joe Biden has long been championing punishing Saudi Arabia over the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Riyadh's grave human rights violations, but it seems that the Kingdom's "pariah" status will have to wait, for the US needs oil and energy.
#JoeBiden has long been championing punishing #SaudiArabia over the assassination of #Saudi journalist #JamalKhashoggi and #Riyadh's grave human rights violations, but it seems that the Kingdom's "pariah" status will have to wait, for the #US needs oil and energy. pic.twitter.com/SMsgIrX81z— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) June 3, 2022
“To give legal immunity would give MBS a licence to kill”
Biden is running toward MBS, somewhat of a sworn enemy of his, despite US intelligence finding that he pulled the strings of the team that brutally murdered and dismembered Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Attempts to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder have thus far been unsuccessful. A trial in Saudi Arabia against unnamed defendants was widely condemned as a sham, and Turkey recently concluded its own trial in the murder. MBS' only remaining legal avenue is in the United States, where Khashoggi's fiance Hatice Cengiz has filed a civil lawsuit against the crown prince for ordering the killing.
A district court judge, John Bates, stated in early July that he was inviting the US government to weigh in on legal questions regarding whether the trial should proceed and whether the US had an interest in the case.
He also stated that a hearing would be held on August 31 following motions to dismiss the civil case filed by MBS and others.
The motions to dismiss the civil case are based on MBS lawyers' claims that the DC court lacks jurisdiction over his involvement in the case.
In his response to the government's filing, Judge Bates stated that he would give the parties in the case until July 20 to express their views on whether the August 31 hearing should be postponed.
The research director of Dawn, a non-profit that promotes democracy in the Middle East that was founded by Khashoggi and Abdullah Alaoudh, a co-plaintiff on the case against MBS, said that “for the Biden administration, it is a whole different level to go out of the way to give MBS immunity in court over the most documented assassination that MBS ever did. To give legal immunity would give MBS a license to kill.”