In 2018, a US-based Suadi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman and the kingdom’s policies, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Declassified US intelligence said that the crown prince ordered the kill, which led US President Biden to promise that he would hold the prince accountable if he became president.
But, while the crown prince has acknowledged that the killing happened “under my watch,” he has denied involvement in the killing. He has also said that the people involved have been held accountable.
Fast forward, the Biden administration has said to a US court that the prince should be immune in a civil case over his alleged role in Khashoggi’s death because of his newly-appointed role as Saudi Arabia’s prime minister in September. But US district court judge John Bates who has a long history presiding over national security cases said that although he was uneasy about the decision, his hands were tied.
This more or less ends the last-ditch effort to hold the prince legally accountable for the 2018 killing.
“The Executive Branch remains responsible for foreign affairs, including with Saudi Arabia, and a contrary decision on bin Salman’s immunity by this court would unduly interfere with those responsibilities all the same,” wrote Judge John Bates in a filing.
“The United States government has expressed grave concerns regarding Jamal Khashoggi’s horrific killing and has raised these concerns publicly and with the most senior levels of the Saudi government,” said the Department of Justice in its filing. “However, the doctrine of head of state immunity is well established in customary international law and has been consistently recognized in longstanding executive branch practice as a status-based determination that does not reflect a judgment on the underlying conduct at issue in the litigation.”
“It’s beyond ironic that President Biden has single-handedly assured [Mohammed bin Salman] can escape accountability when it was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable. Not even the Trump administration did this,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Dawn’s executive director, after the decision was made public. Dawn, or, Democracy for the Arab World Now, is a pro-democracy group that was started by Khashoggi.
"Jamal died again today," tweeted Khashoggi’s ex-fiancée Hatice Cengiz after the announcement.