Judge's Move Likely Marks End of Efforts to Hold MBS Accountable

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Saudi crown prince in journalist's murder
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 18, 2022 7:31 AM CST
Updated Dec 7, 2022 12:47 AM CST
Khashoggi Fiancee Slams White House: 'Jamal Died Again'
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia takes his seat ahead of a working lunch at the G20 summit on Tuesday in Nusa Dua, in Bali, Indonesia.   (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP)
UPDATE Dec 7, 2022 12:47 AM CST

The move Jamal Khashoggi's fiancee feared has come to pass: A US district court judge on Tuesday dismissed her lawsuit against Saudi Arabia's crown prince in the murder of the Washington Post journalist. Judge John Bates said he felt "uneasiness" in the decision, but had essentially no choice after the Biden administration recommended Mohammed bin Salman be granted immunity. As the Guardian reports, the dismissal "likely marks the end of efforts to hold the future Saudi king accountable for the 2018 murder." Says a research director for Saudi Arabia at Dawn, a co-plaintiff in the case, "One episode in our struggle for justice for Jamal may have concluded but the battle will never be over until all perpetrators including MBS are brought to justice."

Nov 18, 2022 7:31 AM CST

Mohammed bin Salman has repeatedly insisted he had nothing to do with the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi despite American intelligence officials determining otherwise. Now the Saudi Arabian crown prince may be off the hook in a lawsuit brought by Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, reports Reuters. "The State Department recognizes and allows the immunity of Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman as a sitting head of government of a foreign state," reads a Thursday letter from the agency to the Justice Department. The letter goes on to say that the State Department "takes no view on the merits" of Cengiz's suit and "reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

The New York Times notes that the crown prince, who became Saudi Arabia's prime minister in September, is the de facto leader of the kingdom, though his father, King Salman, is still officially its head of state. Biden had drawn criticism from Cengiz and human rights activists for not only traveling to Saudi Arabia and meeting with the crown prince over the summer, but also for a fist bump he offered to him as a greeting. "It was President Biden who promised the American people he would do everything to hold him accountable," a spokeswoman for the nonprofit human-rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now said in a statement, per Reuters, referring to Biden's campaign promise to make the Saudis "pay the price" for Khashoggi's killing.

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Cengiz—who'd penned an op-ed in the Post over the summer pleading with Biden to "uphold your promise to pursue justice for Jamal"—voiced her disappointment with the administration's decision. "Jamal died again today," she tweeted Thursday, adding the hashtag #injustice. But John B. Bellinger III, a former legal adviser for the State Department, says the Biden administration's hands were tied: "I'm sure this was a difficult decision for the administration, but international law recognizes that heads of state have immunity from civil suits in the courts of other nations." Whether the crown prince will actually receive immunity will be determined by a federal judge in Washington, where Cengiz's case was filed. (More Mohammed bin Salman stories.)

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