Joe Biden has been accused of “capitulating” after his administration said Saudi Arabia’s crown prince should not face legal action over the murder of a US-based journalist.
Despite the president of the United States having previously vowed to make the country’s rulers a “pariah” after the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggithe State Department said by Mohammed bin Salman the high office should protect him from prosecution for his alleged role in the murder.
The official request for the prince, widely known as MBS, to be granted immunity came as he faces a lawsuit filed by Khashoggi’s fiancée and the rights group he founded, Democracy for the Arab World Now.
The request is not binding and the final decision will be up to the judge.
But the move is set to anger human rights activists and many US politicians, coming as Saudi Arabia cracks down on critics at home and abroad and has cut oil production, a move seen as undermining efforts. of the United States and its allies to punish Russia for its war against Ukraine.
The State Department said the decision to seek to protect the Saudi crown prince from US courts in Khashoggi’s killing was “purely a legal determination”, citing what it said was long-standing precedent.
Despite its recommendation, the State Department said it was “no position on the merits of the present case and reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.”
Saudi officials killed the Washington Post columnist at the country’s consulate in Istanbul.
It is believed they dismembered him, although his remains have never been found.
The US intelligence community concluded that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had approved of the killing of the well-known and respected journalist, who had criticized his brutal crackdown on opponents.
Saudi Arabia has denied its involvement.
The statement released by the Biden administration highlighted visa restrictions and other penalties it had imposed on lower-ranking Saudi officials over the deaths.
The State Department said, “Since the early days of this administration, the United States government has expressed its grave concerns regarding the responsibility of Saudi agents for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
The statement did not mention the Crown Prince’s alleged role.
As a candidate on the campaign trail in 2019, Biden said, “I think it was outright murder. And I think we should have nailed it like this.
“I said publicly at the time that we should treat it that way and there should be consequences to how we deal with those — that power.”
But as president he has tried to defuse tensions with the kingdom, including batting fists with Prince Mohammed during a trip in July as the United States moves to persuade Saudi Arabia to reverse a series of oil production cuts.
DAWN chief Sarah Leah Whitson said, “It is beyond irony that President Biden single-handedly ensured that MBS can escape accountability when it was President Biden who promised the American people that he would do anything to hold him accountable.”
In February 2021, Biden ruled out the US government imposing punishment on Prince Mohammed himself for killing Washington resident Khashoggi.
Biden, speaking after authorizing the release of a declassified version of the intelligence community’s findings about Prince Mohammed’s alleged role in the assassination, argued that there was no precedent at the time for the United States to move against the leader of a strategic partner.
Ms Whitson said: “It is impossible to read the Biden administration’s move today as anything more than a capitulation to Saudi pressure tactics, including cutting oil production to wring arms to acknowledge MBS’s bogus immunity ploy.” “.
The Biden administration also had the option of not expressing an opinion either way.
Sovereign immunity holds that states and their officials are protected from certain legal proceedings in the domestic courts of other foreign states.
Backing up the concept helps ensure that American leaders in turn don’t face dragging before the courts of other countries, the State Department said.
Human rights advocates had argued that the Biden administration would embolden Prince Mohammed and other authoritarian leaders around the world in further rights violations if it backed the crown prince’s claim that his high office would safeguard him from the accuse.
Prince Mohammed is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia in place of his father, King Salman.
In September also the Saudi king temporarily transferred his title of prime minister – a title normally held by the Saudi monarch – to Prince Mohammed.
Critics have labeled it an attempt to bolster her son’s immunity claim.