By Annelle Sheline
November 21, 2022:
Information Clearing House
- The Biden administration has
moved to grant Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed
sovereign immunity for his role in
ordering the 2018 murder of Washington Post
columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
The government’s determination is
nonbinding and remains to be reviewed by the
judge overseeing the
lawsuit brought against MBS by
Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, and the
organization Democracy for the Arab World
Now, or DAWN. However, it represents the
latest signal that the Biden administration
will not hold MBS accountable for the
slaying and dismemberment of a U.S.
In September, Saudi Arabia
announced that the crown prince would
take on the role of Prime Minister of Saudi
Arabia, a post ordinarily held by the king.
The decision appears to have been
primarily motivated by the pending U.S.
lawsuit, because, as prime minister and thus
head of government, MBS is
shielded from prosecution.
The crown prince’s new status as prime
minister arguably grants him sovereign
immunity automatically. But the announcement
is disappointing in that it reflects a
pattern of the U.S. government failing to
hold MBS accountable in any way.
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President Trump actively thwarted
Congressional efforts to try to punish Saudi
Arabia. The global outcry provoked by
Khashoggi’s brutal murder amplified existing
concerns about the U.S. role in supporting
the violence and starvation wreaked by the
war on Yemen that MBS launched as defense
minister in 2015. Congress did successfully
end mid-air refueling for Saudi and Emirati
warplanes dropping bombs on Yemen. But Trump
vetoed a Congressional War Powers Resolution
that would have ended all U.S. involvement
in the Saudi-led war.
Initially, it seemed that Biden would
finally rethink the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Biden had campaigned on making MBS a
“pariah” for his human rights abuses. Yet
since taking office, Biden has consistently
prioritized continuity in the U.S.-Saudi
In February 2021, soon after taking
office, the Biden administration declined to
hold MBS accountable for Khashoggi’s murder,
despite releasing the
intelligence report that concluded that
the MBS was indeed responsible.
More recently, Biden reversed his stated
commitment not to meet with the crown prince
when he flew to Jeddah in July and
fist-bumped the royal in hopes of
encouraging the kingdom to pump more oil to
offset high prices caused by sanctions on
Russia. Instead, OPEC+, the oil cartel
dominated by Riyadh, announced a production
cut of 2 million barrels per day in October.
This sparked outrage in Washington,
especially among Democrats, who feared for
their Congressional majorities with midterms
Although the administration initially
promised “consequences” for Saudi Arabia,
Biden’s national security advisor later
stated that the relationship would be
re-evaluated in a “methodical, strategic,
effective” way. Meanwhile, the initial
outrage from Congress appears to have
dissipated, especially after the Democrats
performed better than expected in the
Is MBS fully rehabilitated?
Theoretically, MBS could return to the
United States, if he chose, whereas
previously there remained a question of
whether doing so would put him in legal
jeopardy. MBS has yet to return to the UK,
missing the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II,
an event that drew monarchs and crown
princes from all the other Arab kingdoms.
It seems much of the world has decided to
overlook MBS’ responsibility for the
gruesome murder, not to mention his many
other human rights abuses. Although the
administration’s latest move is hardly
surprising, it does beg the question: what
would it take for Washington to finally
rethink its relationship with Riyadh?