Ilhan Omar unveils bill to sanction MBS for Khashoggi’s murder

Minnesota lawmaker says holding Saudi crown prince accountable is ‘a test of our humanity’.

Representative Ilhan Omar speaks at a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire, on December 13, 2019 [File: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters]

US Representative Ilhan Omar introduced a bill on Tuesday to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for his role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, putting the progressive lawmaker at odds with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Joe Biden.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released last Friday a declassified report prepared by US spy agencies that blamed MBS for planning the 2018 operation that killed Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen and resident of the US, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

“This is a test of our humanity,” Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said in a statement. “If the United States of America truly supports freedom of expression, democracy and human rights, there is no reason not to sanction Mohammed bin Salman—a man our own intelligence found to have approved the murder of U.S. resident and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

The call for sanctions is at odds with Biden and the State Department, which declined to punish MBS and is working to “recalibrate” and not “rupture” the US-Saudi relationship, State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a news conference in Washington, DC, on Monday.

State Department spokesman Ned Price faces questioning from reporters during a news briefing about the Biden administration’s decision not to sanction Mohammed bin Salman [Tom Brenner/Reuters]

“We are working to put the US-Saudi relationship on the right footing,” Price continued, defending the Biden administration’s decision not to sanction MBS.

Pelosi said in a February 26 statement the ODNI report “confirms what the world has long known: that Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered at the direction of top Saudi officials, including [MBS]”.

But Pelosi echoed calls to “recalibrate” the relationship and said the House would introduce legislation to honour Khashoggi’s memory.

Saudi Arabia has rejected the US intelligence report’s findings, and on Monday, the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations also said it “does not rise to anywhere close to proving the accusation beyond reasonable doubt”.

“The [Crown] Prince courageously accepted moral responsibility, presented the accused to the justice system, and pledged to reform the intelligence organizations. Case closed! Let us all move forward to tackle the serious business of world issues!!” Abdallah Al-Mouallimi tweeted.

The Biden administration has said it will prohibit travel to the US for some of the 18 people identified in the ODNI report, but will not give their names. It is unlikely for MBS to be among those blocked, as the crown prince is the de facto Saudi head of state.

Another bill put forward by Democratic Representative Tom Malinowski, called the Saudi Arabia Accountability for Gross Violations of Human Rights Act, aims to ensure that even MBS would be banned from travelling to the US.

Malinowski said not sanctioning MBS weakens the administration’s stance “[if] we accuse him of the crime and then do nothing to hold him accountable”.

The lawmaker said the “secretary of state must apply a visa ban on persons he knows are linked to gross human rights abuses”, which the bill would do, and “reminds the world that in America, no one, whether a president or a prince, is above the law”.

The ODNI report also encouraged families of the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks to call for “justice” in providing documents to “finally hold Saudi Arabia accountable” for its alleged role in support hijackers who flew commercial airliners into the Twin Towers, Pentagon and an open field in Pennsylvania.

Saudi Arabia has faced lawsuits in US courts for years over its alleged role in the attacks.

A letter signed by nearly 2,000 family members of 9/11 victims shared with Yahoo News prays “that after almost two decades of seeking accountability, our struggle will finally end by the upcoming 20th anniversary of the darkest day in American history. We have waited long enough”.

Omar’s bill mirrors Malinowski’s and will freeze assets “to block and prohibit all transactions of [MBS] related to the United States, ensures that the Crown Prince is inadmissible to the United States, ineligible to receive a visa or other immigration benefit, and revokes any current visas”.

Omar quoted Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz in her statement: “If the Crown Prince is not punished, it will forever signal that the main culprit can get away with murder.”

Source: Al Jazeera