US court cites MBS immunity as it drops Khashoggi lawsuit
Judge John Bates dismissed the lawsuit saying the Saudi Arabian crown prince had immunity granted by the Biden administration.
A federal judge in Washington, DC has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the fiancee of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi against Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, citing US President Joe Biden’s granting of immunity to the prince.
United States District Judge John Bates suggested on Tuesday that he was reluctant to throw out the lawsuit but had no choice given the Biden administration’s decision to grant immunity to the crown prince.
Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in October 2018 by Saudi Arabian agents in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, an operation US intelligence believed was ordered by the crown prince.
The crown prince has denied ordering Khashoggi’s killing but acknowledged later that it took place “under my watch”.
Attorneys for the US Department of Justice said in a November court filing that the Biden Administration had determined Prince Mohammed, “as the sitting head of a foreign government”, enjoyed head-of-state immunity from the jurisdiction of US courts.
“Despite the Court’s uneasiness, then, with both the circumstances of bin Salman’s appointment and the credible allegations of his involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, the United States has informed the Court that he is immune,” judge Bates wrote in the 25-page ruling.
In invoking the circumstances of the crown prince’s appointment as head of state, Bates was referring to the fact the prince was only in September named prime minister in a royal decree.
Khashoggi, who had criticised the crown prince’s policies in Washington Post columns, had travelled to Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul to obtain papers he needed to marry his fiance Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish citizen.
Khashoggi’s fiancee, who had waited unknowingly outside the consulate as he was killed, and a rights group founded by the slain journalist before he died brought the lawsuit, which also named two top aides of the crown prince as accomplices.
The killing opened a rift between the Biden administration and Saudi Arabia that it has tried in recent months to close, as the US unsuccessfully urged the kingdom to undo its oil production cuts in a global market racked by the Ukraine war.
Human rights groups and Saudi Arabian exiles have argued that sparing the prince from accountability would give authoritarian rulers around the world a green light for future abuses.