A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia’s crown prince after the Biden administration recommended he be granted immunity in the case brought against him by the fiancée of slain Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Judge John Bates said in an opinion that despite his ‘unease’, the US government told the DC District Court that Prince Mohammed bin Salman was immune since he also holds the title of prime minister and has therefore “right to immunity of the Head of State”. ”
This unease was not only due to the prince’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, the judge wrote, but also at the time of his appointment as prime minister of Saudi Arabia. Bin Salman, known as MBS, was not appointed prime minister – and therefore technical head of government – until late September in what observers saw as a ploy to secure the immunity of the head of government in the lawsuit filed by Hatice Cengiz and Khashoggi’s defense group DAWN.
Bates noted the “suspicious timing” of the prince’s appointment and the plaintiffs’ argument that so far only the king has been the country’s prime minister.
“A contextualized look at [Saudi] The Royal Order therefore suggests that he was not motivated by a desire for bin Salman to be the head of government, but rather to shield him from potential liability in this matter,” Bates wrote.
Bates also fired two of MBS’ top aides, Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Assiri, on jurisdictional grounds. The Treasury Department said last year that Assiri, then deputy head of Saudi intelligence, “led the operation and coordinated with Saud al-Qahtani to organize and send the team of 15 men to assassinate and dismember Khashoggi”.
In addition to these three Saudi officials, there were 26 other defendants – but these other defendants have yet to appear in the case.
When the State Department suggested MBS be given immunity last month, they called the grisly murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul ‘heinous’ but argued that MBS should be given immunity because of the “continuing practice” of granting it to foreign heads of government.
“The United States has consistently, and across all administrations, applied these principles to heads of state, heads of government, and foreign ministers during their tenure,” the department’s deputy spokesperson told reporters. of State, Vedant Patel. “It’s an ongoing practice, and it’s also something we expect others to offend the United States as well.”
Had the administration not made that recommendation, Bates wrote Tuesday, the court would have considered arguments that the case against MBS should not be dismissed. Instead, going against the administration’s wishes would “unduly interfere” with their diplomatic responsibilities.
In response to the judge’s dismissal, DAWN’s executive director tweeted that it was “sad news for accountability.”
“We are consulting with our attorneys on next steps,” wrote Sarah Leah Whitson. “Our fight for justice continues.”