By Online Desk

The Biden administration has come under fire over its position that Saudi Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, cannot be sued while he is head of government for his alleged role in the brutal murder of American journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

“The US State Department’s legal position that Saudi Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, cannot be sued while he is head of government highlights the Biden administration’s failure to seek accountability for MBS’s role in the brutal murder,” Human Rights Watch stated.

Biden’s campaign promise to make Saudi authorities “pay the price” for Khashoggi’s heinous murder has not been met. Absent real sanctions against the Saudi government for its transnational repression, MBS will read US policy as a “green light” to continue committing abuses at home and abroad while enjoying generous US military, diplomatic, and political support, the international non-governmental organisation said in a statement on November 21.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz’s appointment of MBS as prime minister on September 27, 2022, came days before a deadline for the US State Department to provide a response to a US district court on the question of MBS’s possible immunity. The deadline was later extended, the statement noted.

The Biden administration filed a legal brief last week calling for Mohammed bin Salman to be granted sovereign immunity in a civil case involving the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“In every case, we simply follow the law. And that’s what we did,” Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, reportedlty said later.

ALSO READFiancee of slain US journalist Jamal Khashoggi says ‘blood’ of future Saudi victims on Biden’s hands

“But a close examination of the Biden administration’s actions, including interviews with legal experts and people who closely followed the matter, suggest the controversial decision was anything but straightforward,” said a report in The Guardian.

Beginning last summer, the administration’s decision to delay action and seek months of legal extensions before submitting its views on the matter before a US judge offered Saudi Arabia an unprecedented opportunity to protect Prince Mohammed through a legal manoeuvre that put him above the law and out of the reach of the US legal system. Once this had happened, the Biden administration in effect said its hands were tied, The Guardian added.

In a stringent rebuke, MSNBC opinion columnist James Downie wrote, “Perhaps the president and his staff would insist they have no choice. International law is international law, and no matter the politics or the price of gas, Saudi Arabia is too valuable an ally. So let me ask a different question then: How many American citizens or residents can bin Salman order the deaths of? Would his immunity extend to those who worked with Khashoggi — my friends and former colleagues? Because, with all due respect, Mr. President, it sure seems like you wouldn’t lift a finger to protect them.”

Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of slain US journalist Jamal Khashoggi (Photo | AP)Caption

Those final questions are particularly important because Saudi Arabia still holds a number of American citizens and permanent residents hostage — either in prison or under a travel ban that prevents them from leaving the country. Last year, the Post’s Josh Rogin reported, the Saudi government arrested 72-year-old Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a U.S. citizen, at an airport in Riyadh. Almadi’s crime? Fourteen tweets posted over seven years that were critical of the Saudi government. For this grave offense, last month Almadi was sentenced to 16 years in prison and a 16-year travel ban, MSNBC noted.

CNBC recalled what Biden said in an interview at CNN town hall as a candidate in 2019 “I think it was a flat-out murder. And I think we should have nailed it as that. I publicly said at the time we should treat it that way and there should be consequences relating to how we deal with those — that power.”

Now, the administration’s move “is a turnaround from Joe Biden’s passionate campaign trail denunciations of Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the brutal slaying,” CNBC said.

Saudi Arabia has stepped up imprisonment and other retaliation against peaceful critics at home and abroad and has cut oil production, a move seen as undercutting efforts by the U.S. and its allies to punish Russia for its war against Ukraine, CNBC report said.

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