The White House has determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, on whom U.S. intelligence has pinned the 2018 murder of Saudi-born American journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is immune from a civil lawsuit filed in the U.S. by Khashoggi’s fiancée and a human rights organization he founded.
In response to an invitation over the summer by U.S. District Judge John Bates to submit a statement of interest in the case, the Biden Administration submitted late Thursday that because MBS is Saudi Arabia’s “sitting head of government” he is “immune from this suit.”
The Administration suggested it was bound by international law, which prohibits one country from taking legal action against another country’s head of state “while in office.” King Salman, MBS’ father, appointed him to be Prime Minister in September.
In a letter accompanying the response, State Department acting legal adviser Richard C. Visek did say that State “takes no view on the merits of the present suit and reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, the Executive Director of Khashoggi’s human rights organization, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), said the State Department’s decision “not only undermines the only effort at judicial accountability for Khashoggi’s murder; it signals that our government will ensure impunity for a tyrant like MBS…no matter how heinous his crimes and embolden him further.”
Saudi Arabia did convict a number of officials for the murder. But it has denied MBS had any knowledge of the crime. The CIA, however, concluded that the Crown Prince “approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill” Khashoggi because he was perceived to be a Saudi dissident.
This past July President Biden flew to the Saudi kingdom and met with MBS to discuss then-rising oil and gas prices, even though he’d called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state following Khashoggi’s murder.