Mohammed bin Salman immune from Khashoggi murder charges


Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks with the Russian President during talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 14, 2019. (Photo by ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Echoing the US government’s findings that the Saudi crown prince is immune, a federal judge agreed to dismiss a lawsuit seeking to be deferred Mohammed bin Salman journalists liable Jamal Khashoggis Murder.

Tuesday afternoon’s verdict dismissed the claims of Khashoggi’s fiancé Hatice Cengize targeted the Saudi leader and two others allegedly involved in what the lawsuit describes as “ruthless torture and murder” of Khashoggi.

“The United States has come to the same conclusion: that the ‘horrific’ murder of bin Salman was self-authorised,” the US District Judge said John Bates noted in its 25-page statement, citing a declassified intelligence report. “Even the defendants admit that Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate and that the murder was carried out by Saudi nationals.”

Though he found a “strong argument” that the claims could be “meritorious,” Bates noted that the separation of powers compelled him to accept the Biden administration’s finding that bin Salman’s recent appointment as the country’s prime minister conferred him immunity.

The judge also noted that he lacked jurisdiction over senior Saudi officials Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Assirisued both in connection with the murder of Khashoggi.

Six days before the government’s deadline to comment on the question of the immunity of bin Salman, the crown prince’s father King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud unilaterally appointed his son prime minister. Cengiz and her lawyers called the development gimmicks, but the Biden administration argued that the development tied their hands by turning him into a prime minister.

Bates noted the “suspicious timing” and appeared to agree that the appointment was a move to “protect him from potential liability in this case.”

Still, the judge said, for a court to recognize the immunity of heads of state, it was “no small request” to get him to disregard customary international law.

“Plaintiffs are unable to cite a case, domestic or international, in which a court has denied a defendant immunity as head of state based on the circumstances of his appointment — or based on anything other than a finding that the defendant was not there.” was actually the head of state,” reads a footnote to the judgment.

Bates made it clear that this conclusion gave him pause.

“Despite the court’s concerns, given the circumstances of bin Salman’s appointment and the credible allegations of his involvement in Khashoggi’s assassination, the United States has told the court that he is immune and therefore bin Salman is “eligible to become head of state with immunity.” . . as long as he remains in office,” the verdict says. “Accordingly, the lawsuits against bin Salman are dismissed on the basis of the head of state’s immunity.”

The US government, too, seemed to lament this conclusion when it reached it.

“The United States government has expressed grave concern about the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi and has expressed those concerns publicly and to the highest levels of the Saudi government,” the Justice Department’s civilian branch said wrote in a filing last month. “It has also imposed financial sanctions and visa restrictions in the wake of and in connection with the killing of Mr. Khashoggi and has sought to promote transparency by releasing the intelligence community’s assessment of the Saudi government’s role in the incident. However, the doctrine of immunity for heads of state is well established in customary international law and has been consistently recognized in long-standing executive branch practice as a status-based provision that does not reflect a judgment of the underlying conduct at issue.”

The executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), one of the key organizations involved in the lawsuit, expressed disappointment with the outcome.

“Sad news for accountability”, leader of DAWN Sarah Leah Whitson tweeted.

Read the opinion here.

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