The U.S. Department of State has supported sovereign immunity for Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is slated to go on trial for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in a lawsuit filed in 2020 by his widow, Hatice Cengiz, and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October 2018, in an operation that both Turkish intelligence and the CIA have determined was sanctioned by the crown prince.
President Joe Biden has talked about the importance of human rights and holding the killers of Khashoggi accountable, but by giving the Saudi crown prince diplomatic immunity, he has betrayed this rhetoric.
In response to being asked to weigh in on the lawsuit seeking damages for the murder of Khashoggi, the administration said it “takes no view on the merits of the present suit” and while it claims to condemned the murder, it concluded that the crown prince’s recently appointed role as prime minister is grounds for immunity.
The plaintiffs —Khashoggi’s widow and the human rights group founded by the murdered journalist—sued the prince in a Washington federal court, claiming he orchestrated the murder back in 2018.
After promising to get justice, Biden went hat in hand to a face-to-face meeting with MBS but he failed to sway the influential Kingdom’s calculus on oil geopolitics over the summer.
At a Democratic debate in 2019, candidate Biden said he would not sell weapons to Saudi Arabia — in a sharp contrast with the Obama administration — and promised he would make the Saudis “pay the price” for their killing the Washington Post contributor.
“I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them,” Biden said. “We were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”
Biden also said there is “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia,” and, in reference to Yemen, said he would end “end the sale of material to the Saudis where they’re going in and murdering children.”
“This decision is more than disappointing. It will set a very bad example not only for Jamal but for all justice seekers,” said Cengiz, after the White House confirmed its stand on immunity for the killer. “If even the United States will not serve to bring criminals to justice, who will? Biden betrayed his own word. He has used ‘democracy and human rights’ as words or slogans everywhere. But [there’s] not real action on it.”
In recent years, under bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has launched an unprecedented crackdown on dissent at home and abroad.
Its record of human rights violations, support for jihadist terror groups, subjugation of women, and Khashoggi’s murder has led Democrats to call for fundamental changes to the U.S.-Saudi alliance.
At the Atlanta debate in 2019, Biden was not alone in demanding changes in that relationship.
“Saudi Arabia is not a reliable ally,” asserted Sen. Bernie Sanders. “We need to be rethinking who our allies are around the world, work with the United Nations, and not continue to support brutal dictatorships.”
Sen. Cory Booker said, “It’s a human rights violation, without coming to the United States Congress, for an authorization for the use of military force, for us to refuel Saudi jets to bomb Yemeni children.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, “When the president did not stand up the way he should have to that killing and dismemberment of a journalist with an American newspaper, that sent a signal to all dictators across the world that that was okay.”
So if those are the ways Democrats talk about the situation, how will this betrayal play out on the world stage and will any of those luminaries call out President Biden for this? Of course not.
Still, Biden’s lies will cost the United States influence in the world as it is engaged in a global power competition with China and Russia. People who depend on the United States now know that they cannot rely on our leaders to live up to their word, just as they learned from the previous White House occupant that one administration can swing wildly from the policies of another.
Biden’s position is not a significant departure from the previous Democratic Party position or that of election loser Donald Trump, but his lies about it deplete the credibility he desperately needs to lead the nation out of its current morass.
Perhaps observers never should have had any illusions that the Biden administration would change Washington’s approach to “supporting dictatorships” in the Middle East, because the gap between practicality and American principles has always been a chasm as large at that between ethics and economics.
When Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, we should consider whether we getting what we deserve.