Despite “credible allegations” of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in the 2018 killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. federal judge on Tuesday ordered a lawsuit against the Saudi royal to be dismissed.
The basis for the decision, wrote Judge John D. Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was the legal protections the prince is entitled to in his new role as Saudi Arabia’s prime minister.
“The United States has informed the court that he is immune, and Mohammed is therefore ‘entitled to head of state immunity … while he remains in office,’” Bates wrote in the Tuesday filing, which also dismissed the claims against two senior Saudi officials due to a lack of adequate proof in establishing the court’s jurisdiction over their case.
Last month, the Biden administration determined that Mohammed — also known as MBS — was immune from the suit brought forth in 2020 by Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, and the civil rights organization he founded before his death, DAWN, given his appointment as “sitting head of government.” On Sept. 27, Mohammed was named prime minister by his father, King Salman — just six days before the U.S. State Department’s court-imposed deadline to determine whether Mohammed was protected from legal action.
The move was decried by DAWN as a “last ditch effort to escape the jurisdiction of the court.”
“DAWN’s lawsuit against [Mohammed] bin Salman (MBS) for his ruthless murder of Jamal Khashoggi is only one part of our continued efforts for justice and accountability for this crime, and the many other crimes the Saudi government is perpetrating against its own citizens,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement. “While we are disappointed in the decision, we will consider all options to continue our legal challenges to MBS’s criminal behavior.”
Mohammed has said he takes responsibility for the murder but has denied any personal role in the brutal killing — one that sent shock waves across the world after a U.N. investigation found that the Washington Post columnist had been a victim of a “deliberate, premeditated execution” at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The CIA also determined months after Khashoggi’s death that the prince had ordered the assassination.
As a candidate in 2019, President Biden vowed on the campaign trail to make Mohammed a “pariah” and pledged that accountability for the torture and dismemberment of the journalist would follow. Three years later, a meeting between the two leaders in Saudi Arabia — and the fist-bump with which Biden and Mohammed greeted each other — was widely condemned online.
Ahead of Biden’s trip in July to the Middle Eastern kingdom, Cengiz wrote an op-ed published by The Post imploring the president to “uphold your promise to pursue justice for Jamal.”
“President Biden, imagine yourself in my position, trying to move on while knowing that the people who killed your loved one are still free,” Cengiz wrote. “Imagine the trauma of knowing that what happened to your loved one can and will happen to someone else because the perpetrators know there will be no consequences.”