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Saudi Prince Granted Immunity in Death of Jamal Khashoggi

saudi Prince, Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, Granted Immunity in Death of Jamal Khashoggi. Credit: U.S. State Department / Public Domain

The United States has determined that Saudi Arabia’s leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has immunity from a lawsuit filed by the fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Jamal Khashoggi, a well-known Saudi Arabian journalist, was assassinated on October 2, 2018. This allegedly took place in the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul when he went to attain documents necessary for his marriage to Hatic Cengiz. CCTV caught the author, columnist, and dissident entering the premises, though there was no sign of his ever leaving.

Fast forward to 2020, when Cengiz filed a case against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and twenty-eight other people at the Federal District Court of Washington, D.C. The accusations against them included the kidnapping, physical restraint, drugging, torture, and killing of her then soon-to-be husband.

Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident

Jamal Khashoggi, 21 March, 2018
Jamal Khashoggi, 21 March, 2018 Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Washington, DC. Credit: April Brady, CC-BY-2.0 / Wikimedia

As a distinguished journalist—and as the first journalist for a Saudi news organization—Khashoggi covered major news stories, such as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

It was at this time that he also met and wrote of Osama bin Laden, whom he had previously briefly met. As he later stated in an interview with CNN in March of 2018:

In late ’87 I had a scoop. I was invited to write about the role of [the] Arab mujahideen in Afghanistan and I liked the idea. It was Osama [who invited me]. I knew him slightly in Jeddah. We were almost the same age.

I liked his enthusiasm. He was very enthusiastic, very devoted. We are from the same generation, same background. I went to Peshawar [in Pakistan] and then I traveled inside Afghanistan. [I found a] very enthusiastic bunch of Arabs who believe in what they are doing, very proud of what they are doing.

I interviewed Osama. [He was] a gentle, enthusiastic young man of few words who didn’t raise his voice while talking. [We discussed] the condition of the mujahideen and what he [bin Laden] was doing to help them…His behavior at that time left no impression that he would become what he has become.

The news channel BBC noted how close he was to the Saudi family for years before he fell out of favor, and it was that which led to his exile in the United States.

Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince

For two weeks, the Saudi Arabian government refuted its involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance. According to BBC, Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Crown Prince, stated he had left the premises “after a few minutes or an hour.” Furthermore, he declared they had nothing to hide.

Admission of the truth about what actually happened did not come out until much later. On October 20th, the Saudi government said it had launched a preliminary investigation, the conclusion of which was that Khashoggi had died within the walls of the embassy. The grounds was a struggle between the journalist, who had made the U.S. his home, and others within the embassy. He died from a deadly chokehold.

As reported by BBC, on November 15th Shaman al-Shalaan, the public prosecutor for Saudi Arabia, announced that Saudi Arabia had sent a “negotiations team” to bring the writer back “by persuasion or force.”

As it so happened, the means used were the latter rather than the former. Shalaan admitted they had decided to sedate him with an unidentified drug, the consequence of which was an overdose. They then dismembered him and handed his body over to a local “collaborator”—in his words—to remove it from consulate grounds.

Shalaan additionally announced the arrest of five individuals who had confessed to having carried out the act. According to him, the Crown Prince “did not have any knowledge of it.” In 2021, the man wanted for the murder of Khashoggi was arrested in Paris.

Things seemed to settle for a while, and in 2022, the Crown Prince also became Saudi Arabia’s Prime Minister. He made a trip to the EU for the first time since Khashoggi’s killing.

Khashoggi’s fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, has however never given up her attempts to bring all of those responsible to justice.

Yet today, on November 18th, the U.S. State Department decided to grant Mohammed bin Salman immunity in the case Cengiz brought against him.

Hatice Cengiz, the bereaved

Hatice Cengiz
Hatice Cengiz. Credit: POMED, CC-BY-2.0 / Flicker

CNN reported that upon hearing of the decision, Hatice Cengiz said: “Biden himself brewed his word, betrayed Jamal. History will not forget this wrong decision.”

What Cengiz is referring to is the fact that the court did not base their decision on guilt or innocence since the US State Department has admitted they believe Khashoggi was killed under orders of Mohammed bin Salman. The court’s verdict was based on the Saudi Crown Prince’s new position as Prime Minister.

While calling the murder “heinous,” the State Department also stated that “Mohammed bin Salman, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, is the sitting head of government and, accordingly, is immune from this suit.”

There have been many who have also recently criticized President Biden for a fist bump he allegedly gave to the new Saudi Prime Minister in July of this year.

Agnès Callamard, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, had only a few words about the verdict, declaring that “today it is immunity. It all adds up to impunity.”

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