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Judge Dismisses Jamal Khashoggi Against Saudi Ruler After Biden Gives Prince Immunity

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Joe Biden

A federal judge in Washington D.C. has reluctantly agreed to dismiss a civil lawsuit against Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because President Biden granted Salman immunity.

Biden – after promising during his 2020 presidential campaign to make the Saudi kingdom “pay the price” for human rights abuses and “make them in fact the pariah that they are” – said Salman should be granted head-of-state immunity last month.

The move drew backlash as many worried that the immunity would protect the Saudi ruler from his decision to approve the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. However, the Biden administration repeatedly insisted that the immunity had “nothing to do with the merits of” the Khashoggi case. As noted by The Intercept, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel made that claim nearly a dozen times in a single press conference.

“This — again, not to sound like a broken record, but this has nothing to do with the merits of the case,” he said. “And this designation stems from the fact that [MBS] is a head of government, which is consistent, long-standing international law, and they have no bearings on the bilateral relationship, on our views of the relationship, and no bearings on the merits of the case as well.”

The Biden administration was wrong, which serves as a reminder from the former Obama administration’s defense secretary Robert Gates who warned that Biden has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

On Tuesday, Judge John Bates ruled that the lawsuit against the Saudi ruler – brought by Khashoogi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz and pro-democracy group DAWN – “must be dismissed at this time” due to Biden’s decision to grant Salman immunity.

“If the immunity determination was in front of the Court without input from the Executive Branch, the Court certainly would consider plaintiffs’ arguments about whether, as a substantive matter, bin Salman was entitled to head-of-state immunity,” Bates wrote. “But because the United States has determined that bin Salman is so entitled, ‘the doctrine of the separation of powers under our Constitution requires us to assume that all pertinent considerations have been taken into account by the [Executive Branch] in reaching [its] conclusion.’”

“Despite the Court’s uneasiness, then, with both the circumstances of bin Salman’s appointment and the credible allegations of his involvement in Khashoggi’s murder, the United States has informed the Court that he is immune, and bin Salman is therefore ‘entitled to head of state immunity . . . while he remains in office,’” Bates continued.

“Accordingly, the claims against bin Salman will be dismissed based on head-of-state immunity,” he wrote.

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