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Judge dismisses lawsuit over Khashoggi's murder after the Biden administration backed immunity for MBS

John Haltiwanger,Ashley Collman   

Judge dismisses lawsuit over Khashoggi's murder after the Biden administration backed immunity for MBS
  • A judge dismissed a suit against Mohammed bin Salman in connection to Jamal Khashoggi's death.
  • The suit was filed by Khashoggi's fiancée, who accused MBS of ordering his death to silence him.

A US federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman over the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. The decision came just weeks after the Biden administration contended that the Saudi ruler, often referred to as "MBS," should be granted immunity.

Judge John Bates in an opinion said that "despite the Court's uneasiness" and the "credible allegations" of his involvement in Khashoggi's killing, the US has "informed the Court that he is immune" so MBS is therefore "entitled to head of state immunity."

"Accordingly, the claims against bin Salman will be dismissed based on head-of-state-immunity," Bates added.

Khashoggi disappeared after visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 to obtain documents related to his upcoming marriage. It was later revealed that a group of Saudi agents ambushed him inside the consulate, strangling him before dismembering and disposing of his body.

The following month, the CIA concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi's killing.

A declassified intelligence report released by the Biden administration last year explicitly implicated MBS in Khashoggi's killing. "We assess that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi," the report said. MBS has denied that he ordered Khashoggi's killing.

The lawsuit was filed two years after Khashoggi's death by his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, and accused MBS of ordering the Saudi journalist's death in order to silence him.

The Justice Department made the controversial argument for Crown Prince Mohammed's immunity in a court filing last month.

The Justice Department contended that since MBS is prime minister of Saudi Arabia he is "the sitting head of government" of the kingdom and "is immune from this suit."

The State Department in the filing said it "takes no view on the merits of the present suit and reiterates its unequivocal condemnation of the heinous murder of Jamal Khashoggi."

Cengiz ripped into the Biden administration for recommending MBS be granted immunity.

"We thought maybe there would be a light to justice from #USA," Cengiz tweeted. "Jamal died again today."

When MBS was made prime minister of Saudi Arabia in September, he was already the de facto ruler of the kingdom. Critics suggested the move was designed to shield MBS from the lawsuit. Weeks later, the Biden administration argued that the Saudi leader should be granted immunity.

President Joe Biden has faced widespread backlash over his approach to US-Saudi relations.

On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to make the oil-rich kingdom a "pariah" over Khashoggi's murder.

When he came into office, Biden vowed to recalibrate the relationship between Washington and Riyadh, including by ending US support for the Saudi-led coalition in the devastating Yemen war. MBS is considered the architect of the war, which has fostered what's been described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

But US arms sales to Saudi Arabia have continued under Biden, and he controversially met with MBS in July as Washington sought to convince Riyadh to increase oil production amid a global energy crisis tied to the war in Ukraine. Biden was widely criticized after an image showed him fist-bumping MBS, which came less than a month after the president said he wouldn't meet with the Saudi leader.

Biden in July said he told the Saudi ruler that he was responsibile for Khashoggi's murder, but this did little to quell the outrage over the president's visit to the kingdom. A former US diplomat who advised multiple secretaries of state on the Middle East at the time told Insider that Biden's trip to Saudi Arabia showed that MBS "got away with murder."

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