U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine on Friday sharply criticized President Joe Biden’s administration for claiming in a federal court filing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “enjoys head-of-state immunity” in a civil case brought by the fiancée of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Virginia Democrat is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chairs its subcommittee on human rights, and has been outspoken about the 2018 killing of Khashoggi, who lived in his state but disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
“I am deeply disappointed in the State Department’s decision to intervene in a federal lawsuit filed by the friends and family of Virginia resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi against Saudi defendants responsible for his gruesome execution,” Kaine said. “President Biden has been very clear about this horrific crime. He declared in 2019: ‘It was flat-out murder… We should treat it that way and there should be consequences.'”
Using the Saudi prime minister’s nickname, the senator highlighted that “despite the U.S. intelligence community concluding that MBS approved the execution of Khashoggi, the Biden administration has imposed no direct consequences on the crown prince.”
According to Kaine:
As disappointing as it is that the U.S. has been unwilling to hold MBS to account for the assassination of a U.S.-resident journalist, last night’s announcement by the State Department is even more egregious. The case is a civil suit filed by the friends and family of Khashoggi in the hopes of acquiring even a modicum of justice from the Saudi defendants. The U.S. is not a party to the case. The Saudi defendants have full opportunity to defend their own actions in the federal proceedings.
The court offered the administration the option to express an opinion on the question of whether sovereign immunity doctrines protect MBS from the suit. The administration had no duty to take a proactive position and could have simply refrained from doing so. Instead, it has chosen to take the side of the party that our own intelligence agencies have concluded is responsible for the murder, and is standing against family members seeking recompense for this gross injustice.
“Why has the administration changed its view from the strong moral stance taken by the president in 2019?” Kaine asked. “Is the administration casting aside its confidence in its own intelligence community’s judgment?”
“If the friends and family of Khashoggi are denied a path to accountability in the American court system, where in the world can they go?” he continued. “How can the U.S. look at any dictator in the world who is oppressing journalists and urge good behavior when we refuse to impose accountability for a shocking murder of an American-based journalist and even take affirmative steps to block efforts by the victim’s friends and families to seek justice?”
Kaine was far from alone in expressing outrage over the State Department’s decision. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, and human rights advocates around the world also condemned it.
Biden went from promising to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” to granting its Crown Prince immunity for Khashoggi’s murder.— Reprieve US (@ReprieveUS) November 18, 2022
This is a regime that kills journalists, pro-democracy protesters & child defendants.
The failure to hold it accountable all but guarantees more bloodshed. pic.twitter.com/sZylwuIwKm
Karen Attiah, who recruited the late journalist as a columnist for the Post, tweeted that “the Biden administration has failed all of us who fought for justice for Jamal Khashoggi. To shield the Crown Prince MBS from lawsuits is a disgusting betrayal.”
“If you have enough money and power and are U.S. ‘ally’ you can get away with basically anything,” she added. “And they release this news on a Thursday night before a major holiday weekend… as Twitter goes under. Cowards.”
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