A Washington, DC district court judge dismissed a lawsuit brought by the fiancé of murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Hatice Cengiz was seeking accountability for Saudi Arabia’s de facto head of state – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – but the White House told the court to throw out the case.
Khashoggi was last seen in October 2018, when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul never to reemerge. While Riyadh initially denied responsibility, Ankara later released proof the journalist was murdered on October 2 by a team of Saudi nationals closely linked to the crown prince.
Though a Saudi court convicted several officials for the hit on Khashoggi, human rights advocates have argued the trial covered up the Saudi government’s major role in the plot. “The verdict fails to address the Saudi authorities’ involvement in this devastating crime or clarify the location of Jamal Khashoggi’s remains,” Amnesty International said, while the org’s Middle East Research Director Lynn Maalouf dubbed the court case a “whitewash.”
US intelligence agencies agree with Amnesty, with a 2021 report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluding that the Saudi ruler, known as MbS, ordered Khashoggi to be killed. After he was murdered, his body was dismembered and never recovered.
As MbS skirted punishment in the international community, Cengiz – Khashoggi’s fiancé at the time of his death – sought justice in the American court system. However, her push to hold the prince accountable was ended on Tuesday by judge John Bates, who said he was uneasy about dismissing Cengiz’s lawsuit, but nonetheless concluded MbS was entitled to immunity as determined by the White House.
Last month, the State Department issued a determination that MbS should be not be charged for the killing in American courts, citing the “unbroken practice” of granting immunity to foreign heads of state.
On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to change the US relationship with the kingdom and treat MbS as a global “pariah.” Since taking over the White House, however, the president has largely continued to provide Riyadh with the weapons it needs to wage war in Yemen, and has now allowed bin Salman to escape consequences for the killing of a journalist working for one of America’s top newspapers.