After Biden's inaction, US Congress moves to bring perpetrators in Khashoggi murder to justice

People hold signs during a protest at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in the United States about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in Washington, October 10, 2018. (Photo by AP))

In the wake of Joe Biden administration’s fumbling on a US intelligence report indicting the Saudi crown prince for the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the US Congress has introduced two bills to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, where the slain journalist was living at the time of his murder in 2018, introduced the Saudi Dissidents Protection Act, backed by the Republican Rep. Michael McCaul from Texas, paving the way for a legislation that has been deemed instrumental in punishing the Saudi officials responsible for the murder.

“Jamal Khashoggi was my constituent. His brutal murder must not be forgotten, and there has to be justice,” Connolly said Thursday. “This bill will be a vehicle for moving us toward eventual justice.”

The foreign affairs committee of the US House of Representatives gave its nod to the legislation through voice vote on Thursday, before it is taken up by the full house.

“This legislation imposes reasonable limits on US weapons transfers to Saudi intelligence agencies shown to be involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi and other political repression, until such repression and abuse of dissidents abates,” Gregory Meeks, the chairman of the committee, said.

The latest bill is an updated version of the legislation introduced by Connolly in the last Congress, which was at the time rejected by Republicans, apparently at the behest of former US President Donald Trump who shared a cozy relationship with Mohammed bin Salman.

It would restore a four-month ban on arms sales to Saudi security forces for acting against dissidents and sanction Saudi intelligence and law enforcement bodies that detain Americans in Saudi Arabia or prevent them and their families from traveling.

The US Congress committee also approved a legislation on Thursday put forward by Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, which seeks to bar the Saudi crown prince and his accomplices involved in the murder of Khashoggi from coming to the US.

Malinnowski, a harsh critic of bin Salman, said last month that the Saudi government “likely spied on Khashoggi’s communications with associates while he lived in the US, monitoring his contacts and tracking his movements using spyware tools.”

Murder most foul

Khashoggi, a columnist for Washington Post and a fierce critic of the Saudi regime, was murdered by bin Salman’s ‘hit squad’ inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

A declassified version of a US intelligence report released last month revealed that the Saudi crown prince had approved the mission “to capture or kill” the dissident journalist.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the report said. 

“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince's control of decision-making in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Mohammed bin Salman's protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince's support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi," it added.

In response to the report, the Biden administration introduced new sanctions against a former senior intelligence official and the prince's protective team, but there was no action against the crown prince himself, raising many eyebrows.

Washington said its goal was to "recalibrate" but not "rupture" the relationship with Saudi Arabia, which it considers an important ally in the Arab world.

“What we've done by the actions that we've taken is really not to rupture the relationship, but to recalibrate it, to be more in line with our interests and our values. And I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

The lack of action on the much-publicized report implicating the Saudi crown prince and his close aides was met with blistering criticism both within and outside the US.

The latest bills are seen as a rebuke by the US Congress against the Biden administration that has failed to honor its commitment to bring the perpetrators in the case to justice.

Death threats by Saudis

A high-ranking Saudi official has reportedly issued death threats against an outgoing United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, after she made important disclosures in the murder of the dissident journalist. 

Agnès Callamard, a French human rights specialist, earlier this week told British newspaper the Guardian that a UN colleague warned her in January 2020 that a senior Saudi official had twice issued threats against her in a meeting with other top UN officials in Geneva that month.

The visiting senior Saudi official purportedly said that they could have Callamard “taken care of” if the UN did not rein her in.

The independent UN investigator noted that the Saudi officials criticized her work on Khashoggi’s murder, expressing their outrage over her investigation and her conclusions during the meeting between Geneva-based Saudi diplomats, visiting Saudi officials and UN officials in Geneva. 

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