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Right group warns over US collusion in bin Salman’s immunity in Khashoggi killing lawsuit

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
In this photo released by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Biden bump fists as they begin meetings in Jeddah.

A human rights group warns that Washington may use the “premier” title that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman newly invented for himself as a legal ploy to shield the allied kingdom’s de facto ruler from lawsuits filed against him in the US, including those surrounding the gruesome murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In an interview with Arabi 21 media outlet, Raed Jarrar, director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), slammed the administration of US President Joe Biden for adopting a “very weak” position on Khashoggi’s murder, despite promises of making the Saudis “pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”

“We regret the weakness of President Biden’s position, which was reflected in the US relationship with most of the authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, especially at the level of relations with Israel, the Egyptian regime or the Saudi regime. These relationships have become cheap and disappointing,” he said.

“Biden could not change the course or approach of the previous US administration, but we are putting pressure on the Biden administration internally in Washington, whether as non-governmental organizations or with members of the US Congress, to change these failed policies,” the activist said.

Jarrar said the fabricated title of “prime minister” was an attempt by bin Salman to avoid international lawsuits against the crown prince, who is widely reported to have ordered the assassination, warning that Washington may choose to work hand in gloves with MBS over his bid to secure immunity in the case.

Jarrar said DAWN would pressure the American government not to recognize the step taken by bin Salman. He underscored that “the legal team of the DAWN organization will explain to the American court that this step should not affect the course of justice at all.”

In a royal decree on September 19, Mohammad bin Salman was appointed as prime minister.

The decree did not state the reason behind the appointment. However, experts believe the decision was an attempt to protect him from the potentially-damaging lawsuits related to the assassination of Khashoggi.

The appointment by royal decree came as the administration of US President Joe Biden was debating whether the crown prince qualified for immunity from lawsuits filed in American courts.

Before the crown prince’s new title was announced on Friday, a judge gave US lawyers a deadline of October 3 to file a “statement of interest” on the immunity question.

On Friday, however, citing the crown prince’s new position, the administration requested an additional 45 days to make up its mind, according to a court filing which was seen by AFP.

At a virtual commemoration event held on Friday, entitled “Advances toward Justice for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Four Years Later,” DAWN, an organization founded by Khashoggi, said it would pursue the case until the end.

Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN’s executive director said, “MBS is playing a desperate ploy to gain immunity by virtue of his made up title and so long as his father, King Salman, remains the country's true head of state.”

“Regardless of how the court rules on MBS’s immunity ploy, we will continue to press our lawsuit against all remaining defendants, and we intend to commence discovery of all relevant facts, including MBS's role in the murder,” she assured.

“Though the Biden Administration has broken promise after promise to promote and defend human rights in the region, DAWN persists in its efforts to change the approach of the US foreign policy community so that the US will match its conduct with its rhetoric of support for freedom and democracy,” Whitson said.

In October 2020, two years after Khashoggi’s death, DAWN filed a complaint in the US along with Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, accusing Crown Prince Mohammed of being involved in a conspiracy that led to Khashoggi being kidnapped, bound, drugged, tortured and assassinated.

Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, used to be a vocal critic of the Saudi regime and the crown prince.

The CIA concluded in 2018 that MBS had ordered the killing of Khashoggi, contradicting Saudi Arabia's insistence that the crown prince had had no prior knowledge of the plot.

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