A US federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, bowing to the Biden administration’s insistence that the prince was legally immune in the case.
District of Columbia US District Judge John D. Bates heeded the US government’s motion to shield Prince Mohammed from the lawsuit despite what Bates called “credible allegations of his involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.”
Bates said the civil suit filed by Khashoggi’s widow Hatice Cengiz and his activist group DAWN made a “strong” and “meritorious” argument that Prince Mohammed was behind the murder. But he ruled that he had no power to reject the US government’s official stance, submitted in a formal statement to the court on November 17, that the prince had immunity as a foreign leader.
Even if the prince was named prime minister just weeks ago, the US government’s executive branch “remains responsible for foreign affairs, including with Saudi Arabia, and a contrary decision on bin Salman’s immunity by this Court would unduly interfere with those responsibilities,” Bates said.
A team of Saudi officials killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post, had written critically of the harsh ways of Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
The US intelligence community concluded the Saudi crown prince ordered the operation against Khashoggi. The killing opened a rift between the Biden administration and Saudi Arabia that the administration has tried in recent months to close, as the US unsuccessfully urged the kingdom to undo oil production cuts in a global market racked by the Ukraine war.
Khashoggi had entered the Saudi consulate to obtain documents needed for his upcoming marriage. His fiancee, Cengiz, who had waited unknowingly outside the consulate as he was killed, and a rights group founded by Khashoggi before he died brought the lawsuit. The lawsuit also named two top aides of the prince as accomplices.