Rights Advocates Decry Biden’s Decision Against Sanctioning MBS Despite Khashoggi Report
By Staff, Agencies
Human rights advocates and congressional Democrats decried Joe Biden administration’s decision not to impose sanctions on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after a newly-declassified American intelligence report confirmed that he had directly approved the assassination of US-based dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch, said Biden’s failure, who called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state on the 2020 campaign trail, to penalize bin Salman was “unconscionable.”
“The fact that the US has sanctioned so many of MBS’ associates but not him sends a terrible message that the higher up in a government you are, the more likely it is you can commit crimes with impunity," Prasow told the Middle East Eye news portal.
“It also undermines US credibility. It’s hard to see what incentive MBS has to alter his conduct, whether inside Saudi Arabia, in his conduct in the war in Yemen, or in other extraterritorial attacks on dissidents, when he knows he can literally get away with murder.”
Citing senior administration officials, The New York Times reported on Friday that Biden has decided that the "diplomatic cost" of penalizing Prince Mohammed for ordering the hit on Khashoggi, a palace insider who later became a prominent critic of MBS, would be too high.
The decision came after weeks of debate in which Biden's new national security team advised him against barning MBS from entering the United States or considering criminal charges against the prince.
White House officials pondering the matter have eventually reached a consensus that taking any action against the Saudi royals would be impossible without breaching the historically strong US alliance with the oil-rich kingdom, officials told the Times.
The decision, which has already put Biden’s decision-making as president and his campaign promises into sharp relief, has disappointed human rights advocates and members of his own party, who had applauded Biden for making public the much-anticipated intelligence report on the Khashoggi murder case.
“The Biden administration is trying to thread the needle. They want to continue to work with a partner that has committed a heinous act against a US resident, while taking some steps toward accountability,” Seth Binder, advocacy officer at the Project on Middle East Democracy [POMED], told MEE.
“But if human rights are really going to be at the center of US foreign policy, as the administration has repeatedly stated, then it can't give murderers a free pass,” he said.
During his presidential campaign, Biden promised to “reassess” US relations with Saudi Arabia, which he said has “no redeeming social value.” Since taking office on January 20, he has suspended some arms sales to Riyadh and announced an end to Washington's support for the Saudi-led military aggression in Yemen.
Still, many rights advocates and members of Congress are demanding a more forceful approach to the oil-rich kingdom and Prince Mohammed, who practically had carte blanche to carry out his aggressive domestic and foreign policy agenda during the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
“We're calling on the Biden administration to move ahead with accountability measures to sanction MBS personally, along with everyone else who is implicated in that killing,” said Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at Democracy for the Arab World Now [DAWN].
Rights advocates hoped that the Biden administration would, at a minimum, impose the same travel restrictions on bin Salman that his predecessor, Trump, had imposed on others involved in the murder plot.
The newly declassified intelligence report from the director of national intelligence says bin Salman, widely considered the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, directly approved the killing of Khashoggi, who was lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 and brutally murdered inside by a Saudi hit squad.