America shames itself by naming and not punishing Mohammed bin Salman as culprit in Khashoggi case


The Ole Dog!

The publication of the United States’ intelligence report about the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi did little to advance the case against Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, who was already known to have hatched the plot to assassinate Khashoggi. But the passive approach that the Biden administration subsequently took to the case, deciding not to punish the murderer prince, helped demonstrate the lax moral codes of the administration.

President Biden of course set himself in contrast to his predecessor by publicizing the report, which had been finalized in 2018, the same year Khashoggi was murdered and his body was dismembered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Former US President Donald Trump courted Mohammed, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, famously mingled with the murderer prince seeking to “milk” the Saudi cow.

President Biden however chose to publicly blame the prince in the case. But few, if anyone, were awaiting the declassification of US intelligence about Mohammed. Turkey had already collected and released incriminating intelligence of its own, and there was almost zero doubt about the prince’s role among governments worldwide.

The only outcome of the episode was that the United States displayed its inaction in a high-profile case of murder and justice in which the United States itself was rekindling public interest by presenting its official findings. By naming the force behind the murder and refusing to punish him in any way whatsoever, the Biden administration did not publicly shame the murderer, it publicly shamed itself.

US administration officials have implied that the decision not to punish the Saudi crown prince was intended to avoid alienating the Saudi government, that by declassifying the intelligence report, the Biden administration carried out a targeted raid against the prince but avoided stretching the US-Saudi relations to a breaking point. “The relationship with Saudi Arabia is bigger than any one individual,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said. “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.”

But that does not make sense. Mohammed is already running most of the top posts in the Saudi government. He is Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, defense minister, “deputy prime minister” (the king being “prime minister”), chairman of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, and chairman of the Council of Political and Security Affairs. For all practical purposes, he is the Saudi government. Letting Mohammed walk could only have been meant to avoid alienating Mohammed. To have really acted with integrity, the United States should have gone after the murderer prince, not put on a fake show of scrupulousness.

Rights advocates decry Biden’s decision against sanctioning bin Salman despite Khashoggi report
Rights advocates decry Biden’s decision against sanctioning bin Salman despite Khashoggi report
The US president has decided that the diplomatic cost of penalizing bin Salman for the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi would be too high, officials say.
US administration officials have at the same time characterized the decision to release the report as part of a broader Biden administration resolution to “recalibrate” ties with Saudi Arabia. They have also attempted to portray President Biden and his administration as downgrading the crown prince’s formerly privileged status with top-level officials in Washington; reportedly, Mohammed “has been told to communicate with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III,” and not higher-level officials. The Saudi prince formerly had almost direct access to the US president, Trump, via Kushner.

But then again, Mohammed is the future king of Saudi Arabia, and he will assume that position sooner rather than later (his 85-year-old father, King Salman, is ailed by old age and partial dementia). Once he does, the United States government will only have him, and his government, to interact with, and the US-Saudi relationship will have been “recalibrated” in no way.


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