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Saudi Arabian Prince Gets New Title - It's All a 'Scheme' So He Can Avoid US Lawsuit Over Killing

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It raised eyebrows six weeks ago when Saudi Arabia’s aged king, Salman, named his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as prime minister. The kingdom’s laws designate the king as prime minister. King Salman had to declare a temporary exception to lend out the title, and at the same time he clarified he retains key duties.

But that move reaped dividends Thursday when the Biden administration declared that Prince Mohammed’s standing as prime minister shielded him from a U.S. lawsuit over what the U.S. intelligence community says was his role in Saudi officials’ 2018 killing of a U.S.-based journalist.

A judge now will decide whether Prince Mohammed has immunity.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted Friday that the administration’s declaration of immunity for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was purely a “legal determination” that has “absolutely nothing to do with the merits of the case itself.”

Many experts in international law agreed with the administration — but only because of the king’s late September title boost for the crown prince, ahead of a scheduled U.S. decision.

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“It would have been just as remarkable for the United States to deny MBS’s head-of-state immunity after his appointment as Prime Minister as it would have been for the United States to recognize MBS’s head-of-state immunity before his appointment,” William S. Dodge, a professor at the University of California-Davis School of Law, wrote, using the prince’s initials.

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel gave examples Friday of past instances of the United States recognizing immunity for heads of government or state — Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Narendra Modi of India, both in allegations of rights abuses.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Washington by the fiancée of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi and by a D.C.-based rights group he founded. It accuses the crown prince and about 20 aides, officers and others of plotting and carrying out Khashoggi’s slaying at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The killing, condemned by Biden on the campaign trial in 2019 as “flat-out murder” that must have consequences for Saudi rulers, is at the core of a rift between strategic partners the United States and Saudi Arabia.

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Before and immediately after taking office, Biden vowed to take a stand on Saudi Arabia’s crown prince as part of a presidency that would be based on rights and values.

But Biden since has offered a fist bump and other conciliatory gestures in hopes — disappointed so far — of persuading the crown prince to pump more oil for world markets.

Biden’s administration argues that Saudi Arabia is too important to the global economy and to regional security to allow the United States to walk away from the decades-old partnership.

But rights advocates, some senior Democratic lawmakers and Khashoggi’s key newspaper, The Washington Post, on Friday condemned the administration’s move.

“Jamal died again today,” Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted.

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Fred Ryan, publisher of the Post, called it a “cynical, calculated effort” to manipulate the law and shield Prince Mohammed.

Khashoggi, a freelance journalist, wrote columns for the Post that in his last months criticized the crown prince’s rights abuses.

Ryan wrote, “By going along with this scheme, President Biden is turning his back on fundamental principles of press freedom and equality.”

Cengiz and Khashoggi’s rights group, Democracy for the Arab World Now, or DAWN, had argued that the crown prince’s late September title change was no more than a maneuver to escape U.S. courts, without legal standing or any change in authority or duties.

Saudi Arabia has not commented publicly on the administration’s decision. Spokespeople with the Saudi Embassy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday.

Saudi Arabia blames what it says were “rogue” officials for Khashoggi’s killing. It says the prince played no part.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy, as opposed to a constitutional one such as the United Kingdom, where a prime minister rather than a king or queen governs.

The Western Journal has reviewed this Associated Press story and may have altered it prior to publication to ensure that it meets our editorial standards.

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