42 organizations ask Biden to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for approving gruesome murder of Jamal Khashoggi

At least 42 organizations on Tuesday urged President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman (“MBS”) for approving the murder of U.S. permanent resident and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, in 2018.

To mark the one-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, POMED and 12 other human rights and press freedom organizations held a public event on Capitol Hill to commemorate Jamal’s life, to call for accountability, and to cast a light on the Saudi government’s repression of those who are perceived to be critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his regime. Thursday, September 26, 2019 
To mark the one-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, POMED and 12 other human rights and press freedom organizations held a public event on Capitol Hill to commemorate Jamal’s life, to call for accountability, and to cast a light on the Saudi government’s repression of those who are perceived to be critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his regime. Thursday, September 26, 2019

“President Biden should use his power to impose the full range of sanctions available under the Global Magnitsky Act – including asset freezes and visa bans – on MBS as well as any other Saudi national implicated in the murder,” the organizations said in response to the release of the long-awaited declassification of the U.S. national intelligence report regarding the involvement of bin Salman in the brutal murder. “Global Magnitsky Act sanctions should also be imposed on the leadership of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, which owns the airline and airplanes used to transport Jamal Khashoggi’s assassins between Saudi Arabia and Turkey.”

President Joe Biden boards Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland en route to the White House Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, concluding his trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden boards Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland en route to the White House Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, concluding his trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

The organizations added: “The U.S. should also reset its entire relationship with this brutal monarchy, starting with a ban on all arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The president should demand that Saudi Arabia lift the travel ban against women’s rights defender Loujain al-Hathloul and release and drop all charges against all detained women’s rights defenders. President Biden should seek the unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, including Islamic scholar Salman Alodah, aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, human right advocate Waleed Abu al-Khair, and members of the Saudi Association for Civil and Political Rights (ACPRA). Saudi Arabia has demonstrated a repeated pattern of abuse and harm, from the murder of Jamal Khashoggi to war crimes in Yemen to repression of its own citizens that both violate U.S. export controls and create an untenable situation for any continued security assistance. Finally, we urge the President to instruct the Federal Bureau of Investigation to open a criminal investigation into the murder of a U.S. Resident, as they have for other Americans executed abroad.

“The release of the ODNI report is a much-welcomed act of transparency, but it will ring hollow unless accountability follows. There must be equal application of the law to all people, no matter how high the position in government an individual may hold. It is critical for the U.S. government to send a clear message to MBS and all other world leaders: this heinous crime will not be forgotten, and there will be justice.”

The declassified ODNI report, released last week, reveals for the first time the evidence that the Central Intelligence Agency relied on to conclude that MBS approved Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Last week, the Department of State announced the “Khashoggi Ban,” a new visa restriction policy pursuant to section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Khashoggi Ban allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities. 

The Trump administration had refused to make the ODNI report public despite a statute ordering it to do so. Instead, it only released a classified version of the document to Congress on February 20, 2020.

In November 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Saud al-Qahtani, his subordinate Maher Mutreb, Saudi Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi, and 14 other Saudis under the Global Magnitsky Act for the murder of Khashoggi. These designations block any of their property within U.S. jurisdiction and ban U.S. persons from transacting with them or their assets. The State Department also issued travel bans against them based on these sanctions, barring them and their immediate families from U.S. soil. There is no reason why MBS should not be subject to the same, having approved the crime for which these individuals were sanctioned.

The organizations that have called on President Biden to act include ALQST for Human Rights · American Friends Service Committee · Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain · Avaaz · Center for Constitutional Rights · Center for International Policy · Clean Energy Action – Colorado · Clearinghouse on Women’s Issues · CODEPINK · Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) · Demand Progress Education Fund · Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) · Empower Our Future · Freedom Forward · Friends Committee on National Legislation · Global Exchange · Human Rights Watch · Institute for Policy Studies, New Internationalism Project · International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) · Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns · MENA Rights Group · MoveOn · Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) · New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs · Nonviolence International · Pax Christi USA · Peace Action · Progressive Democrats of America · Raise the Voices / Civic Works · Rethinking Foreign Policy · Revolving Door Project · Saudi American Justice Project · September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows · Shadow World Investigations · Sustainable Energy & Economy Network · The Freedom Initiative · The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)· The Quincy Institute · The United Methodist Church – General Board of Church and Society · United for Peace and Justice · Win Without War · Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation.

On February 26, The New York Times first reported quoting a senior administration official that Biden will not sanction bin Salman for approving the killing of Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a journalist who worked for The Washington Post, was drugged and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Biden administration argued that Saudi Arabia is an ally in the war against terrorism and in confronting Iran, and that the price of risking that partnership was too high.

The unclassified report by U.S. intelligence agencies was released to Congress and the public by the Director of the U.S. National Intelligence Avril Haines.

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the report said.

“We base this assessment on the Crown Prince’s control of decision making in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Muhammad bin Salman’s protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince’s support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” the report added.

“The release of this assessment is consistent with the law and delivers on the DNI’s commitment to submit an unclassified report to Congress,” read the press statement that accompanied the report.

It said the assessment has been coordinated with the Intelligence Community and “the information has been declassified to the greatest extent possible while still protecting the IC’s critical sources and methods. The full declassified assessment will be posted on dni.gov later today.”

Last Thursday, President Biden spoke with Saudi Arabia’s king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud ahead of the release of the damning report.

“President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. spoke today with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia to address the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” the White House Press Secretary said in a statement.

“Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups. The President noted positively the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Ms. Loujain al-Hathloul from custody, and affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law. The President told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible. The two leaders affirmed the historic nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on mutual issues of concern and interest,” The White House added.

President Joe Biden salutes U.S. Marines as he prepares to board Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, en route to the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden salutes U.S. Marines as he prepares to board Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, en route to the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Turkish police believe Kashoggi, who worked for the Washington Post, was tortured and killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, by a 15-member team brought in from Saudi Arabia for the “rogue operation.”

Even before the official report last week, the CIA had concluded in 2018 that Mohammed bin Salman approved the assassination of Khashoggi in Istanbul, Turkey.

But rather than punish the murderer, former President Donald J. Trump rewarded the Saudi government with an arms sales contract, citing financial gains for the United States and downplaying the horrible crime.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had announced on February 5 that the unclassified report would be released but did not specify a date back then.

“So, first, let me say and reiterate: The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a horrific crime. We are prepared to release an unclassified report with full transparency for Congress. This is the law, and we’ll follow the law,” Psaki said at her press briefing on February 5.

She added: “We, of course, expect Saudi Arabia to improve its record on human rights — that includes releasing political prisoners — such as women’s rights, advocates for Saudi jails. We’re encouraged by the release yesterday of two dual national American-Saudi citizens. We hope to see further progress over the next coming months.

“And as noted in a couple of areas we’ve talked about, there’s an ongoing review, of course, of our policies. You saw the President make an announcement yesterday about our engagement in Yemen, which, of course, is directly connected. 

“But again, there’ll be ongoing discussions and reviews by our national security team. I don’t have any policy decisions to read out for you or predict for you at this point in time.”

To mark the one-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, POMED and 12 other human rights and press freedom organizations held a public event on Capitol Hill to commemorate Jamal’s life, to call for accountability, and to cast a light on the Saudi government’s repression of those who are perceived to be critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his regime.     Thursday, September 26, 2019 
To mark the one-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, POMED and 12 other human rights and press freedom organizations held a public event on Capitol Hill to commemorate Jamal’s life, to call for accountability, and to cast a light on the Saudi government’s repression of those who are perceived to be critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his regime. Thursday, September 26, 2019

To his credit, President Biden has taken a different approach from the previous administration. Early last month, he announced that the United States will be ending support for offensive operations in Yemen where human rights organizations have accused Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of committing atrocities and possible war crimes with American weapons.

President Joe Biden looks over his notes as he walks through the Rose Garden of the White House Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, en route to the Residence. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden looks over his notes as he walks through the Rose Garden of the White House Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, en route to the Residence. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

Rights and advocacy groups backed Biden’s decision to end support for military operations in Yemen.

“President Biden’s expected decision to end offensive U.S. military support in Yemen is a momentous victory. We, along with all those who have for years fought U.S. complicity in the catastrophic war in Yemen, are thrilled that this day is finally here. We commend the Biden administration for following through on its campaign promise,” said Win Without War Policy Director Kate Kizer.

Kizer added: “Today’s announcement would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of progressive leaders, Yemeni advocates, and activists across the country and from around the world. It was only through this organizing – in the U.S., but also across borders with activists in Yemen and European capitals – that we were able to expose the true nature of the U.S. military in the war in Yemen and its devastating human costs. This is what it looks like when the people mobilize transnationally to fight the war machine and craft a foreign policy that puts human wellbeing before arms industry profits.

“Today’s action is only a step toward finally ending the destructive U.S. role in Yemen. The reversal of a destructive policy does not, on its own, constitute peace, healing, or justice for the Yemenis who have long suffered as a result of U.S. intervention. The time is now for the United States to commit to investing in the robust multilateral diplomacy needed to find an inclusive settlement to this conflict. We won’t stop organizing until the U.S. ends all of its harmful policies towards Yemen and works to build accountability for the atrocities committed.

“Today’s announcement is a sign of the power of our movement for a more peaceful, progressive U.S. foreign policy. This is only the beginning. Now is the time for a clean break from the past and for the U.S. to finally commit to seeking positive peace in Yemen.”

Philippe Nassif, the advocacy director for Amnesty International for the Middle East and North Africa said as the conflict in Yemen enters its seventh year, it is vital for the United States to commit to prioritizing the safety of civilians in the country. 

“Central to these efforts will be stopping the flow of arms  from the United States into situations where they will be used to commit war crimes and grave human rights violations. Halting the sale of precision guided munitions is the first big step. The human tragedy of United States arms sales is immense pain and suffering inflicted on civilians in Yemen that must not be continued to be swept aside, and crimes committed with arms sold by the United States must be investigated.

“Paveway guided missiles were found by Amnesty International to have been used to commit war crimes in Yemen. All arms sales to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia should be blocked lest they be used to commit further war crimes in Yemen,” Nassif said.

In January, Amnesty International welcomed Biden’s temporary freeze of arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE, citing widespread human rights abuses, including possible war crimes.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince 

Philippe Nassif, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA, said President Biden’s decision to freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE represents “a welcome relief in an otherwise shameful chapter of history.”

Almost six years of conflict in Yemen, fueled by irresponsible arms transfers, have left 14 million Yemenis in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

“The suspension of arms sales by the United States is a step in the right direction and ups the pressure on European countries, most notably the UK and France, to follow suit and stop fueling the human misery in Yemen,” Nassif said in a statement.

“For years, we have been warning Western states that they risk complicity in war crimes as they continue to enable the Saudi-led coalition with arms. The Biden administration is finally acknowledging the disastrous effects of these continued sales, and puts to shame other states that continue to ignore the mountain of evidence of probable war crimes collected by Yemenis, the United Nations, and human rights organization over the course of the past six years.”

The international human rights organization recalled that since 2015, the Saudi and UAE-led Coalition carried out “scores of indiscriminate and disproportionate air strikes on civilians and civilians’ objects, hitting homes, schools, hospitals, markets, mosques, weddings and funerals.”

Amnesty International said it has documented over 40 coalition air strikes that appear to have violated international humanitarian law, many of which amount to war crimes. These have resulted in more than 500 civilian deaths and 400 civilian injured.

In relation to the UAE, Amnesty International said it has collected extensive evidence that show weapons are not only being used by the UAE forces in Yemen, but are also being passed on to completely unaccountable militias, some of which stand accused of war crimes.

Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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