Saudi Crown Prince Gonna Have to Sign Off On a Lot More Bone-Saw Murders to Get the U.S. to Do Anything About It

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On Friday, Joe Biden’s administration released a CIA report concerning the murder of Saudi dissident (and U.S. resident) Jamal Khashoggi that confirmed what everyone has known for more than two years: The grisly killing was approved by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has continually denied that he had anything to do with it, claiming that the murder was carried out by rogue agents who’ve since been sentenced to death. In reality, the report concludes that the murder quite obviously received MBS’s okay, based on the fact that he had controlled “decision-making in the Kingdom since 2017,” one of his key advisers and numerous members of his protective detail participated in the operation, he supported the use of “violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” and he had “absolute control of the Kingdom’s security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince’s authorization.” The report does not get into the fact that Khashoggi was dismembered via bone saw, but thanks to Turkish officials, we know he was.

Shortly after the report—which the Trump administration refused to release—was made public, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced sanctions against 76 Saudi individuals under a new policy called the “Khashoggi Ban,” an authority under which the U.S. will punish anyone acting for a foreign government who engages in “counter-dissident activities” beyond that country’s borders. “While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect U.S. values,” Blinken said. “To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end.” State Department spokesman Ned Price separately told reporters Thursday that the government was exploring other ways to punish the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s killing, options that could include cutting back on arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “I expect that we will be in a position before long to speak to steps to promote accountability going forward for this horrific crime,” Price said.

One person who will apparently not be held accountable for his actions? The crown prince. Per The New York Times:

President Biden has decided that the diplomatic cost of directly penalizing Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is too high, according to senior administration officials, despite a detailed American intelligence finding that he directly approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi…. The decision by Mr. Biden, who during the 2020 campaign called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state with “no redeeming social value,” came after weeks of debate in which his newly formed national security team advised him that there was no way to formally bar the heir to the Saudi crown from entering the United States, or to weigh criminal charges against him, without breaching the relationship with one of America’s key Arab allies.

Officials said a consensus developed inside the White House that the cost of that breach, in Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism and in confronting Iran, was simply too high.

While human rights groups, as well as fellow Democrats, were pleased Biden made the intelligence findings public, some insisted more—i.e. anything—must be done to personally punish MBS. “There should be personal consequences for MBS—he should suffer sanctions, including financial, travel, and legal—and the Saudi government should suffer grave consequences as long as he remains in the government,” Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement. The editorial board of The Washington Post, where Khashoggi had been a contributor, was similarly disappointed, saying in an op-ed:

There is a pragmatic argument for [treating Saudi Arabia and the crown prince as an ally]. MBS is still the most powerful person in the Persian Gulf region, and if, as expected, he succeeds his father as king, he may be in that position for decades. The United States still depends on Saudi Arabia for stability in the global oil market and for help with counterterrorism efforts.

Mr. Biden is nevertheless granting what amounts to a pass to a ruler who has sown instability around the Middle East in recent years while presiding over the most severe repression of dissent in modern Saudi history. It is a risky course to adopt in the absence of evidence that MBS is prepared to fundamentally alter his regime.

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