Alwaght- The US administration is seeking a 45-day delay in a court proceeding in which it has been asked by a US judge whether it believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman should be granted sovereign immunity in a case involving the murder of prominent dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, who was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in 2018, used to be a vocal critic of the Saudi regime and the crown prince. According to reports, he was lured into the diplomatic mission under the pretext of being provided with papers for his wedding. He was suffocated and dismembered while his fiancé waited outside for him. The CIA in its report concluded that the murder was directly ordered by the Saudi de-facto ruler, and the claim has been corroborated by many leading global human rights organizations.
Representatives from the US justice department said in a legal notice filed on Friday that the department was seeking the extension after Saudi Arabia announced in a press release last week that Prince Mohammed had been named prime minister.
Critics of the Saudi government said they believed the new designation was a maneuver designed to try to establish sovereign immunity protection for the 37-year-old prince.
The legal case, which is being heard in a district court in Washington DC, has been filed against Prince Mohammed by Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancee, and Dawn, a pro-democracy group founded by the journalist before he was killed.
The case has put the Biden administration in a legal and diplomatic bind.
The US president entered the White House promising to make the crown prince accountable for Khashoggi’s murder and to make him a “pariah”.
But Biden has largely abandoned that pledge in favor of pursuing other political and foreign policy objectives.
In a trip to Jeddah this summer, the president fist-bumped the crown prince even after his own administration released a declassified intelligence briefing last year that concluded Prince Mohammed had likely ordered the Khashoggi killing.
In its two-page filing on Friday, the Biden administration acknowledged it needed more time after already being granted an extension to settle the issue because of Prince Mohammed’s recent elevation to the role of prime minister.
“In light of these changed circumstances, the United States requests a second extension of time of 45 days to prepare its response to the Court’s invitation,” the administration said in a notice to the court. “The United States appreciates the Court’s patience and consideration in this matter.”
Legal experts who have studied the issue say they believe Cengiz’s legal team will likely challenge any legal argument that calls for Prince Mohammed to be granted immunity. Among other issues, they will likely argue that King Salman’s designation was solely designed for Prince Mohammed to evade justice.
That is because, in announcing the change – an exception to Saudi law that calls for the king to also serve as prime minister – it is stated that King Salman will still act as prime minister in meetings in which he is present.
Human-rights lawyers have also argued against giving sovereign immunity protection precedence over other principles human rights principles.