Justice for Jamal Khashoggi | Above the legislation
To his credit, the Biden government released a four-page analysis confirming the role of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, in the assassination of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. After terrible crimes, it is important to find out the truth. However, I share the anger the government has received for failing to impose sanctions on the Crown Prince known as MBS, despite the results of the report.
In the spring of 2018, MBS visited the USA to change the image of the kingdom. On his rock star tour of the country, MBS, who is also the UK’s Secretary of Defense, met with executives from both parties, former presidents, investors, celebrities and executives from all major industries. For the most part, few challenged MBS as he rewrote the story without qualifying for human rights concerns such as the Kingdom’s vicious bombing campaign in Yemen and the crackdown on dissent by activists and writers.
Sanctions are not a categorical rule of accountability. Indeed, the human rights community’s longstanding obsession with sanctions as a first instance tool has often backfired. However, sanctions make more sense when a person like MBS has connections with powerful people. A temporary decline in attendance at the kingdom’s so-called Davos in the Desert Investment Forum will not stop the Crown Prince, who manages the kingdom’s day-to-day affairs, from getting more arms deals.
Instead of boycotting Davos in the desert, the government should invoke the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, with which the Treasury Department has already sanctioned 17 Saudi officials in connection with their role in the murder of Khashoggi. The sanctions, in addition to a travel ban, would freeze MBS’s financial assets under United States jurisdiction and prohibit transactions with its companies.
The imposition of sanctions should be the minimum measure as economic sanctions alone will not prevent MBS from prosecuting further crimes. The rule of law is based on well-defined accountability mechanisms. We also need to recognize that accountability can provide diplomatic means of addressing long-term problems.
Going forward, the United States should commit to supporting civil society in Saudi Arabia. A strong stance of accountability would require the Kingdom to demonstrate that there are indeed areas in which the United States should be working with it. For example, both countries have an interest in addressing environmental issues by helping the kingdom diversify its economies.
Many have pointed out that Khashoggi and his family have had ties to the Saudi monarchy for generations. Over the years, however, Khashoggi balanced his complicated role as a representative of the monarchy by expressing his desire for greater monarchical reform. Policy makers should make sure that it was Khashoggi’s independent mind that targeted him. Regardless of geopolitical concerns, it is imperative that we use our strength and influence to achieve justice in Khashoggi’s case.