With President Joe Biden refusing to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for approving the 2018 assassination of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi, Rep. Ilhan Omar on Tuesday unveiled legislation that would sanction the repressive kingdom's leader for his role in the horrific murder.
The Mohammed bin Salman Must Be Sanctioned (MBS MBS) Act would require the Biden administration to "block and prohibit" all of the Saudi crown prince's financial transactions related to the U.S. and bar him from entering the country. The legislation would also render bin Salman "ineligible to receive a visa or other immigration benefit" and revoke his current visas.
"This is a test of our humanity," Omar (D-Minn.) said of the push to hold the crown prince accountable. "If the United States of America truly supports freedom of expression, democracy and human rights, there is no reason not to sanction Mohammed bin Salman—a man our own intelligence found to have approved the murder of U.S. resident and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi."
"Every minute the Crown Prince escapes punishment," Omar added, "is a moment where U.S. interests, human rights, and the lives of Saudi dissenters are at risk."
The Minnesota Democrat went on to cite recent remarks by Jamal Khashoggi's fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, who warned that failure to punish bin Salman would "forever signal that the main culprit can get away with murder."
"Starting with the Biden administration," said Cengiz, "it is vital for all world leaders to ask themselves if they are prepared to shake hands with a person whose culpability as a murderer has been proven."
Every minute Mohammed bin Salman escapes punishment is a moment where U.S. interests, human rights, and the lives of Saudi dissenters are at risk.
Today, I introduced legislation to place sanctions on the Crown Prince for his role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. pic.twitter.com/MKBzxotVbO
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) March 2, 2021
Despite a recently declassified U.S. intelligence report's conclusion that the Saudi crown prince "approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi," President Joe Biden has reportedly decided against pursuing any kind of punishment for bin Salman, the heir to the Saudi throne and de facto leader of the country.
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CNN reported Wednesday morning that "the Biden administration never considered sanctions as a viable option against the powerful Saudi crown prince named as responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, even though the new President promised to punish senior Saudi leaders during the election."
"There was little debate or tension inside the White House last week in the lead-up to the release of a long-awaited intelligence report into the brutal 2018 murder of Khashoggi," according to CNN, which cited anonymous Biden administration officials. "The notion of sanctioning Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman... was never really on the table."
Previous reporting by the New York Times indicated that Biden "decided that the diplomatic cost of directly penalizing Saudi Arabia's crown prince... is too high"—prompting warnings that bin Salman, not fearing any kind of accountability, will be emboldened to commit future atrocities.
During a news conference on Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price defended the administration's decision not to seek punishment for bin Salman, saying the Biden team wants to "recalibrate"—not "rupture"—the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
— Abukar Arman (@Abukar_Arman) March 2, 2021
Omar introduced her legislation as Reporters Without Borders filed a lawsuit accusing the Saudi crown prince of committing "crimes against humanity" by greenlighting the Khashoggi murder and other attacks on journalists.
"Those responsible for the persecution of journalists in Saudi Arabia, including the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, must be held accountable for their crimes," Christophe Deloire, the group's secretary-general, said in a statement.