Biden administration says Saudi crown prince immune from lawsuits in murder of Khashoggi

Amna Nawaz:

Let me bring in John on that point, then.

I mean, President Biden has said — and he did agree with the CIA assessment that MBS did order the operation that led to Khashoggi’s killing. So why issue immunity in a murder case?

John Bellinger III, Former Legal Adviser of the Department of State: Well, I think, for the reasons you just mentioned, this was a very uncomfortable, if not unpalatable decision for the Biden administration to have to make, given the really awful circumstances of the killing of — for Jamal Khashoggi.

But the administration was simply complying with its obligations under international law. International law recognizes that heads of state in government, like now Prime Minister bin Salman, enjoy immunity from civil suits or, in fact, from criminal prosecutions in the courts of other countries.

So, under international law, he had immunity here. And, for that reason, going back decades, every administration has asserted immunity on behalf of any foreign head of state who was sued here in the United States, often for really horrific actions.

When I was legal adviser at the State Department, I had to sign an immunity determination for Pope Benedict, who was sued with respect to the clergy scandal. So this was not a favor to Saudi Arabia. This was simply compelled by international law.