(Washington D.C., February 26, 2021) – The Office of the Director of National Intelligence's report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, made public for the first time today, provides its assessment directly implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) in the crime, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a U.S.-based organization said today.
The report concludes that MBS approved the capture or killing of Jamal Khashoggi based on its evidence assessing the Crown Prince's control of decisionmaking in the Kingdom, the direct involvement of a key adviser and members of Mohammad bin Salman's protective detail in the operation, and the Crown Prince's support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad.
The Biden administration and other international governments should hold MBS accountable for Khashoggi's murder by imposing on him the full range of sanctions, including asset freezes, placed on the other Saudis implicated in the murder and ceasing all arms sales to Saudi Arabia while MBS remains in office. The Federal Bureau of Investigation also should open a criminal investigation into the murder of a U.S. resident, as they have of other Americans executed abroad.
"The DNI's report today confirms what we have long known to be true: Mohammed Bin Salman ordered the execution of Jamal Khashoggi," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. "President Biden should now fulfill his promise to hold MBS accountable for this murder by, at minimum, imposing the same sanctions on him as those imposed on his underling culprits and ending the weapons transfers to Saudi Arabia that would be controlled by an unelected, brutal murderer."
The Trump administration had refused to make the DNI report public despite a statute ordering it to do so. Instead, it only released a classified version of the document to Congress on February 20, 2020. The Open Society Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit on August 19, 2020 seeking to compel ODNI to release reports related to the killing of Khashoggi.
On January 13, 2021, DAWN filed an amicus brief in support of OSJI's lawsuit. Full disclosure of all information obtained by the United States about Khashoggi's murder is vital to DAWN's own lawsuit with co-plaintiff Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi's widow, filed on October 20, 2020, which seeks to hold his murderers, including MBS, accountable in a court of law.
"The release of the DNI report is only a small part of the evidence we're seeking from the U.S. government about the murder of Khashoggi, including regarding U.S. officials close to MBS who potentially facilitated a cover-up," said Whitson. "The Biden administration should act promptly to release all records concerning the murder, including the original CIA report, any other executive agency intelligence reports or tapes, and any information concerning the Trump Administration's awareness of the threat to Khashoggi before the murder occurred."
Imposing the exact same Magnitsky Act sanctions on MBS, including a travel ban and asset freeze, as the U.S. has imposed on MBS's accomplices would provide an important measure of accountability for the murder of Khashoggi. In November 2018, U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Saud al-Qahtani, his subordinate Maher Mutreb, Saudi Consul General Mohammed Alotaibi, and 14 other Saudis under the Global Magnitsky Act for the murder of Khashoggi.
These designations block any of their property within U.S. jurisdiction, and bans U.S. persons from transacting with them or their assets. The State Department also issued travel bans against them based on these sanctions, barring them and their immediate families from U.S. soil. There is no reason why MBS should not be subject to the same, having ordered the crime for which these individuals were sanctioned.
"Sanctions against MBS should include a freeze of his personal assets, as well as corporate assets in the U.S. that he controls as a member or chairman of the board," Whitson said. "A mere travel ban would serve as less than a slap on the wrist, as MBS has already been effectively banned from coming to the US given the lawsuits he faces and seeks to avoid. The Biden Administration should also sanction Skyprime Aviation, the airline we now know was confiscated by MBS and then used to transport the executioners to Istanbul."
The U.S. and other governments should also end arms sales to Saudi Arabia so long as MBS — who has proven himself to be dangerous, reckless and inhumane — remains an official in its government. While President Biden has declared that he will end "offensive" weapons sales to Saudi Arabia for use in the Yemen war, his administration has assured the Saudi government that defensive weapon sales and military support will continue. However, both Section 502B and Section 620M (Leahy Law) of the Foreign Assistance Act provide ample legislative basis for ending all arms sales to Saudi Arabia, particularly in light of the DNI disclosures. Section 502B prohibits the government from providing security assistance to nations engaged in a consistent pattern of human rights abuses. Under the stewardship of MBS as Defense Minister and Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia has engaged in such a pattern of abuses in Yemen against civilians and at home against its own citizens.
The Leahy Law also bans military assistance to security units implicated in gross human rights abuses, which certainly characterizes the security units under MBS's control. While State Department lawyers have opposed describing arms sales as "assistance," lawyers, advocates and Members of Congress have challenged that narrow reading as defeating the intent of the statute.
"No government can justify another dollar in arms sales to the Saudi government with the knowledge that they will be controlled by a reckless, sadistic murderer," said Whitson. "America's own laws demand nothing less than ending sales and transfers of the world's most dangerous weapons to Saudi Arabia as long as MBS remains its Defense Minister and de facto ruler."
All governments should follow the example of the United States and release any information in their possession concerning the murder of Khashoggi. In addition, governments that imposed sanctions on Saudis implicated in the murder should now also bring those sanctions to bear on MBS, the mastermind of the atrocity. Finally, governments across the world should seek to hold MBS accountable in courts of law by prosecuting him and his accomplices under the principle of universal jurisdiction, an approach already attempted in Argentina. All nations that abide by the rule of law must do their part to bring justice for Jamal Khashoggi.
The Trump administration had refused to make the DNI report public despite a statute ordering it to do so. Section 1277 and Section 5714 of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) required the ODNI to submit unclassified reports to Congress that included information about the names and roles of Saudi officials involved in Khashoggi's murder. The ODNI rejected the NDAA mandate to submit an unclassified report, claiming that doing so would jeopardize intelligence sources and methods. Instead, it released only a classified version of the document to Congress on February 20, 2020. Congress made clear that this refusal violated the statute by reiterating its demand in the 2021 Intelligence Authorization Act, which stated "contrary to the unambiguous and lawful command of Congress under such sections 5714 and 1277, the [DNI] did not produce any unclassified report as required."
In response to the Trump Administration's disregard for the Congressional mandate and law, the Open Society Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit on November 9, 2020 that aims to reveal the contents of this classified report by challenging the spurious ODNI arguments to exempt the report from release on grounds of national security. On January 13, 2021, DAWN filed an amicus brief in support of OSJI's lawsuit. The information at stake is vital to our own lawsuit, filed less than three months earlier to hold Khashoggi's murderers, including MBS, accountable in a court of law.
The Biden administration now faces three lawsuits seeking information surrounding the murder of Khashoggi. In the first lawsuit, filed on January 9, 2019, which predated the Congressional legislation mandating declassification of the ODNI report, OSJI seeks "all records relating to the killing of U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi." In the second lawsuit, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) seeks information and documents related to the knowledge of the intelligence community of the threat posed to Khashoggi before the murder and their duty to warn him of the danger, pursuant to Intelligence Community Directive 91. After the Trump administration rebuffed Congressional legislation demanding release of the classified ODNI report, OSJI filed the third lawsuit on August 19, 2020, which sought the release of the classified ODNI report which the Biden Administration has released today. While we applaud disclosure of the ODNI report, DAWN urges the Biden Administration to release all information and documents sought in the two prior lawsuits described above, and any other information held by the US concerning the murder of Khashoggi.
For background on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the UN investigation of the crime, and international reactions, see: