Biden Administration Should Fulfill Promises to Hold Saudi Arabia Accountable for Killing, Protect U.S. Interests and the Rule of Law by Ending Support for Saudi Government
(Washington, D.C. June 15, 2022) – The new street sign for "Jamal Khashoggi Way" directly in front of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. is a living memorial to the former Saudi activist, journalist and Washington, D.C. resident Jamal Khashoggi and a call for continued action to demand accountability against his murderers, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) today at the commemoration event the group organized at the sign's unveiling, together with representatives from leading civil society organizations and the U.S. government.
In the wake of the White House's disturbing announcement that President Biden will travel to Saudi Arabia in July to meet with Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), DAWN reiterated its calls to the Biden administration to fulfill its promises to hold the Saudi government accountable for the murder and end weapons sales to the country, as well as to defend Saudi political activists at home and abroad who remain subject to repression and attacks by the Saudi government.
"Renaming the street in front of the Saudi embassy Jamal Khashoggi Way honors the courage and sacrifice of a man who stood up to the tyranny of a brutal dictator and will remind the Saudi government every hour of every day that we hold it responsible for his horrible murder," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the human rights organization founded by Khashoggi only months before his murder. "Murdered on the orders of MBS, Khashoggi paid the ultimate price for his activism, but his message and his vision of democratic reform live on through the work of DAWN and the countless other activists and dissidents inspired by his example and his bravery."
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Watch Hatice Cengiz's video message about the unveiling of Jamal Khashoggi Way, here.
Watch Congresswoman Betty McCollum's video message about the unveiling of Jamal Khashoggi Way, here.
Watch Congressman Adam Schiff's video message about the unveiling of Jamal Khashoggi Way, here.
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The street designation was made pursuant to the Jamal Khashoggi Way Designation Act, passed unanimously by the D.C. City Council on December 6, 2021. Speakers at the unveiling ceremony included: Agnes Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International; Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton; Congresswoman Betty McCollum; Congressman Gerry Connolly; Congressman Adam Schiff; Council Councilwoman Brooke Pinto; Nobel Prize Winner and DAWN Board Member Ms. Tawakkol Karman; CAIR Executive Director and DAWN's Board Chair Nihad Awad; DAWN's Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson; DAWN's Advocacy Director Raed Jarrar; and, the fiancee of the late Jamal Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz.
As detailed in the Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur investigating the murder of Khashoggi, Saudi government agents acting under the orders of MBS kidnapped, tortured, and killed Khashoggi on October 2, 2018, at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, after Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Vice Minister of Defense and former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., lured him there on false pretenses.
Crown Prince MBS sought to silence a leading advocate of reform, who had only four months before founded DAWN to defend human rights and promote democracy for Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world. The designation of Jamal Khashoggi Way fulfills one of the Special Rapporteur report's recommendations calling for the erection of "a memorial to Mr. Khashoggi's stand for freedom of the press in front of the Saudi Consulate."
Since the murder, the Saudi government, under international pressure, conducted a secret trial for the murder imposing fictional punishments on eight low-level Saudi agents, attempting to portray the crime as a rogue operation. The Turkish government ended its own trial in absentia against 26 of those involved in the murder, following a rapprochement between the Turkish and Saudi governments. Twenty-seven Western governments have imposed travel bans against 18 Saudi officials involved in the murder, the United States against 21; and four Western governments, including the United States have imposed Magnitsky sanctions against 17 or more Saudi officials involved in the murder.
The Biden administration for its part released an Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) report documenting MBS's direct role in the murder and subjected 76 Saudi officials to its newly created "Khashoggi Ban" sanctions for extraterritorial attacks on activists, stopping short of sanctioning MBS himself. The lawsuit of DAWN and Cengiz against MBS and his co-conspirators for the murder in federal court in Washington D.C. remains the most important judicial effort for accountability still pending.
Despite the campaign promises of then candidate President Biden to hold the killers of Khashoggi accountable and make the Saudi government "pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are," and its early, tentative steps to hold the Saudi government accountable, the Biden Administration has announced its intention of making a complete about-face, restoring arms sales to Saudi Arabia and revealing plans to enter into a defense agreement with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
"The Biden Administration's "reset" with the Saudi government has turned out to be nothing more than a return to business as usual, advancing the interests of foreign governments and defense companies instead of the interests of the American people," Ms. Whitson said. "Biden's humiliating trip to Saudi Arabia, rewarding MBS with new arms sales and unprecedented defense agreement sends one message to tyrants around the world: brutality wins."
Since Khashoggi's murder, the Crown Prince has continued to torture, murder, and disappear political activists and anyone else he perceives as posing a threat to his rule, however farfetched. The list of political prisoners, including Salem Almuzaini, Prince Salman (Ghazalan) Al Saud, Salman Alodah, Waleed Sami Abulkhair, and Omar and Sarah Aljabri, continues to grow.
The Crown Prince has also perpetrated mass killings. In March 2022, the Saudi government carried out the mass execution of 81 individuals after sham trials. Thousands of Saudi citizens remain subject to arbitrary travel bans, unable to leave the country, as MBS continues efforts to solidify his power by holding those who might challenge his rule hostage inside the country.
The Saudi government has also continued to attack political activists in exile and to use social media and surveillance to target, harass, and surveil them around the world. Following a common Saudi playbook against Saudi activists abroad, Saudi officials have targeted dissident Omar Abdulaziz, a former confidante of Khashoggi. His phone was infected with Pegasus spyware. A brother, apparently coerced by Saudi officials, asked Adulaziz to stop his activism and return to Saudi Arabia. When Abdulaziz refused, two of his brothers were imprisoned in Saudi. Transnational violence has also involved enlisting the help of other governments to forcibly kidnap and return Saudi citizens. When Dina Ali Lasloom fled Saudi Arabia seeking to escape a forced marriage, she was detained by officials of the Philippines, before being put on a return flight to Saudi in what Saudi officials described as a "family matter."
In Yemen, the Saudi government, armed and supported by the United States, has carried out eight years of indiscriminate and deliberate bombardment of civilians, and together with the U.A.E., continues to impose a total land, air and sea blockade of the country, resulting in the death of roughly 400,000 Yemenis, conditions of extreme poverty for 15.6 million Yemenis, and massive destruction and suffering throughout the country described as the largest humanitarian crises in the world.
"Khashoggi's murder exposed the lie that Crown Prince MBS was pedaling of being a reformer, but it was merely the canary in the coal mine of MBS's grotesque abuses at home and abroad," said Abdullah Alaoudh, DAWN's Research Director for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. "His continuing human rights abuses against his people – the torture, murder, executions, and disappearances — and the horrible, needless war to which he has subjected tens of millions of Yemenis, expose the Crown Prince for who he is – a brutal and savage despot."
DAWN reiterated its call to the Biden administration to fulfill its promise to end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in light of its war crimes in the country. In 2021, the Biden administration announced that it was suspending the sale of "offensive" weapons to the country, while shortly thereafter approving the sale of $650 million in air-to-air "defensive" weapons.
DAWN also urged the Biden administration to increase its protection of Saudi political exiles who face harassment and surveillance in the United States by monitoring and publicly reporting on such activities, offering security protection to affected individuals, and imposing additional sanctions against culpable Saudi officials.
"The U.S. government's duplicitous support for Saudi Arabia despite its horrendous record of war crimes in Yemen and human rights abuses at home undermines the very rule of law and accountability regime it today seeks the world to support against Russia in Ukraine," said Whitson. "The U.S. will never win the war against totalitarianism while it remains addicted to coddling heinous dictators like MBS; neither the dictators nor the world at large take American declarations seriously when we green light repression and brutality with more weapons and political support."
Since its launch two-and-a-half years ago, DAWN has established itself as one of the most prominent voices demanding democratic reform in the MENA region and fundamental change in America's Middle East foreign policy. Through its advocacy, DAWN helped successfully press for the declassification of the ODNI Report and advocate for the Khashoggi Ban and its implementation through the establishment of the Khashoggi Ban Working Group, which DAWN chairs.
DAWN also established the DAWN Culprits Gallery and the Lobbyist Hall of Shame, which expose abusers in the MENA region and their enablers here in the United States. DAWN has published 22 bios of Culprits and 8 lobbyists DAWN, notching an early victory by getting the firm of Squire Patton Boggs, the former lobbyists for the abusive Saudi Media Center, to drop its contract with the Saudi government agency.
In addition, DAWN has established its own publication Democracy in Exile, which has published over 160 articles and serves as an institutional platform for political exiles from the MENA region to express their ideas for democratic reform.