Politico

Senators back Biden administration on Saudi lawsuit immunity

Sens. Tom Cotton and Mark Warner defended the Biden administration’s assertion Thursday that the Saudi crown prince should be shielded from lawsuits stemming from the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Speaking to host Shannon Bream on “Fox News Sunday,” Cotton (R-Ark.) said: “What the administration decided this week in granting sovereign immunity to Mohammed bin Salman is in keeping with the practice of, custom of lawsuits involving foreign heads of state. It would have been a break of those customs to not grant that kind of immunity.”

Bream pushed back, saying the murder of Khashoggi, who was killed in Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Istanbul in October 2018, can’t just be forgotten.

Cotton argued that the major consideration was not whether a country violated human rights, but whether a country’s leaders supported the United States and assisted the U.S internationally.

“The way I look at it,” he said, “is what matters most about governments around the world is less whether they are democratic or not democratic and more whether they are pro-American or anti-American, and the simple fact is Saudi Arabia has been an American partner going back 80 years.

“That doesn’t mean we overlook or excuse countries that are pro-American, and we can even help midwife or nurture them into democratic countries, like [former President] Ronald Reagan succeeded in doing in South Korea and the Philippines.”

Later on the same show, Warner (D-Va.) largely agreed with Cotton on both points.

“The reason why there was a grant of sovereign immunity, even to leaders we don’t like, is as much to protect American leaders and American diplomats when they are posted from being subject to Saudi Arabian law or Russian law or South African law,” he said.

Warner condemned Saudi Arabia its human rights abuses, but said: “We need to be enough of a realist to realize that Saudi Arabia has been a bulwark against Iran.”

President Joe Biden has in the past called Khashoggi’s death “a flat-out murder.” The State Department on Thursday noted it was not making a judgment on the merits of any lawsuit filed against Saudi Arabia, instead asserting that its statement on immunity was “purely a legal determination.”

Khashoggi had written for the Washington Post. Fred Ryan, the publication’s publisher and CEO, said Friday that the Biden administration was “granting a license to kill to one of the world’s most egregious human rights abusers.”

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