Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to sanction Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his role in the slaying of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.
The Biden administration last week announced sanctions on dozens of Saudi officials and individuals believed to be connected to Khashoggi’s gruesome killing in October 2018 but stopped short of punishing the crown prince despite U.S. intelligence that he had approved an operation to “capture or kill” the journalist.
Omar said in a statement Tuesday that sanctioning Crown Prince Mohammed is “a test of our humanity.”
“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,” she said.
“Every minute the Crown Prince escapes punishment is a moment where U.S. interests, human rights, and the lives of Saudi dissenters are at risk,” she added.
The legislation, called the Mohammed bin Salman Must be Sanctioned, or MBS MBS, Act, includes asset freezes to block and prohibit all the crown prince’s transactions related to the United States. It also blocks his entrance to the country.
Crown Prince Mohammed is the heir apparent to his 85-year-old father, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, and is considered the kingdom’s de facto ruler with enormous power and influence.
Last week’s declassified intelligence report said in its assessment that the crown prince supports “using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi.”
Khashoggi, who was a contributor to The Washington Post, was in self-exile in Virginia amid his outspoken criticism of the Saudi monarchy. He was lured to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018, where he was attacked, suffocated and dismembered.
The U.S. intelligence report said that Crown Prince Mohammed “approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
The Biden administration announced a number of punitive actions after the report’s release, including visa restrictions on 79 individuals believed to be associated with Khashoggi’s death and sanctions on a former top intelligence official and the crown prince’s personal security detail.
But the decision to exempt the crown prince from such measures received pushback from Democratic lawmakers who have called for concrete measures to hold him accountable.
Omar said sanctions on the crown prince should be instituted in the same vein as those on leaders in Iran and Russia who “commit destabilizing or violent acts.”
“We must treat the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince no differently,” she said. “No one should get away with murder. And as a global superpower, we must lead with our values.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday defended the withholding of sanctions on the crown prince by saying that, “historically, the United States, through Democratic and Republican presidents, has not typically sanctioned government leaders of countries where we have diplomatic relations.”
The Biden administration has signaled a step-back from relations with the crown prince directly but has emphasized strong ties between Washington and Riyadh, including in finding a diplomatic solution to the civil war in Yemen and efforts to confront Iran’s destabilizing activities and nuclear ambitions.
“So our objective is to recalibrate the relationship, prevent this from ever happening again and find ways, as there are still, to work together with Saudi leadership while still making clear where we feel action is unacceptable,” Psaki said.
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