More than two years after the chilling dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, his fiancé and a human rights organization he founded just before his murder have filed a lawsuit against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) for his alleged role in directing the grizzly death.
According to the 61-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday, MBS and two dozen co-defendants endeavored to “permanently silence” Khashoggi in the pre-planned slaying, viewing his outspoken antithesis of the Riyadh rulers in the U.S. “as an existential threat to their pecuniary and other interests and, accordingly, conspired to commit the heinous acts that are the subject of this suit.”
Fiance Hatice Cengiz and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) claim that the Washington Post columnist, democratic reform activist, and staunch dissident of the ruling monarchy was thus tortured, murdered, and dismembered “pursuant to a directive of Defendant Mohammed bin Salman.”
“I am hopeful that we can achieve truth and justice for Jamal through this lawsuit,” Cengiz said in a statement. “I place my trust in the American civil justice system to give voice to what happened and hold those who did this accountable for their actions.”
The lawsuit seeks significant civil damages, including punitive damages, in an amount to be determined by a jury at trial. In addition to monetary damages, the legal action endeavors “discovery from American law enforcement, intelligence, and administration officials to prove that the extrajudicial killing of Mr. Khashoggi was ordered from the top of the Saudi leadership hierarchy.”
“Plotting to kill a United States resident writing for The Washington Post and heading a Washington-based organization subjects the defendants to the U.S. justice system,” noted Jenner & Block Partner Robert C. Harmala, one of the legal representatives for the defendants.
While foreign leaders are generally exempt from civil suits in U.S. courts while holding office, plaintiffs can still sue under the Torture Victim Protection Act, which provides a prosecution pathway for violations of international law and for victims of brazen human rights abuses. Ultimately, the goal of this suit in the United States is both a quest for accountability and for the full picture of what happened on that fateful day to come to light.
What is known – and what subsequently spurned global headlines of shock, awe, and outrage – is that Khashoggi walked into his home country’s consulate on October 2, 2018, to collect documents to marry his Turkish fiancée, and never walked out. His remains have never been returned or even found.
MBS has steadfastly denied orchestrating Khashoggi’s death, and Riyadh has maintained that it was a terrible mistake carried out by crooked agents defying orders to entice the 59-year-old to return to the Kingdom. The CIA, however, conducted its own investigation into the assassination and asserted in 2018 that it was ordered from the top.
The Kingdom held its own opaque trial pertaining to the Khashoggi case, last month delivering its “final” ruling and sentencing 8 to varying prison terms ranging from 7 to 20 years. No high-level officials were implicated.
But this isn’t the first uncomfortable limelight MBS has fallen under in recent months, coupled with increased questions over his heavy-handed leadership. In August, a former Saudi minister of state and intelligence official filed an explosive lawsuit against Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, alleging that he “orchestrated an ongoing multi-year conspiracy by a Saudi government-sanctioned ‘death squad’ to torture and assassinate” the ex-intel officer on both U.S. and Canadian soil.
The plaintiff, Dr. Saad Aljabri, who is characterized in the complaint as a “trusted partner of U.S. intelligence officials,” claims that the Saudi leader first dispatched a 50-person kill team dubbed the “tiger squad” in October 2018 – just two weeks after Khashoggi’s killing – to Ontario, Canada, with an intention to take him out.
“The ‘Tiger Squad’ that was deployed to Canada included forensic personnel experienced with the clean-up of crime scenes, who carried with them two bags of forensic tools,” the suit alleges. “The kill team was thwarted by attentive Canadian border security officials who were suspicious of their behavior at an airport checkpoint.”