Treasury Dept. Sanctions Saudis Over Khashoggi Murder

February 26, 2021 by Dan McCue
FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, file photo, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a virtual G-20 summit held over video conferencing, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia's royal court says Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman underwent a “successful surgery” for appendicitis on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, and left the hospital soon after the operation. The 35-year-old Prince Mohammed had laparoscopic surgery at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in the morning. (Bandar Aljaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via AP, File)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday imposed sanctions on Saudi Arabia’s former deputy head of Intelligence and the nation’s “Rapid Intervention Force” for their roles in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. 

The move came just hours after the Biden Administration released a previously classified intelligence report that found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman directly approved the assassination of Khashoggi, who was drugged and dismembered in October 2018. 

However, the Crown Prince was not among those sanctioned Friday. 

According to published reports, the decision not to formally bar him from the country or weigh criminal charges against him was based on the advice of Biden’s new national security team, which warned such actions could cause a breach with one of America’s key Arab allies. 

Instead, the administration chose to target Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy head of General Intelligence Presidency, whom it says was assigned to murder Khashoggi and was the ringleader of the 15-man operation that killed the journalist inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey. 

Several members of the hit squad sent to intercept Khashoggi were part of Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force, also known as the “Tiger Squad” or Firqat el-Nemr. 

“Those involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi must be held accountable. With this action, Treasury is sanctioning Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force and a senior Saudi official who was directly involved in Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Friday.  

“The United States stands united with journalists and political dissidents in opposing threats of violence and intimidation. We will continue to defend the freedom of expression, which is the bedrock of a free society,” she added. 

As a result of Friday’s action by the Treasury Department, all property and interests in property of the sanctioned individuals that are in the United States or held on their behalf by U.S. citizens are blocked and must be reported to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.  

Any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50% or more by one or more blocked persons are also blocked.  

The prohibitions include the making of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services by, to, or for the benefit of sanctioned individuals or the receipt of any contribution or provision of funds, goods, or services from them. 

In addition, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Friday that the State Department is impossin the “Khashoggi Ban,” a new visa restriction policy pursuant to section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The Khashoggi Ban will allow the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons. Family members of such individuals also may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy, where appropriate.

To start, the U.S. Department of State has taken action pursuant to the Khashoggi Ban to impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.

“When identifying individuals for purposes of the Khashoggi Ban, we will also review them for designation under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2020, as carried forward by the CA Act of 2021, which authorizes the denial of visas to them and their immediate family members as well as their public identification,” Blinken said.

Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who wrote critically of the Government of Saudi Arabia, went into self-imposed exile in the United States in 2017.  

In his first column for The Washington Post in September 2017, Khashoggi said he had feared being arrested in an apparent crackdown on dissent.  

For decades, Khashoggi had been close to the Saudi royal family and also served as an advisor to the government before falling out of favor.  

On Oct. 2, 2018, Khashoggi visited the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to obtain an official Saudi document stating that he was divorced so that he could marry his Turkish fiancée. 

The four-page report released Friday on Khashoggi’s murder contained little that hadn’t previously been known, at least in broad terms. But it was the first time the U.S. intelligence community made its own conclusions public. 

The report was written a year ago after Congress, which had been briefed on the underlying findings, passed a law mandating intelligence agencies’ conclusions be declassified and released. 

It describes who carried out the killing, what Prince Mohammed knew about the operation and lays out how the C.I.A. concluded that he ordered it and bears responsibility for Khashoggi’s death. 

The release of the report also signaled that President Biden, unlike former President Donald Trump, would not simply accept the murder of Khashoggi and that his administration intended to attempt to isolate the crown prince. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the release of the intelligence report by saying it “confirms what the world has long known: that Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered at the direction of top Saudi officials, including Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. This heinous event is an affront to the rule of law and to the most basic understanding of human rights.”

“The United States government must re-evaluate and recalibrate the relationship with Saudi Arabia, given the findings of this report, which are part of a disturbing pattern of human rights abuses from the Kingdom,” Pelosi continued.

“The United States Congress stands with President Biden in promoting transparency relating to human rights abuses and in supporting partnerships that advance our security, uphold our values and protect our interests. We support the steps being taken by the Administration to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, including related to Global Magnitsky and visa denials for human rights abusers.”

The Magnitsky Act, formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, is a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012, intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009 and also to grant permanent normal trade relations status to Russia.

Since 2016, the bill, which applies globally, has authorized the U.S. government to sanction those it sees as human rights offenders, freeze their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.

Pelosi went on to say House Democrats are introducing legislation to honor Khashoggi’s life’s work with targeted sanctions on those who commit gross violations against journalists.

“At the same time, we will continue to monitor human rights in Saudi Arabia, including working to ascertain the health and legal status of Abdul Sadhan, whose family are San Francisco residents. Saudi Arabia needs to know that the world is watching its disturbing actions and that we will hold it accountable,” the speaker said.

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