Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., supported the Biden administration’s argument that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is protected by sovereign immunity from lawsuits filed against him over the death of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“What the government decided this week in granting sovereign immunity to Mohammed bin Salman is consistent with the practice and custom of court cases involving foreign heads of state,” Cotton said during an appearance on Fox News on Sunday.
Cotton’s comments come after the State Department said Thursday the government’s finding that the Saudi leader had sovereign immunity from US courts in Khashoggi’s assassination was a “purely legal decision” with a longstanding precedent.
The Arkansas senator agreed, saying it would have been “a big break with custom not to grant that kind of immunity.”
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY EXPLAINING THE DECISION TO REQUEST IMMUNITY FOR THE CROWN PRINCE IN THE KHASHOGGI KILLING
“What I would say is that Saudi Arabia is far from being the worst human rights abuser in the world,” Cotton said. “They look, for example, at what has happened in Iran in the last three months and how they have massacred protesters in the streets or what China is doing to harvest organs or commit genocide against religious and ethnic minorities.”
Cotton pointed out that Saudi Arabia is one of the US’s most critical security partners, although they do not always share American values, arguing that if countries were expected to adhere 100% to each other, the US would not have many partners Align America’s democratic system.
“What matters most about governments around the world is not so much whether they are democratic or non-democratic as whether they are pro-American or anti-American,” Cotton said. “The simple fact is that Saudi Arabia has been an American partner for 80 years.”
Cotton noted that his stance does not “mean that we overlook or condone countries that are pro-American,” arguing that over time they could be expanded into democratic countries.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION REQUESTS IMMUNITY FOR SAUDI CROWN PRINCE IN KHASHOGGI KILLING: ‘BEYOND THE IRONIC’
The Biden administration’s position on the issue has proved controversial, with Washington Post CEO Fred Bryan saying the decision failed to “uphold America’s most cherished values.”
“He gives one of the most egregious human rights abusers in the world a license to kill,” Bryan said of President Biden.
Biden has seemingly struggled to balance the US relationship with Saudi Arabia in recent months, particularly after the country flouted the president’s desire to increase oil supplies in response to soaring prices.
The 2018 assassination of Khashoggi has become another focal point in the often strained relationship between Biden and Saudi Arabia, with Biden previously campaigning to make Saudi rulers an “outcast” on the matter.
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“I think it was downright murder,” Biden said during a 2019 CNN town hall. “And I think we should have nailed it like that. I said publicly at the time that this is how we should treat it and there should be consequences for how we deal with this — this power.”
But Cotton believes Biden has at least moved in the right direction in handling the case.
“They didn’t have to interfere, but even that would have been a major breach of standard practice,” Cotton said.