On Oct. 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and critic of the Saudi Arabian government, walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get paperwork for his wedding.
Instead, he was violently murdered and his body was dismembered, reportedly with a bone saw.
The Biden administration released a report blaming the murder on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who was already widely believed to have ordered the killing.
To “reinforce the world’s condemnation of that crime, and to push back against governments that reach beyond their borders to threaten and attack journalists and perceived dissidents,” the US unveiled a policy called the Khashoggi Ban.
What the Khashoggi Ban Does
The Khashoggi Ban allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on people carrying out serious counter-dissident activities for a government in a foreign country.
Under this policy, counter-dissident activities include suppressing, harassing, surveilling, threatening, or harming journalists, activists, or others perceived to be dissidents for their work.
And it covers actions against their family or close associates.
The State Department can also impose visa restrictions on perpetrators’ family members.
The U.S. has already taken action against 76 Saudi individuals, including people involved in the Khashoggi killing and others.
Plus, the State Department is under orders to fully report on extraterritorial incidents, such as the Khashoggi murder, in the US’ annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
What the Khashoggi Ban Doesn’t Do
This policy doesn’t include any criminal action, and it doesn’t extend to the government or the person who orders harmful action.
MBS isn’t affected by the Khashoggi Ban, only his henchmen. In fact, the US hasn’t directly punished or sanctioned MBS in any way to date.
While campaigning, President Biden’s claimed he would hold the prince accountable if it was determined the prince was involved.
But in reality, the political costs of taking action against Saudi Arabian royalty are too high, and the Biden administration has a new, more humble attitude.
We seeking not to rupture the relationship with Saudi Arabia but to recalibrate it, said Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
“We have to understand as well that this is bigger than anyone one person,” he added.
While the namesake policy does nothing to bring meaningful justice to Khashoggi, the US says it hopes the policy will protect journalists, dissidents, and their families going forward.
But journalists could face higher risks, explained Iyad el-Baghdadi, a Palestinian activist who lives in asylum in Norway, and who was notified in 2019 that the CIA discovered a Saudi government threat against him.
In addition to creating the Khashoggi Ban, the Biden Administration released the report and publicized it findings of MBS’ involvement.
“Now we’re in this weird situation where the crime is acknowledged, but then there’s no accountability,” el-Baghdadi told Slate.
So, in a sense, normalizing this is even worse than the Trump administration covering it up because it sends a message that these things can happen but certain people cannot be touched.
Essentially, the US is saying the best that we can do is punish MBS’ henchmen. As we all know, he can always get new henchmen, said el-Baghdadi.