By Teymour Nsouli
New York City, New York
The right to freedom of speech is valued by Americans and flaunted as a privilege granted to ‘Westerners’ because of their belief in democratic values. Journalists are allowed to write and express whatever they want without fearing retribution. The United States claims to stand up for abuses against journalists expressing their opinions; however, when it comes to other countries, the Biden administration, as well as the Trump administration, did not apply the same logic when a journalist was brutally murdered as a result of his criticism against a government. The United States’ double standards are so frightening that it seems like America has forgotten its own ideals.
Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and critic of the royal family, was murdered in 2018 at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. News of his death shocked the world. People demanded that the culprits be held accountable, and on February 26, the CIA published a report that claimed that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), ordered a team of assassins to capture or kill the journalist. Long before the CIA report was brought to light, many believed that MBS was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder; however, he was never held accountable by the US, particularly because of former President Donald Trump’s strong relationship with the crown prince and the billions of dollars in arms sales, apparently more valuable than human life and democratic values. The US also wants to maintain a strong military relationship with Saudi Arabia in order to deal with threats that could come from Iran.
Many were hoping that the Biden administration would take a stronger stance against Mohammed Bin Salman and would not let him get away with murder. President Joe Biden harshly criticized Saudi Arabia during his presidential campaign, saying, “We were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are,” The Biden administration also assured that they would “recalibrate” their relationship with Saudi Arabia, which contrasted from the Trump administration's approach to the kingdom.
However, Americans were rightfully disappointed when the Biden administration didn't take any action against the crown prince himself, instead imposing sanctions and financial restrictions on those involved with the killing. The administration said they could not take action against the crown prince since they didn't want to risk any major rifts with the Saudi-US relationship and wanted to maintain their relationship in countering Iran. They also didn't want to jeopardize any future peace agreement with Israel and the Saudis.
Despite all of these priorities for the administration, there should have been some sort of punishment against the Saudis, whether scaling back on arms sales to the kingdom or imposing sanctions on the crown prince, who is seemingly poised to become the future king. In an effort to directly punish Bin Salman, US lawmakers like Representative Ilhan Omar (MN-5) introduced bills that called for sanctions against the crown prince. Still, the Biden administration has made it clear that they do not want to “rupture” any ties with the kingdom, despite the growing pressure to sanction the crown prince. The failure to punish MBS was another demonstration of how the Biden administration is weak in some of its policies towards the Middle East. The US cannot police the world, especially the Middle East, with verbal condemnations and then fail to take action when needed. How can the US possibly advocate for human rights yet still allow certain countries to commit heinous murders against their own citizens? How can one label another as guilty and never bring them to justice? This only sends a message to the rest of the world that the US will condemn but never take action against human rights abuses because their interests are more important. The Biden administration should be ashamed to let a murderer go unpunished and fail to uphold its own so-called democratic principles.