Khashoggi assassination: To really sanction MBS, minimize U.S. and allied dealings with him


For background, see,

“Jamal Khashoggi: The value and cost of one human life, November 21, 2018.

“American Policy: Khashoggi’s assassination, human rights, and international law,” The Trenchant Observer, November 19, 2018.

“News Reports: CIA concludes Saudi Crown Prince ordered Kashoggi assassination,” The Trenchant Observer, November 18, 2018..

“Khashoggi Affair: Murder most foul!” The Trenchant Observer, October 24, 2018.

“Khashoggi Affair: A Prince must go—or two,” The Trenchant Observer, October 19, 2018.

“Devil’s Bargain: The Kashoggi Charade,” The Trenchant Observer, The Trenchant Observer, October 15, 2018.

Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, has long been identified as behind the Jamal Kashoggi assassination in the Saudi Consulate in Instanbul in October, 2018. The CIA report has now been published by the Biden Administration.


1) “The Report on Jamal Khashoggi’s Killing,” New York Times, February 26, 2021.

2) Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “[blacked out]
Assessing the Saudi Government’s Role in the Killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” (Declassified by DNI Haines,25 February 2021). The CIA Document can be downloaded here.

A number of Saudi individuals have been “sanctioned” to punish Saudi Arabia for what amounts to a state assassination, in flagrant violation of international human rights law and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

However, until now it has been extraordinarily difficult to sanction a foreign head of state, as a number of assassinations or attempted assassinations apparently directed by Vladimir Putin  have demonstrated, from the murder of Boris Nemtsov in 2015 to the poisoning of Alexander Navalny in 2020.

MBS is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, not the head of state. His father, the King, holds that position.

This detail points to the most effective way to sanction MBS for the heinous crime of murdering Khashoggi.  President Joe Biden made the right initial move, by calling the King and not MBS to inform the Saudis that the CIA report was going to be released.

Now, the U.S. can send a subtle message to King Salman and the Saudi Royal family by having minimal contact and interaction with the Crown Prince.

The Saudis can choose whoever they want to be King.  But they should know that Americans will never forget or forgive the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi.

If the Saudis enthrone MBS they are likely to have one kind of relationship with the United States. 8ut if they choose someone else to be King, they could have another kind of relationship.

King Salman and MBS appear to have come to power in Saudi Arabia as the result of a kind of internal coup within the Saudi Royal Family, with what appears to have been the active support of Jared Kushner and Donald Trump.

Now that King Salman’s and MBS’ patrons are no longer in power, an adjustment in U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia would seem to be fully in order.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.