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US lawmakers drop sanctions on Khashoggi killers in new $768bn defence budget

December 9, 2021 at 1:45 pm

Commemoration ceremony held in front of the US Congress on the 3rd anniversary of the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October 2021 [Yasin Öztürk/Anadolu Agency]

US lawmakers have abruptly dropped the proposal in this year’s $768 billion defence authorisation bill to ban the sale of weapons to the Saudi government unit whose members killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The House overwhelmingly agreed to pass the bill on Tuesday which will see the Pentagon’s budget increase by roughly $24 billion above what President Joe Biden had requested. Following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, campaigners were hoping that with Democrats in control there would be cuts to US military programmes.

Instead, anti-war protestors have been angered by the measure that will provide significant increases for initiatives intended to counter China and bolster Ukraine, as well as the procurement of new aircraft and ships. The 363-to-70 vote in support of the bill will be sent to the Senate, where it is expected to pass with strong bipartisan support as soon as this week.

Controversially, every provision included to limit US aid to Saudi Arabia over human rights concerns, even a proposed ban on selling weapons to the Saudi government unit whose members killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi, was removed, according to Washington based news agency Roll Call. It was one of several proposals to be nixed in the final minutes.

The measures would have barred funding for the sale or transfer of certain weapons — including handcuffs, tasers or any sort of military training — to the Rapid Intervention Force, also known as the “Tiger Squad”. Members of the notorious hit squad were part of the 15 men team that killed Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018.

The Tiger Squad has also been named in an ongoing dispute between the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and former Saudi intelligence chief Saad Al-Jabri. The 62-year-old, who now lives in exile in Canada, has claimed that Bin Salman instructed the Tiger Squad to seek out and kill him.

A second provision removed without explanation sanctions for Khashoggi’s killers. That section, said Roll Call, was part of the House-passed bill, which would have prohibited the 21 individuals who helped kill Khashoggi from getting or keeping US visas. And it would have required a State Department report to Congress on any entity controlled in whole or in part by one of the suspects. Now no such restrictions are in the offing.

The bill also dropped the proposal to repeal the 2002 war powers act. In June the House voted to end the nearly two-decade-old war powers authorisation which critics say granted US Presidents the power to declare wars without the approval of Congress.

READ: UN reiterates need to hold Khashoggi killers to account