US lawmakers announce bill to punish Riyadh over Khashoggi

US lawmakers announce bill to punish Riyadh over Khashoggi
A special UN rapporteur said on Thursday that the killing was "planned and perpetrated" by Saudi officials.

3 min read
08 February, 2019
The Saudi state-sanctioned murder of Jamal Khashoggi has shocked even Riyadh's close allies [Getty]

Top US lawmakers are pushing once again  to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, announcing new legislation ahead of a February 8 Congress deadline for the administration to punish perpetrators.

On Thursday, members of the two major American parties unveiled legislation that would block US arms sales to Riyadh and impose sanctions on those responsible for Khashoggi's death.

“Seeing as the Trump administration has no intention of insisting on full accountability for Mr. Khashoggi’s murderers, it is time for Congress to step in and impose real consequences to fundamentally reexamine our relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen,” said Democratic said.

According to USA Today, three Republicans and three other Democrats have also signed on to the bill.

“It is not in our national security interests to look the other way when it comes to the brutal murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

In addition to blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the Senate bill would bar the US from refueling Saudi jets in the Yemen war, sanction anyone blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen, and require a human rights report on Saudi Arabia, according to USA Today.

This comes as rights groups are pressing US President Donald Trump to take action over Saudi Arabia's killing of the dissident writer on the eve of a Friday deadline by Congress to punish perpetrators.

Khashoggi, a contributor to The Washington Post who lived in self-imposed exile in Virginia, was killed and dismembered when he visited the conservative kingdom's consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

A special UN rapporteur said on Thursday that the killing was "planned and perpetrated" by Saudi officials.

In October, the then top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee invoked the Magnitsky Act, which gave the Trump administration 120 days -- until February 8 -- to determine who was behind Khashoggi's killing and to describe actions against them.

The law, which targets extrajudicial killings and torture, is named for Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption accountant who died in Russian custody.

In a joint statement on Thursday accompanied by a rally outside the White House, six advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists urged Trump to lay out action over Khashoggi's killing and to release CIA records on the death.

"Notwithstanding public and congressional outrage and the reported findings of the CIA, the Trump administration appears to be engaged in a cover-up on behalf of the Saudi government," they wrote.

The groups called for "an effective, independent, international investigation" and the immediate release of other journalists and activists detained in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom's promises to prosecute those responsible have turned into a "sham," the groups said, with senior officials resigning rather than facing repercussions.

The Trump administration revoked visas for nearly two dozen Saudi officials over Khashoggi's killing and froze assets of some 17 others.

But Trump also said in a blunt statement that the killing was not worth jeopardizing the alliance with Saudi Arabia, crediting the kingdom with buying US weapons and supporting its hard line on regional rival Iran.