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Justice Initiative Files Lawsuit Over Killing of Post Columnist Khashoggi

FILE - A protester holds a poster with a picture of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, outside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 25, 2018.

The Open Society Justice Initiative sued the U.S. Director of National Intelligence Wednesday to produce information about those responsible for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, was killed in 2018 by Saudi agents in the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman drew global criticism over Khashoggi’s killing, which a CIA assessment concluded he ordered.

A 2019 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings also said it found credible evidence, warranting further investigation, that high-level officials, including Salman, had liability.

The crown prince has denied ordering Khashoggi’s killing but said in interviews with U.S. networks that he claims “full responsibility” as the kingdom’s unofficial leader.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to VOA’s request for comment submitted via its web portal.

Khashoggi was a well-known Saudi journalist who later became a critic of the government. He went into self-imposed exile in the U.S., where he wrote opinion pieces critical of the Saudi leadership.

The journalist visited the Saudi consulate to finalize paperwork for his marriage. He asked his fiancée to wait outside as a safety measure, and she raised the alarm when Khashoggi failed to reappear.

After killing him, agents dismembered the journalist inside the consulate.

A Saudi court in December sentenced five people to death and three others to prison sentences totaling 24 years in connection to the murder. Charges were dismissed against 11 other people on trial. The Kingdom did not identify those on trial.

In a separate trial in July, a Turkish court put 20 Saudi officials on trial for the killing, including former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence and a former royal court adviser. Turkish authorities are seeking life sentences for the officials.

The Open Society Justice, a legal branch of the philanthropic Open Society Foundations, filed the lawsuit under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, which requires at least a partial disclosure of previously unreleased information controlled by the federal government upon request.

The lawsuit, filed in a federal court in the Southern District of New York, contends the requested records are “imperative for the public to properly and timely evaluate the U.S. government’s response to Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.”

The U.S. Congress approved a measure in December 2019 with bipartisan support requiring the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to provide it with an unclassified report on Khashoggi’s killing, including an account of who was responsible and any individuals who had advance knowledge.

The society said the director failed to meet the 30-day deadline and, instead, submitted a classified report and a letter that said the office could not disclose unclassified information about the journalist’s death.

“There hasn’t been accountability. Despite a mass of evidence that the crown prince was involved, he has essentially escaped accountability, “ Amrit Singh, a lawyer involved in the Justice Initiative case, told VOA.

There has also been bi-partisan support for sanctions and a resolution in the case.

After a CIA briefing in December 2018, Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters that evidence implicating the crown prince was so strong that “there’s not a smoking gun—there’s a smoking saw.”

“It is extremely important that these records be released so that the public knows the truth about who is responsible for the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi and so that it can assess for itself the Trump administration’s cover-up of that truth,” Singh said.

The government has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit, the Justice Initiative said.

The ODNI declined VOA’s request for comment.

When it sanctioned 17 Saudis over the killing in 2018, the U.S. State Department said it would "continue to seek all relevant facts, consult Congress, and work with other nations to hold accountable those involved."

The Justice Initiative says Wednesday’s lawsuit is linked to a separate lawsuit it previously filed and is now pending in New York federal court. The earlier lawsuit challenges the failure to disclose information about Khashoggi’s killing by the CIA, the ODNI, the Department of State and the Department of Defense.