US senators slam Saudi rights record, call crown prince ‘full gangster’

A bipartisan group of US senators in Congress have warned against growing human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, saying Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has gone “full gangster.”

At the confirmation hearing of new Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Abizaid on Wednesday, Republican and Democratic US senators censured the kingdom over its devastating war on Yemen and other rights abuses, including the detention and torture of women’s rights activists and the grisly murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

Bin Salman is known as the architect of the bloody war on Yemen in his capacity as Saudi defense minister. The heir to the Saudi throne is reported to have ordered the assassination of Khashoggi – an outspoken critic of bin Salman’s policies – last October at Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio said Saudi Arabia was the “most difficult” US ally “because it almost asks us to agree to stay silent on grotesque violations of human rights both domestically and abroad.”

“He is reckless, he’s ruthless, he has a penchant for escalation, for taking high risks, confrontational in his foreign policy approach and I think increasingly willing to test the limits of what he can get away with the United States,” Rubio said. “He’s gone full gangster. And it’s difficult to work with a guy like that no matter how important the relationship is.”  

Abizaid’s hearing comes two days after senators received a briefing from administration officials on Khashoggi’s killing.

Senator Bob Menendez, Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking Democrat, acknowledged the strategic importance of Saudi ties, but said “we cannot let these interests blind us to our values or to our long-term interests in stability.”

Committee Chairman Jim Risch said while Saudi Arabia was a strategically important ally, the alliance must be reconciled with American values.

“Saudi Arabia has engaged in acts that are simply not acceptable,” he said.

Congressmen have been sharply critical of bin Salman and the Trump administration’s inaction on Riyadh’s human rights violations at home and abroad.

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