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US advocacy group sues CIA to release Khashoggi files

Open Society Justice Initiative says releasing CIA documents related to Saudi journalist's murder would help ensure accountability
'After more than three months, the circumstances surrounding the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi remain unclear,' executive director of the initiative says (AFP/File photo)

The Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based law centre, has filed a lawsuit against the CIA to obtain records related to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In mid-November, the CIA concluded that Saudi Arabia's powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, a critic of the royal family and columnist for the Washington Post, at the country's consulate in Istanbul.

The Justice Initiative is now suing the agency under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in order to compel the US intelligence agency to release its findings on the crown prince's involvement in the Khashoggi case.

James Goldston, the initiative's executive director, said on Wednesday after the lawsuit was filed that making the information public would help ensure accountability for the late journalist, who was killed by Saudi government agents on 2 October.

"After more than three months, the circumstances surrounding the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi remain unclear," Goldston said in a statement.

"Only by making available what the federal government knows can prosecutors and judges - not just in the US, but around the world where jurisdiction may lie - be able to bring the perpetrators to justice."

The Justice Initiative is the legal programme within the Open Society Foundations, a pro-democracy advocacy group founded by liberal philanthropist George Soros.

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Khashoggi's murder has shaken US-Saudi relations, with all 100 US senators condemning bin Salman, known as MBS, in late 2018, when they passed a resolution that states he ordered the murder.

Despite this, Donald Trump has stood by his Saudi allies throughout the crisis, repeatedly citing Riyadh's denial of MBS's involvement in the assassination.

The US president has also repeatedly contradicted the CIA and US Senate's findings that bin Salman was behind the hit on Khashoggi.

"The immediate release of the requested records is imperative for the public to properly and timely evaluate Congressional and Executive responses to Mr. Khashoggi’s killing," reads the lawsuit, which cites Trump's past statements.

The legal effort may end up being largely symbolic, however, as US law and CIA rules exempt the agency from divulging information obtained from foreign governments or designated as classified in the interests of national security.

The lawsuit also names the Department of Defense, National Security Agency and Office of the Director of National Intelligence as defendants.