October 2, 2019
IntelBrief: Reflecting on Khashoggi’s Murder One Year Later: Still No Justice for Jamal
It has been one year since the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, killed by a team of assassins with ties to the highest levels of the Saudi government. Khashoggi, was murdered on October 2, 2018, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Secret tape recordings of the event have since surfaced, revealing the medieval nature of the killing, which the Saudi hit squad conducted with a banality that indicates this was simply business as usual for anyone considered expendable by Riyadh. The Saudis joked and made small talk as Khashoggi’s lifeless body was butchered to pieces with a bone saw. The recordings unveil the gruesome nature of the crime and also suggest a clear premeditation and planning on the part of those who carried it out. Khashoggi’s body has never been recovered and it is believed to have been dismembered and dissolved in a vat of acid.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) appeared on CBS’ 60 Minutes on Sunday and in an interview with journalist Nora O’Donnell, denied that he ordered the killing of Khashoggi, while at the same time offering a half-hearted claim of ‘full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia’ while acknowledging that the murder was carried out by ‘individuals working for the Saudi government.’ The C.I.A. has assessed, with medium to high confidence, that MBS personally ordered Khashoggi’s murder, an assessment shared by a United Nations’ independent investigation. But the Saudi government has continually resisted anything resembling real justice for those responsible. Although five high-ranking officials were dismissed and nearly another twenty detained, recent reporting suggest that Saud al-Qahtani, the MBS advisor linked to the killing, continues to live comfortably in Saudi Arabia and still advises members of the royal family.
After the murder was first discovered, the Saudis changed their story numerous times in an effort to distance the kingdom from any culpability. Clearly caught off guard by the public backlash that quickly swept the globe, Saudi Arabia wasted little time in employing its army of bots and trolls in an attempt to change the conversation online. Once hailed as a reformer, many now see through the public relations offensive that MBS launched as he traveled across the United States months before the murder of Khashoggi. MBS’ attempt to portray himself as an enlightened leader stands in stark juxtaposition to some of the conversations of his minions, captured on tape: ‘Joints will be separated…if we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished.’
But the Saudi attempt to silence a critic of the kingdom has clearly backfired, and instead invited even more scrutiny on Riyadh than perhaps at any time since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Saudi Arabia continues to export its austere version of Wahhabism around the globe, building mosques and funding hardline imams from North Africa to Southeast Asia and beyond. Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war in Yemen has completely devastated the country, killing untold numbers of civilians and leading to a humanitarian disaster. Yet, the Trump administration has remained a stalwart ally to Saudi Arabia, even over the objections of the U.S. Congress, downplaying Saudi misdeeds and vowing to defend the kingdom against growing Iranian influence in the region. U.S. values of accountability, justice and free speech have fallen by the wayside in favor of billion-dollar arm deals and ‘strategic alliances’ with autocrats and dictators. A year after Khashoggi’s death, the complete lack of accountability for Khashoggi’s murder lays bare the Trump administration’s foreign policy contradictions and its broader moral failures.
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