There is talk of dismembering, talk of the disposal of body parts, and quite likely the sound of a saw — all within the Saudi consulate in Istanbul as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is plotted and eventually carried out. The horrifying new details are part of the report amassed by a UN investigator who concludes there is “credible evidence” pointing to the involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Agnes Callamard, a special rapporteur for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will present her findings to the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week. But the question remains what it was eight months ago when the Washington Post columnist and US resident disappeared after entering the consulate. Will the Trump administration do anything meaningful in response?
Will this administration continue to do business with and defend a regime even after a report that concludes, “Mr. Khashoggi’s killing constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”
Will it still be business as usual?
Shockingly, it appears so. In an interview with “Meet the Press” on Sunday, President Trump deflected when asked if he would hold Saudi Arabia accountable on Khashoggi’s murder.
“I think it’s been heavily investigated,” the president said when host Chuck Todd asked if he’d order an FBI inquiry into the matter. Trump also signaled that the financial interests of the United States in Saudi Arabia take precedence over the assassination. “I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time, all money, all jobs, buying equipment,” Trump said. “And by the way, if they don’t do business with us, you know what they do? They’ll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese.”
Contrast that attitude with the UN report’s chilling findings.
“Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr. Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources, and finances,” Callamard wrote. “While the Saudi government claims that these resources were put in place by Ahmed Asiri [the former deputy head of intelligence and the only senior official currently on trial for the murder], every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched.”
Callamard and her team were permitted to listen to only 45 minutes of audio of the more than seven hours recorded by Turkish intelligence and were permitted to take notes on only a portion of those conversations.
“The Turkish authorities undoubtedly have more information and intelligence about events in the Saudi Consulate than they were willing or able to share with the inquiry,” the report said.
None of the nations touched by this horrific affair have covered themselves in glory.
But as Callamard points out, Khashoggi lived and worked in the United States at the time of his murder, so it would certainly be appropriate for the FBI and for Congress to launch their own investigations.
Congress, which found its voice in March, with a resolution to end US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen, only to be stymied by a presidential veto, did so again Thursday . In the wake of the report, the Senate voted 53-45 to halt arms sales to the Saudis, but once again not by enough votes to override a presidential veto.
Of course, the human rights abuses of the Saudi regime are not limited to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. His Turkish fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting for him outside the consulate on the day he was killed, wrote a heart-rending op-ed in The New York Times in which she pleaded for the lives of three imprisoned Saudi scholars she feared were slated for execution.
“Jamal will never come back but something could be done to save these people for whom he fought,” she wrote. “President Trump has tried to look the other way. But he has the power to save the lives of three men.”
That, however, would take an act of political courage — and an acknowledgment that this nation at its core stands for human rights even when that’s not particularly expedient. The former is sorely missing in the Trump White House these days and the latter virtually nonexistent.