When Turkish authorities announced in April that they would transfer the trial of the alleged murderers of Saudi journalist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia, human rights activists roundly condemned the move.
Saudi authorities had requested that the trial be transferred in March, and on April 7, a Turkish court granted the prosecutors’ request to transfer the case, saying that the trial in Turkey had been hindered by the Saudi authorities’ refusal to extradite suspects, and that Turkey’s minister of justice had endorsed the decision, according to reports.
The accused were members of the 15-person hit squad flown into Turkey from Saudi Arabia, including a forensic doctor, and other low-level operatives. Much of what we know about the actual murder itself comes from intelligence and actual recordings of the killing obtained by the Turkish government from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where the crime occurred. The operatives not only killed Khashoggi but desecrated his body, dismembering it with a bone saw — presumably to easily dispose of it. The torture and killing was so gruesome that then-CIA Director Gina Haspel said she cried at the moment in the audio when she heard Khashoggi’s fingers being cut off.
President Erdoğan had previously indicated his concern of transferring evidence to Saudi authorities.
While the body parts never having been found or produced and with the suspects safe at home in Saudi Arabia, Turkey’strial of 26 Saudi suspects in absentia began in July 2020. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had previously indicated his concern that transferring evidence to Saudi authorities could result in its destruction.
A Saudi court in December 2019 had sentenced five low-level people to death and three to prison terms for Khashoggi’s murder in a secret trial widely viewed as a sham and a “parody of justice,” as UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard called it. The death sentences were later changed to prison terms in September 2020 after Khashoggi’s sons said they had “forgiven” the killers, in an Islamic religious tradition that permits the victim or a family member to “pardon” someone for a crime against a person. Turkey’s trial was one remaining hope for justice.
Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancée who has led a worldwide campaign seeking “justice for Jamal” since his death, has said she will appeal the transfer decision.
US-KSA Relationship Recalibration—Take 2?
Although President Joe Biden committed on the 2020 campaign trail to a total recalibration of the US’ relationship with Saudi Arabia, little has changed other than a dampening of enthusiasm and a mild cooling of diplomatic relations. The arms deals continue, and the mastermind who green-lit Operation Kill or Capture Khashoggi — regarded by US intelligence and worldwide to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) himself, whom then-candidate Biden called a “pariah” — has not been held to account.
Notwithstanding Biden’s campaign promise and similar subsequent rhetoric, the administration’s failure to follow through led to 30 Democrat Members of Congress sending a letter on April 13 to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The letter requested information on the status of the administration’s review and assessment of the US-Saudi relationship and how current US policy on Saudi Arabia is advancing core US interests.
“A recalibration of the US-Saudi partnership is long overdue…”
“A recalibration of the US-Saudi partnership is long overdue in order to reflect President Biden’s important commitment to uphold human rights and democratic values in our foreign policy,” the letter states.
“Our continued unqualified support for the Saudi monarchy, which systematically, ruthlessly represses its own citizens, targets critics all over the world, carries out a brutal war in Yemen, and bolsters authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East and North Africa, runs counter to US national interests and damages the credibility of the United States to uphold our values.”
Saudi Power Politics Plays Into US Corruption
Although the letter did not get much US mainstream press coverage, it signals serious concern over the Saudi renegade regime that not only targets journalists and critics worldwide for assassination, but also feeds into US corruption at home, as highlighted this month by David Corn, Washington, DC Bureau Chief of Mother Jones.
Corn wrote about the $2 billion investment Jared Kushner received six months after his father-in-law left office for his new private equity firm, Affinity Partners, from a fund controlled by the crown prince — even after advisers to the Saudi fund raised serious objections to the investment. They cited the “excessive” asset management fee and the “inexperience of the Affinity Fund management,” calling it “unsatisfactory in all aspects” and a “public relations risk” in their due diligence report — as revealed by the New York Times on April 10.
Corn wrote that it is “hard to not see the $2 billion investment as either a payoff for past services rendered or a preemptive bribe should Trump manage to regain the White House. And it could be both.” He asks why this bakhshish is not the subject of a major scandal and investigation. It also underlines the continuing and even more urgent need now for recalibration.
While the US is not recalibrating its relationship with KSA, other countries are. Turkey’s decision to transfer the case comes as the Turkish government pragmatically seeks to mend ties with Saudi Arabia, as highlighted by Erdogan’s first visit to KSA and other Gulf countries since the Khashoggi killing. This realignment demonstrates the continuing fragility and subservience of any principled adherence to justice, human rights, and the rule of law to pragmatic geopolitical concerns, or in other words, just geopolitics (and business) as usual.
World Press Freedom Day marks the importance of journalists and journalism preserving freedoms and democracy around the world.
World Press Freedom Day (May 3rd) marks the importance of journalists and journalism preserving freedoms and democracy around the world. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in its annual survey on press freedom and attacks on the media, a record number of journalists were behind bars in 2021. 293 reporters were imprisoned worldwide, at least 24 journalists were killed because of their coverage, and 18 others had died in circumstances that made it too difficult to determine whether they were targeted because of their work. Executive Director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) Sarah Leah Whitson said in an interview with Al-Monitor, “Practically, I don’t know that [the transfer] has any real significance because the trial was pretty stalled.” But she highlighted that Turkey has “given up an opportunity to document judicially and create a real record of the murder with information and evidence that only the Turkish government had.”
“The Turkish government’s trial of Jamal Khashoggi’s suspected killers was politicized from the start,” Committee to Protect Journalists Senior Middle East and North Africa Researcher Justin Shilad said in a statement, “but the decision to transfer his case to Saudi Arabia extinguishes any hope of reaching an impartial conclusion based on the evidence.”
In the absence of a fair and impartial judicial process, Shilad urged the international community to “pursue a credible and transparent investigation into Khashoggi’s murder and . . . not allow political expediency or interference to derail justice.”
The UN and CIA found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salam responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
Ironically, the UN has already concluded such an investigation, finding MbS responsible, as did the CIA. But there has been little or no practical response in the international community, and the US’s leadership has failed to keep its promise.
What kind of example does it set when the most egregious of state-sanctioned, extrajudicial, extra-territorial killings possible of a journalist can happen with total impunity? And what hope do the thousands of journalists detained, tortured, prosecuted, convicted, beaten, and/or murdered by their governments in their own countries every year have for justice?
Although there is still a shred of hope for accountability in US courts in cases filed by DAWN and others, four years after his appalling assassination, there is still no justice for Jamal, and CPJ’s call for international accountability seems to be a mere pipedream.