Jamal Khashoggi’s barbaric murder and dismemberment on October 2, 2018, by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul horrified the world and blighted the image of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. A year later as the Saudi story of what happened continues to change, there are still few answers and no accountability.
Chronology of Events
Khashoggi had gone to the Consulate to retrieve papers necessary for him to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. She waited for him outside the consulate, but he did not come out.
The Saudis initially denied that he had disappeared from inside the Consulate. The regime fabricated his fictional exit using CCTV footage of a body look-alike leaving the building in his clothes.
Two weeks later, the Saudis admitted that he had been killed there, and that his body had been cut into pieces with a bone saw, but claimed that it had been done by a group of “rogue” operatives.
A month later, in November, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency concluded with “high confidence” (intelligence community-speak for complete certainty) that Crown Prince MbS had ordered the assassination.
In a UN investigation in June 2019, UN Special Rapporteur described the killing as a “deliberate, premeditated execution” by the Saudi state.
In a UN investigation in June 2019, UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard described the killing as a “deliberate, premeditated execution” by the Saudi state. She called among other things for MbS himself and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated.
Since then, little has happened. Although one of the most brutal assassinations right out of the middle ages, the Saudi regime has done little or nothing to hold anyone to account.
Lack of Accountability
Turkey’s President Erdogan, whose eavesdropping and other surveillance devices installed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul provided some of the evidence used in the investigations, said this week that the murder “was arguably the most influential and controversial incident of the 21st century.”
While the Saudis assert that at least eleven Saudi suspects have been put on trial, only a few hearings have been held, and all have been in secret without the presence of the public or journalists.
“The trial of Khashoggi is closed [except] to Saudi-controlled media and diplomats,” Dr. Abdallah Alaoudh, a Senior Fellow at the Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told Inside Arabia.
“The Saudi attorney general is totally compromised as he takes orders from the Royal Court, the judges themselves are intimidated…”
“The Saudi attorney general is totally compromised as he takes orders from the Royal Court, the judges themselves are intimidated by imprisoning some of their peers (6) not long ago, and the whole process is a secret.” He concluded that there is “no way that the trial can bring justice to Jamal.”
Alaoudh is the son of detained prominent Saudi reformist and Muslim scholar Salman Alaoudh, who faces the death penalty in Saudi Arabia for a tweet encouraging the government to end its diplomatic standoff with Qatar in 2017.
Crown Prince Acknowledges Responsibility, But Denies Involvement
Just days before the one-year anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, as media refocused its attention on the atrocity, MbS finally accepted responsibility for the murder.
“It happened under my watch. I get all the responsibility.” Incredibly, however, he claims not to have been involved.
“It happened under my watch. I get all the responsibility… ,” he told PBS in a Front Line documentary that aired yesterday.
Incredibly, however, he claims not to have been involved. When asked how it could happen without him knowing about it, he asserted that too many others have authority to use the means of state power to do something like that without his knowledge.
MbS told the interviewer, “I have officials, ministers to follow things, and they’re responsible… They have the authority to do that.”
Yet the crime involved the use of a 15-person Saudi hit-squad, a forensic scientist with a bone saw, and the official Saudi Consulate’s officers and premises. It seems entirely implausible for the de facto ruler of KSA to make such a claim.
The crime involved the use of a 15-person Saudi hit-squad, a forensic scientist with a bone saw, and the official Saudi Consulate’s officers and premises.
Both “the CIA and the UN disagree with that statement,” said Nihad Awad, Executive Director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest non-profit Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., who was also a personal friend of Jamal Khashoggi.
“If [MbS] is taking responsibility and he is in charge, can we ask these questions: Where are the remains of Jamal Khashoggi? What is happening to the perpetrators, including Saud Al Qahtani, and where and when are their trials?”
Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz said the prince’s comments displayed a “pure political manoeuvre.”
Jamal’s Dream a Threat to the Saudi Regime
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said on Monday that the murder of Khashoggi is “a serious threat to the international order.” While Erdogan is himself no saint, many agree with him.
“One year after the killing, nobody is convicted, the body is not found, and the alleged mastermind of the operation, Saud al-Qahtani, is free and not in jail, what has been done?,” Alaoudh told Inside Arabia.
“More importantly, the same behavior practiced against citizens in jails and outside, that led to the killing, continues unabated—which points to the source of the problem that still exists: the top.”
While Khashoggi had not been a critic of the Saudi regime, he had been critical of its policies. He had been working to establish an organization to advocate for freedom of expression and democratic change in the Middle East.
While Khashoggi had not been a critic of the Saudi regime, he had been critical of its policies. He had been working to establish an organization called Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) to advocate for freedom of expression and democratic change in the Middle East.
Yet, if that was what got him killed, his murder has not killed that dream. Khashoggi’s friends and colleagues are continuing the effort.
“This has been part of our mission in life,” said Awad. “Some of our friends are in jail, others were killed but the rest are alive and are committed to the cause of justice and equality for all.” He added that there would be an official announcement soon.
The World Continues to Call for Justice for Jamal
Cengiz and the Committee to Protect Journalists have filed separate lawsuits in U.S. courts seeking information and accountability.
The Committee to Protect Journalists filed a brief on September 26 in the U.S. District Court in Washington asking the court for disclosure of documents concerning the U.S. intelligence community’s “duty to warn” obligations, which require U.S. officials to notify individuals whom they believe may be in imminent danger.
The Project for Middle East Democracy held an event on September 26 where members of Congress joined human rights advocates and Saudi activists on Capitol Hill to commemorate the Khashoggi murder and commit to action.
At the event, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va) emphasized, “It’s not a Saudi atrocity, it’s an AMERICAN atrocity.” He called upon the FBI to “demonstrate that you are an independent law enforcement agency, that you’re not under somebody’s thumb.”
To the audience and associations present, Senator Kaine said, “We are not going to let it drop and nor should you.”
In an interview this week with CBS, Special Rapporteur Callamard reiterated that the evidence of preparation and premeditation of the murder demonstrated that it was a “state killing.”
UK human rights lawyer Dame Helena Kennedy QC, who was given access to the same recordings and evidence as Callamard, agreed.
Real Accountability Will Take a Worldwide Effort
Even if the Saudis continue to refuse to hold those who gave the order to kill Khashoggi accountable, they may still face consequences. The Saudi Arabia Human Rights and Accountability Act of 2019, is currently pending in Congress. It would require the director of National Intelligence to publicly identify the persons involved in the killing of Khashoggi and impose visa and travel sanctions on them.
As to whether there will be any real accountability for Khashoggi’s execution, Awad told Inside Arabia that that will happen “only if the world community, the UN including the US government, commit to hold the perpetrators accountable regardless of who is responsible for the murder.”
Memorial events are being held all over the world today on the one-year anniversary to commemorate Khashoggi and his quest for freedom of expression across the Arab world.
Journalists everywhere continue to call upon the Saudi regime and Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to bring the perpetrators of this gross violation of human rights and press freedom to justice.