It is a complex tale of murder and mayhem worthy of John le Carré or Vince Flynn, but no writer of fiction made this one up. The question is, will the real killer go unpunished? I doubt there is a thinking person on the globe who doesn’t believe that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the brutal murder of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, but the Saudis are doing their level best to insulate the prince from paying the price.
Jamal Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, to obtain documents he needed to get a license to marry his fiancé, Hatice Cengiz. This was on September 28th, but he was told he would need to return at 1:30 p.m. on the afternoon of October 2nd. On the morning of the 2nd, embassy staff were instructed not to report for work. Meanwhile, Saudi officials traveling in two charter planes arrived at the consulate early that morning. Khashoggi entered the consulate after telling his fiancé, who remained outside, to get help if he did not return. He was never seen again outside the consulate.
His murder, according to Turkish officials, was brutal, including torture, strangulation, beheading and dismemberment.
The Saudi government has told so many lies that it’s hard to keep up. At first, the Saudi government said that Khashoggi had left the consulate via a back entrance shortly after arriving. They claimed the reports of his disappearance were “completely false and baseless”.
On October 20th, the Saudi government changed its story and said that Khashoggi had indeed died inside the consulate, but that it was an accident, simply a fistfight gone bad. And then, a few days later, they changed the story yet again, still denying any involvement, and said that his murderers had been trying to kidnap him to return him to Saudi Arabia, and that his death had been unintentional, a ‘choke-hold’ gone bad. They also claimed it was a ‘rogue operation’ that was not sanctioned by the government.
The Turkish government was investigating, but at this point the Saudis opened their own investigation, saying that they had arrested 18 Saudi nationals and terminated 2 Saudi officials as a result of their findings. Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir described the killing as “murder”, yet still denied that Crown Prince bin Salman was involved.
On October 25th, the Saudi public prosecutor said the evidence pointed to a ‘premeditated’ murder. Although the Saudi government denies it, bin Salman is on record as having told Trump, in a phone conversation, that he considered Khashoggi to be a ‘dangerous Islamist’.
The speculation:Four of the men arrested have ties to the crown prince, and another, Maher Mutreb, served as a colonel in Saudi intelligence and was based at the country’s embassy in London. The group brought a bone saw into the country and one of its members was the head of forensics at the National Intelligence Service and specialized in post-mortems. This was no fly-by-night operation, but rather one that was relatively well-planned and well-funded, given the 4-day time period. According to Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, “The necessary equipment and people were previously brought in to kill and later dismember him”.Sources both in and outside the Saudi government claim that this ‘hit’ could not have taken place without the knowledge and consent of none other than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Turkish President Erdoğan has said the order to murder Khashoggi came from “the highest levels” of the Saudi government. The former head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, has described Saudi claims that Prince Mohammed was unaware of the murder plot as a “blatant fiction”. Prince Mohammed’s most influential domestic aide, Saud al-Qahtani, has been forced to leave. Qahtani is accused of being the figure who organized the hit squad. The crown prince’s critics, and even some loyalists inside the kingdom, say it is inconceivable that such an operation could have been ordered without his authority.
Yesterday, Saudi Arabia announced it will pursue the death penalty for five suspects charged. While I have no doubt that these five men were complicit in the murder and deserve harsh punishment, charging them was done in an attempt to draw attention away from the crown prince, away from the head of the government who, it is almost certain, ordered the killing. These five, and likely more to follow, are scapegoats being sacrificed to save the hide of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Too many lies were told, the story changed too many times for this to be anything but an order from the highest-ranking official in the government. Jamal Khashoggi had been critical of both bin Salman and Donald Trump. And now, though the U.S. has imposed sanctions freezing assets of 17 Saudis said to be involved in Khashoggi’s murder, Donald Trump refuses to even discuss implicating bin Salman. No mystery there, for both Trump’s and Jared Kushner’s companies do business with the Saudis.
Who is more guilty, the men who carried out the execution or the man who ordered it to be done? While none are without guilt, and I would certainly expect to see everyone who was involved, either directly or indirectly, tried and sentenced to life in prison, I think the greater punishment ought to be for the one who said, “Do it.” There are, I’m sure, many good people in Saudi Arabia … Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is NOT one of them and in the minds of most, he caused the death of a man whose only crime was honesty. Nations around the globe are calling for the truth, condemning the Saudi government and most of all, Mohammed bin Salman. The U.S., meanwhile, is more concerned about the profits of Trump & Co. Mr. Khashoggi was a permanent resident of the U.S. and employed by one of the most reputable news sources in the country, yet Trump takes a lackadaisical approach, merely shrugging his shoulders. Once again, the U.S. stands alone, not by the choice of the nation, but by the whims of one ‘man’ … and on the wrong side of justice.