One dreads to think what Jamal Khashoggi’s last thoughts were, as he was being dragged out of the Saudi consulate general’s office in Istanbul by two men and realised that he had walked straight into a trap?
Khashoggi was no newcomer. He knew how Saudi consuls and embassies worked. He himself had worked in two of them: Washington and London. He knew the beast, the way it thought, the way it acted, the way it smelt.
He also thought he knew the rules. He had worked for Turki bin Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief. The rules of the game were brutal, but they were rational. There were clear red lines. If you knew about them, you could calculate the risks you were taking.
Khashoggi had just bought a flat in Istanbul. He was going to get married the day after. The couple were still waiting for the furniture to arrive. He might have thought the worst they would do is question him or detain him. But would he have risked kidnap, let alone his life, for a piece of paper that would allow him to remarry in Turkey?
He told his friends that he left the kingdom because he could not stand the prospect of prison. That was why he felt a moral duty to speak out. If he was free, and thousands like him languished in jail, then it was his duty to speak.
It’s too terrible to contemplate in his final seconds of life, Khashoggi must have realised that none of this applied any more.
Khashoggi’s death was an act of insanity, a total madman must have ordered it. A man for whom there was no rationality, no rules, no restraint. A man who could act with total impunity, and from whom no one was safe.
Landfall in Virginia
The Category 4 hurricane that Khashoggi’s killing has unleashed has changed direction in the last 48 hours. It’s no longer hovering over Turkey’s Bosphorus and it’s no longer just a spat between two countries far away in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and Turkey), each with a less than spotless record of how it treats journalists.
As the nightly drip feed of detail has come out about the killing – the identity of the passengers on the private jets, the bone saw used to dismember Khashoggi’s body, the news I broke that he was dragged out of the consul general’s office, and now a gruesome audio and visual recording of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture and death, has been shared by the Turks with Western allies – so this has become a huge crisis for the White House and for America.
The dimensions of this crisis are just dawning. This is a barbaric act of which the Islamic State group (IS) would have been proud. A wholly innocent and high profile victim was trapped, beaten, tortured and sacrificed like an animal. But this was not committed by religious fanatics. It was ordered and committed by America’s chief Arab ally in the Middle East on its diplomatic premises, using state resources.
Riyadh continues to deny responsibility for the murder. Saudi officials have strongly denied any involvement in his disappearance and say that he left the consulate in Istanbul soon after arriving. However, they have not presented any evidence to corroborate their claim and say that video cameras at the consulate were not recording at the time.
Hurricane Jamal has made landfall in Virginia and is now heading for the White House. “This thing happened in Turkey and Khashoggi isn’t even a US citizen,” US President Donald Trump claimed in vain last night. But by then, Khashoggi was no longer just a Saudi dissident, one of many. He had become “a Virginia resident” (??)