On Tuesday morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting with Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. One focus of their discussion is the disappearance and suspected murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Pompeo has already thanked the Saudis for “supporting a thorough, transparent, and timely investigation” even though they have yet to allow Turkish authorities into the consulate, have presented a false covert story of “tourists” for a group of Saudi intelligence agencies entering the country, and repeatedly provided false information in saying that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after he came in. To date, the Saudis have been anything but transparent, done everything possible to delay, and have stalled every attempt to get to the truth. Pompeo is praising the Saudis, when they have not only very likely murdered Khashoggi, but obfuscated and lied on every aspect of his fate.
At a Monday chat with the press, Donald Trump suggested that Khashoggi was done in by “rogue killers.” Killers who apparently boarded a plane in Saudi Arabia, landed in Istanbul, came inside the consulate, detained, beat, killed and dismembered Khashoggi using a bone saw, left in a black van taking the journalist’s severed body with them, reboarded a plane, and flew back to Saudi Arabia. Also on Monday, several sources reported that the Saudis would float a new story, one in which Khashoggi was detained for questioning and “accidentally” killed. But despite wide reporting, no official Saudi source has yet offered up this explanation.
According to CNN, Turkish authorities are reporting that they will, at last, be given access to the consulate building on Tuesday. Turkish sources have previously stated that they had both audio and video evidence that Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate.
Through the whole incident, Donald Trump has insisted that the United States is deeply concerned—unless, of course, it would hurt a $110 billion arms agreement with Saudi Arabia. That arms sale is helping to enable the Saudi intrusion into Yemen, where US bombs have been dropped on a school bus, as well as other civilian targets. The invasion of Yemen is one of the topics that most concerned Khashoggi, and was connected to his departure from Saudi Arabia. But there was another reason that Khashoggi fell out of favor with Saudi leader bin Salman, and that connection makes what’s already an unimaginably ugly incident even uglier.
Saudi authorities banned journalist Jamal Khashoggi from writing in newspapers, appearing on TV and attending conferences, the Alkhalij Aljadid reported in Arabic.
This came after Khashoggi’s remarks during a presentation he made at a Washington think-tank on 10 November in which he was critical of Donald Trump’s ascension to the US presidency.
It may not be simply that Mohammed bin Salman thought Donald Trump would look the other way if he ordered the murder of Khashoggi—he may well have thought he was doing Trump a favor. After all, Trump has made his position about the press exceeding clear.
And even before the election, Trump had suggested a solution.
Not only has Trump presented the press as the enemy, he has repeatedly demonstrated that he’s willing to defend those who murder journalists to shut them up. Here is Trump talking about the murder of journalists by Vladimir Putin.
“He’s always denied it. It’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody,” Trump said. “So, you know, you’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, at least in our country. It has not been proven that he’s killed reporters.”
Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer.
Saudi Arabia, where 48 people were officially beheaded in state-sanctioned executions in just the first four months of 2018 as part of the “anti-corruption” campaign that saw Mohammed bin Salman take firm control over the country, had every reason to believe that they could get away with killing Khashoggi without incurring any punishment from the United States. Trump had already shrugged his shoulders at nearly 200 Russian journalists killed under Putin, and he had repeatedly spoken of US journalists in terms that, in Saudi Arabia, would immediately justify being put to death.
But is the connection stronger than that? Did bin Salman expect that Trump would not just ignore Khashoggi’s murder … but praise it? Reports have indicated that the US knew of threats to Khashoggi months ago. Did Trump know?
And was Jamal Khashoggi a subject of discussion between Mohammed bin Salman and Donald Trump or Jared Kushner?
The first opportunity for that discussion came before Trump even moved into the White House. Khashoggi’s statements about Donald Trump, the ones that got him banned from any reporting in Saudi Arabia, came on November 10, 2016, immediately following Trump’s election. Just six days later, when press reports suggested that few foreign leaders had spoken with Donald Trump, Trump insisted that he had spoken with “many foreign leaders” including “Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia.”
How difficult is it to believe that on that occasion, one of the topics might have been Saudi leaders pointing out to Trump that they had moved swiftly to silence anti-Trump voices in their media?
On May 20, 2017, Donald Trump and Jared Kushner arrived in Riyadh for Trump’s first trip outside the US. It was the first time that any U.S. president made Saudi Arabia his first trip outside the country, bypassing more traditional trips to Canada or the UK. On that same visit, Donald Trump announced an arms deal for Saudi Arabia worth $110 billion, the largest arms deal in history. While there, Trump and Kushner met with both Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and not-yet crown prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Before going on that trip, Trump made his first tweets declaring journalists not just “losers” or “fake” but the enemy of the people. He repeated that charge in a tweet just a day after returning. How unlikely is it that the subject of journalists in general, and maybe Khashoggi in particular—who was by that time living in the United States—would have come up in the discussion?
Everything about what Trump has said, every indication he has made, has demonstrated that he’s willing to accept the denial of authoritarian dictators. Among those executed by beheading in Saudi Arabia are those whose “crime” consisted of being critical of bin Salman. The Saudi leader had every reason to think that Trump wouldn’t just ignore his murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but would thank him for the act.