(Taylor Johnson, Queen’s University)
On October 2, Jamal Khoshoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi government and popular journalist, disappeared from the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Saudi Arabia has changed its story multiple times, while Turkish and other global authorities suggest that the murder was premeditated by the Saudi government.
At first, Saudi Arabia claimed no responsibility. In fact, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. asserted that the journalist left the consulate “after a few minutes or an hour”. This was a lie. While the Saudi government maintained this falsehood for weeks to follow, CCTV footage has been released showcasing Khashoggi’s final moments before entering the consulate. Khashoggi walked in at approximately 13:14 local time, and never came out. In the same footage, the late journalist’s wife can be seen waiting outside the consulate for an additional ten hours.
It would take until October 20 for Saudi Arabia to admit that Khashoggi was dead, and although they disclosed his death, they continued to deny any wrongdoing. Another lie. Instead, the middle eastern nation declared that Khashoggi had been killed in a “rogue operation” and that its operators would be punished. Authorities later announced the arrest of 18 Saudi nationals, and King Salman ordered Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, to restructure the country’s intelligence agencies in the wake of the initial investigation.
To complete the trio of reversals, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced that the murder was “premeditated” to state television on October 25. Finally, an element of truth from Riyadh. The public prosecutor came to this conclusion following evidence from a Saudi-Turkish task force. On the very same day, CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed the president on an audio clip allegedly capturing the killing of Jamal Khashoggi after her trip to Turkey this week. The real question remains, did the Saudi’s admit this due to ongoing US pressure, or were they trying to keep ahead of conclusions?
According to the Turkish media, there is audio evidence of the journalist being tortured. These tapes are at the center of the Turkish investigation and provide compelling evidence that the murder was premediated. While President Erdogan of Turkey has not publicly mentioned the tapes, the Washington Post has confirmed the existence of these tapes. On the tapes, the Saudi consul can be heard warning the alleged Saudi agents, “Do this outside. You’re going to get me in trouble.” Another tape contains one Saudi agent’s response, “Shut up if you want to live when you return to Saudi Arabia.”
American intelligence officials firmly believe that the killing was unlikely to take place without the knowledge and consent of the Saudi Kingdom’s most senior members. Although Haspel’s report broke the news to the U.S. president, it was not immediately clear how it would affect the Trump administration’s decision to punish Saudi Arabia. Trump has continually resisted ending weapon sales to the Middle Eastern heavyweight but has recently called the situation “the worst cover-up ever.” As a result, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicized that the visas of the alleged Saudi agents would be revoked.
In the weeks to come, pressure continues to grow on the oil rich Saudi Arabia. Questions surrounding free press, as well as diplomatic immunity, swell in the minds of political activists and eager citizens awaiting the truth.
BBC News. “Jamal Khashoggi: All you need to know about Saudi journalist’s death.” BBC World News, 31 October 2018.
DeYoung, Karen, El-Ghobashy, Tamar, and Fahim, Kareem. “CIA director briefs president on audio purportedly capturing the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.” Washington Post, 26 October 2018.
Hubbard, Ben and Kirkpatrick, David, D. “Saudi Arabia, in Reversal, Suggests Khashoggi’s Killing Was Premeditated.” New York Times, 25 October 2018.