Trump says he doesn’t intend to do anything about it as the top members of the Saudi royal family aren’t implicated directly in the murder. But the House of Saud is directly implicated and the evidence is scattered everywhere:
– Khashoggi went missing on October 2 at the Saudi consulate. Turkish media say their officials have recordings of him being murdered by Saudi agents inside the consulate. The audio recording shows Khashoggi was dismembered while he was still alive. The Saudi General Consul to Turkey is heard telling the torturers to kill the journalist ‘outside’ because he didn’t want to get into trouble.
– Turkish and Arab media quote Ankara officials as saying that Khashoggi was carved up with a bone saw in a horrifying seven-minute execution. He was tortured to death, dismembered and smuggled out of the consulate in an execution supervised by autopsy specialist Salah Muhammad al-Tubaiqi. The Saudi “Dr Death” was seen in Istanbul and an agent with a bone-cutter tool was part of the 15-strong kill team. Mohammad al-Otaibi, the Saudi Consul, left Turkey just hours before Turkish investigators entered the consul after two weeks.
– Trump cannot throw the evidence under the bus, because the audio does exist. Turkish officials have handed over the audio recording to the US government. Turkey provided the recordings to the US days ago, and has reiterated that the US already has copies of the audio in question.
– Saudi Arabia seems to be preparing to raise either a “rogue killers” or a “botched interrogation” claim to distance Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman from the devastating repercussions of this killing blunder. Given how many of the killers are part of the prince’s personal security team, no one seems to be buying such claims. MBS was never in the dark about it, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the Saudis still have more days to finalize their report.
– Several of those named by Turkish officials as suspects are closely linked to the crown prince. These include a suspect who was a constant traveling companion for the prince, seen exiting planes with him in Paris and Madrid, and seen with him during multiple visits to the US, including this year’s visit to the UN. Others on the list are known members of the crown prince’s security detail, some with top positions in the Saudi Interior Ministry. Their involvement virtually does assure royal family direction of the Istanbul operation.
– The top American diplomat Mike Pompeo appears visibly satisfied with his mission to Riyadh, dubbing it “incredibly successful.” Which means the Trump administration is giving Saudi leaders a way out. US lawmakers and senators first threatened the mobster regime with “severe punishment” if it was found culpable. But they have all since softened the rhetoric, coming out strongly against halting arms sales to the Saudis and emphasizing the denials of MBS, who claims not to know what happened.
– Washington’s attitude has left the international civil society cringing. A US-backed, Saudi investigation isn’t credible. The UN chief has also called for a probe, but the world body should launch an independent international probe and not accept Trump/Pompeo inclination to give Saudis a pass. They are seeking to provide cover to Saudi leaders and clean up the mess, claiming that “rogue killers” may have been behind the torture-murder of the Washington Post columnist.
– Saudi Arabia has promised Washington that the culprits would be held accountable. But Trump holds he is “not at all,” giving the oil-rich ally a much-needed cover. Why? Because he prefers to preserve the relationship and avoid Saudi retaliation, which might include oil production cut and arms sale cancellation to the tune of $110 billion.
Of course, this is not how the rest of the world community has reacted to the journalist’s murder. In a statement, foreign ministers from the G7 group of leading economies have said, “We remain very troubled by the disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account.”
It does point to the declining influence of the United States on the world stage. And it is not hard to see that what Trump has said so far about the Khashoggi affair will only accelerate the diminishing power of the US in the Middle East as well.
American influence in the Middle East – especially over helping Saudi Arabia to invade Yemen – was already waning before Khashoggi’s murder. The Saudis took Trump’s election as an opportunity to push the US for a harder line on Iran. Together with Israel, they forced Trump to void the 2015 nuclear deal and do more to target Iran and other members of the Resistance Front including Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Saudis also armed themselves with more modern weapons systems to attack Yemen and weaponize terror proxies in the region.
This has only worsened the rickety ties between Washington and the European Union countries. The EU, China, Russia and the rest of the world community still support the Iran nuclear deal, and some have even halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia over its atrocities in Yemen. As is often the case, Trump’s “America First” foreign policy is not working, and his refusal to impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia will only isolate Washington further.
That terrible things happened in the torture chamber of Saudi consulate in Istanbul has never been in doubt. The reported graphic brutality of the torture, dismemberment, and killing of Khashoggi is a game changer. The Trump administration is free not to sanction and chastise Riyadh. But this double standard policy risks pushing US influence in the world further to the margins. Trump should ask himself as to whether this kind of personal diplomacy is really working and worthwhile.