Home/Daniel Larison/The Saudi Government Has No Credibility

The Saudi Government Has No Credibility

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (U.S. Department of State)

CNN reports that the Saudi government will acknowledge that Khashoggi was killed in the consulate during “interrogation” (i.e., torture):

The Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge that Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey, according to two sources.

One source says the report will likely conclude that the operation was carried out without clearance and transparency and that those involved will be held responsible.

Two weeks ago, this might have seemed like a plausible explanation, but based on what we have learned since the murder there are very good reasons to doubt that this is really what happened. The Saudis have taken all this time to concoct their cover story, but it doesn’t line up with the evidence that Turkish police and media have already put together. If the killing was an accident and the plan was to abduct Khashoggi rather than kill him, that doesn’t explain the presence of the forensics expert who was apparently called in to dismember the body. The Postreported on his involvement in the crime last week:

One of the first people to identify Tubaigy as a Saudi forensics expert this week was Qutaiba Idlbi, a Syrian entrepreneur who says he has consulted with the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command on counterterrorism projects in recent years.

Idlbi, who was born in Saudi Arabia and who now lives in Washington, D.C., said he was an acquaintance of Khashoggi’s and started posting to Twitter pictures he found of the 15 — some in Saudi military garb and brandishing weapons — in hopes of helping to pressure Saudi Arabia to release Khashoggi.

Idlbi said that what he began to find, however, quickly made him lose hope that Khashoggi might still be alive. “It really hit me with Tubaigy, he’s literally the guy who is sent in to deal with the bodies,” said Idlbi [bold mine-DL].

Reports in Turkish media make it clear that Tubaigy had already been called to Istanbul almost as soon as Khashoggi entered the building:

The Sabah report suggested that Tubaigy departed for Istanbul from Riyadh on a Gulfstream jet that, according to flight records reviewed by The Post, left just nine minutes after Khashoggi entered the country’s diplomatic compound in Turkey [bold mine-DL].

There would be no need to bring in someone like this unless the intention from the start was to kill Khashoggi and make the evidence disappear.

Saudi officials, the crown prince, and the king have denied any involvement in or knowledge of Khashoggi’s death, and for the last two weeks they have absurdly maintained that he left of his own accord. They have repeated those lies at the highest levels to our government and the entire world. Now they are spinning another version of events that doesn’t add up. If the Saudi government was willing to lie so blatantly for weeks about their responsibility for the murder, why should anyone believe what they say about the circumstances of the murder? It strains credulity that so many well-connected members of the Saudi security services were acting without orders from the crown prince, and so we have to dismiss this as another lie designed to cover for Mohammed bin Salman. The Trump administration and the Turkish government may end up going along with this lie, but they will be wrong to do so.

The belated Saudi admission that they killed Jamal Khashoggi doesn’t change very much. The Saudi government murdered a prominent critic inside a diplomatic mission in another country. They can claim that it was accident, but they were still at a minimum engaged in the torture and abduction of a peaceful and relatively mild critic. Whether they are blowing up school buses full of Yemeni kids or murdering their own citizens, we know that the Saudi government never tells the truth about its crimes and only admits to part of what they have done after coming under intense scrutiny. It is important that media outlets and Saudi Arabia’s Western patrons keep up the pressure that has started to build over the last two weeks. There should still be serious consequences for the Saudi government, beginning with a halt of all arms sales and the end of all military assistance to the Saudi coalition in Yemen, and the crown prince himself should be held accountable for this murder and the numerous war crimes committed by the forces under his command.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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