The New York Times is reporting that the Turkish government told them they have an audio recording that proves the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi occurred in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and that the victim was beheaded and his body cut into pieces.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the leaked information about the existence of an audio recording of the murder occurred on the same day that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Turkey for talks on the burgeoning regional crisis relating to Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.
Some of the details of the audio recording related to the Times reporters seem designed to elicit maximum revulsion:
After he was shown into the office of the Saudi consul, Mohammad al-Otaibi, the agents seized Mr. Khashoggi almost immediately and began to beat and torture him, eventually cutting off his fingers, the senior Turkish official said.
“Do this outside. You will put me in trouble,” Mr. al-Otaibi told them, according to the Turkish official and a report in the Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, both citing audio recordings said to have been obtained by Turkish intelligence.
“If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up,” one of the agents replied, according to both the official and the newspaper.
As they cut off Mr. Khashoggi’s head and dismembered his body, a doctor of forensics who had been brought along for the dissection and disposal had some advice for the others, according to the senior Turkish official.
Listen to music, he told them, as he put on headphones himself. That was what he did to ease the tension when doing such work, the official said, describing the contents of the audio recording.
Trump could have been more circumspect in his comments on the controversy but his instincts, as Roger Simon notes, are good. To uncritically believe that this audio recording even exists and that it contains what the Turkish government says it contains would be to give in to the anti-Saudi hysteria in the media, which, you may have noticed, has now morphed into anti-Trump hysteria.
Many newspaper headlines and cable news stories today led off with the charge that Trump personally benefits from Saudi money and has been reluctant to criticize Prince Salman because of it.
A few ripe examples:
Bloomberg: “Trump and Kushner Put Saudi’s Money First”
Washington Post: “Saudi Arabia is putting money in Trump’s pocket. Is that shaping U.S. policy?”
The Hill: “$100M in Saudi money lands in US accounts as Pompeo landed in Riyadh: report”
The stakes for Turkey in driving a wedge between the Saudis and their number one benefactor are enormous. Erdogan has made no secret of his desire to reestablish the Ottoman Empire to some degree and, quite simply, Saudi Arabia is standing in his way.
This doesn’t mean that the Saudis did not murder Khashoggi. Simple common sense demands that we don’t take anything on faith from the Turkish government when so much is at stake for them and the U.S.
Trump, often accused of shooting from the hip on foreign policy, appears to be the reasonable one while his critics appear ready to convict the Saudis based on almost no evidence at all.
Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that the United States had asked for copies of any audio or video evidence of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing that Turkish authorities may possess — “if it exists.”
“I just want to find out what’s happening,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
“I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, possibly does,” he said, adding: “I’ll have a full report on that” when Mr. Pompeo returns late Wednesday or early Thursday. “That’s going to be the first question I ask.”
Asked about his own statements questioning Saudi responsibility for the killing, Mr. Trump said, “I’m not giving cover at all.”
That’s not good enough for his critics, but then, is anything ever good enough for them?