Judging by the worldwide reaction to Saudi Arabia’s “explanation” for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the kingdom might as well have stuck to their original story.
The Saudis admitted yesterday that Khashoggi died in their Istanbul consulate following a disagreement and a “brawl.” The murder was then covered up by the perpetrators.
The Saudi government has fired five intelligence officials, including Deputy Chief of General Intelligence Ahmad bin Hassan Asiri and royal court advisor Abdullah Al-Qahtani. Eighteen other Saudi citizens have been arrested.
In a statement issued early Saturday morning in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, the Saudis claimed that some number of unnamed “suspects” had traveled to the consulate to meet with Khashoggi, “as there were indications of the possibility of his returning” to Saudi Arabia. The journalist, a frequent critic of Saudi government policy, had been living in self-imposed exile in Virginia.
“The discussions that took place . . . did not go as required and developed in a negative way,” the statement continued, leading to a “fight and a quarrel” and a “brawl” that led to Khashoggi’s death. The unnamed suspects then attempted “to conceal and cover what happened,” the Saudi government claimed, without elaborating.
The White House issued a statement:
The United States acknowledges the announcement from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that its investigation into the fate of Jamal Khashoggi is progressing and that it has taken action against the suspects it has identified thus far. We will continue to closely follow the international investigations into this tragic incident and advocate for justice that is timely, transparent, and in accordance with all due process. We are saddened to hear confirmation of Mr. Khashoggi’s death, and we offer our deepest condolences to his family, fiancée, and friends.
Donald Trump also indicated that he found the Saudi explanation credible and the arrests a “good first step.”
Needless to say, no one really believes that’s what happened to Khashoggi. U.S. intelligence has apparently been given access to a recording of Khashoggi’s torture and death. If there was a “brawl,” it was Khashoggi fighting for his life.
There has been bipartisan outrage over the Saudis lying about what happened, with calls all around for severe sanctions. Trump is still proceeding cautiously, unlike his most severe critics who are going off half-cocked, shooting from the hip, and trying to outdo one another in moral posturing. Don’t you wish they’d show similar feelings about Christians being murdered in the Middle East, or human rights activists being killed in Myanmar, or dissidents “disappearing” in Russia and China? The fact that Khashoggi was a journalist shouldn’t make the killing any more — or less — tragic, even if he did work as a high priest for one of the cathedrals of media: the Washington Post.
There is much more at stake here than the death of Jamal Khashoggi. It should give us pause that the only true beneficiaries of a public split between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are the Islamist dictatorship of Turkey and the terrorist state of Iran.