Contradicting itself yet again, Saudi Arabia on Thursday admitted that the plan to kill dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 was premeditated.
This latest narrative whiplash comes as reports surface that CIA Director Gina Haspel has heard the audio recording of Khashoggi being tortured and killed by the 15-member Saudi assassination team (which included a forensic expert packing a bone saw) earlier this week.
She is expected to brief President Donald Trump on the evidence presented to her by Turkish authorities on Thursday.
Saudi officials, though, pointed to Turkish intelligence as proof that the killing was premeditated, in an apparent attempt to still give Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS) cover.
The claim that Turkish intelligence knows more about Saudi operations — one that would include over a dozen men, two jets, and the commandeering of a consulate — than Saudi Arabia itself is a tough sell in a country that practices strict surveillance of its own citizens.
President Trump on Tuesday conceded that whoever was responsible for killing Khashoggi (he has said he believes MBS’s denial of knowing anything about the killer) had perpetrated the “worst cover-up ever.”
And it has been a doozy, with Saudi media trying to implicate random people — including an Al Jazeera reporter — in Khashoggi’s disappearance.
A timeline of lies
The Saudi story on Khashoggi has changed dramatically as the evidence — which includes the identities and movement of the team sent to kill Khashoggi — has been released by Turkish authorities:
October 4: Saudi officials claim that Khashoggi had just disappeared after walking out of the consulate, releasing the following statement: “The consulate confirmed that it is carrying out follow-up procedures and coordination with the Turkish local authorities to uncover the circumstances of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi after he left the consulate building.”
October 7: Saudi calls Turkish investigators’ claims that Khashoggi had been killed in the consulate “baseless.”
October 11: The kingdom claims that the team of 15 sent to kill Khashoggi were not actually a hit squad, but a group of “tourists falsely accused of killing Khashoggi” — tourists who flew to Turkey on two private chartered planes and left right after Khashoggi went missing.
October 13: Hoping that repetition would make the claims sound more convincing, Interior Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif repeats the official line, claiming that Saudi Arabia planned to kill Khashoggi are “lies and baseless allegations.”
October 20: This 15-man team, no longer claimed to be tourists, included several members inside MBS’s inner security circle, but they did not mean to kill Khashoggi. They meant to interrogate the journalist, who had written critically of the crown prince in the pages of The Washington Post. But, then, Khashoggi somehow got choked to death in a fist fight.
October 21: Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir tells Fox News: “The individuals who did this did this outside the scope of their authority.” He also calls the mission “a rogue operation,” which was the same thing President Trump said right after he spoke to MBS on Oct. 15.
October 25: Saudi finally admits that the intent was to kill Khashoggi all along. The operation was premeditated. Well, according to the Turks anyway, they claim.
The (minor) fallout
The highly dubious claim that MBS was in no way aware of the operation to corner Khashoggi in the consulate in order to kill him, dismember his body, and hide the remains, might be the only fig leaf left to justify U.S. weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
A bipartisan House bill introduced on Oct. 18 could stop the billions of dollars in sales to Saudi Arabia, with key members of the Senate supporting a freeze on the sale of Raytheon-manufactured precision-guided munitions kits.
Saudi Arabia has massive investments in the United States in various sectors — from energy to entertainment — and is currently reviewing bids from companies, including at least one from the United States, for the construction of nuclear reactors.
As of now, the only punitive measure mentioned by the U.S. has been placing visa bans on 21 unnamed Saudis suspected of involvement in Khashoggi’s killing.
While some investors have pulled out of the Gulf Arab kingdom’s stock market, the consensus among financial analysts is that that this is a short-term move, and that pragmatism — and Saudi money — will ultimately prevail.
The massive “Davos in the Desert” investment conference still managed to attract a large crowd this week, with some firms opting to send lower-profile people. Many of those attending realized that the optics were bad for them, and, according to a New York Times reporter covering the event, hid their name tags from view.
One American at the conference told the Independent, “Look it was a mistake — but China does this kind of thing all the time and yet they get praised … for being a huge infrastructure investor across the world.”
The European Parliament on Thursday approved a measure urging member states to stop selling Saudi Arabia weapons and surveillance technology.
Germany has already announced that it is suspending around $292 million in weapons sales to the country, which is heavily implicated in civilian deaths in Yemen’s civil war (19 more civilians were killed in a Saudi coalition airstrike on Wednesday) and forcing millions of Yemenis into “pre-famine” conditions.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is looking into legal means of cancelling weapons sales to Saudi Arabia — some $11.5 billion — without paying the roughly $800 million fine.