Saudi Arabia’s reputation was further marred on Thursday after the publication of incriminating official and media reports placing the responsibility for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi squarely on the Gulf Arab kingdom and its young ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
A U.N. report found that Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, “was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia,” said Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, speaking to reporters in Geneva.
A New York Times piece published later in the day included details on intercepted messages from the year before the murder between the crown prince, known as MBS, and a top aid, saying he would used “a bullet” to kill Khashoggi if he refused to return to Saudi Arabia and stop criticizing him for his crackdowns in the country.
Khashoggi, a vocal critic of MBS, was a columnist for The Washington Post and a Virginia resident. After his murder, Saudi Arabia engaged in a dizzying campaign of denials, falsehoods and obfuscations.
Despite mounting evidence provided by Turkish investigators — and indeed, U.S. intelligence agencies — President Donald Trump refused to accept that MBS had anything to do with Khashoggi’s death.
In an effort to change the narrative, Saudi Arabia commissioned its own report from Kroll Inc., a New York-based risk consulting firm, which totally exonerated the crown prince and the Saudi State from any responsibility.
Its findings were reported in the Wall Street Journal, but neither the New York Times story nor the Wall Street Journal piece were being widely distributed in Saudi Arabia, with only a few nationalist accounts on Twitter discussing the findings of the Kroll report.
A Saudi analyst speaking to ThinkProgress on condition of anonymity (due to the need to travel and work in the country) said that there appeared to be a media blackout on the subject in general, and that responses to the conflicting reports were largely muted.
“The release of the Kroll report suggests that people running the show in Saudi are not really taking the pressure from the U.S. all that seriously,” said the analyst, adding, “It’s just a game of public perceptions and they need to cast some doubt on the CIA assessment.”
The Trump administration — despite increasing objections in Congress — continues to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and support its participation in the war in Yemen, which has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths, the starvation of at least 85,000 children, and several deadly cholera outbreaks.