A special U.N. investigator on Wednesday called for an investigation of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, highlighting egregious details of the dissident journalist’s brutal killing that the Trump administration has overlooked.
In a 101-page report into the October 2, 2018 killing of Khashoggi, UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard said there is “credible evidence” warranting an investigation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other high level Saudi officials. She concluded that Khashoggi’s death was an “extrajudicial killing for which the State of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”
Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post and a U.S. permanent resident with three U.S. citizen children, was murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, while his fiancee was waiting for him outside. Khashoggi was a vocal critic of bin Salman, who is also known by his initials MBS.
“There is little doubt in my mind that the killing was premeditated,” Callamard told Al Jazeera after the report was released. “It was planned.”
The report includes grisly details of Khashoggi’s murder, including citations from an audio recording device inside the consulate before Khashoggi entered.
In the audio, a close aide to bin Salman, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, asks whether it will “be possible to put the trunk in a bag?”
Another member of the Saudi team, Dr. Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, said, “No. Too heavy,” before expressing hope that killing Khashoggi would “be easy.”
“Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them,” he added.
The report notes the investigations conducted by both Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the days after Khashoggi’s death did not meet international standards, as Saudi Arabia failed to give the special rapporteur information regarding evidence it collected in its own investigation or give Turkey proper access to its consulate.
Saudi Arabia has put 11 unidentified people on trial behind closed doors for Khashoggi’s death, but Callamard called for the trial to be suspended, saying it “fails to meet procedural and substantive standards.”
The Trump administration has not yet commented publicly on the report, and in the past, has defended Washington’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia, even as reports pointed to the crown prince’s role in Khashoggi’s murder.
In November, the CIA also concluded that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s execution. One U.S. official familiar with the assessment told The Washington Post “there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved.”
Even after the CIA assessment however, President Donald Trump did not blame MBS. In a strange November 2018 statement filled with exclamation marks and beginning with “America First!,” Trump blamed Iran for many of Saudi Arabia’s actions in the region and defended Riyadh through an overestimation of how much the country actually purchases in U.S. arms.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” the president said in the statement, four days after the CIA report concluded with high confidence that bin Salman was, in fact, responsible.
Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told members of Congress that Trump will use an obscure emergency provision in federal law to sell $8 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The emergency declaration will likely be based on what he calls the growing threat Iran poses to U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Reuters also reported Tuesday that Pompeo dismissed experts’ findings and blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a U.S. list of countries that recruit child soldiers. State Department experts had recommended adding Saudi Arabia to the list, which has not yet been released, following reports that the kingdom hired child fighters from Sudan to fight for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
Meanwhile, Jared Kushner — Trump’s senior adviser, son-in-law, and the man tasked with drafting a Middle East peace plan — has had private, informal conversations on WhatsApp with MBS, even after Khashoggi’s death.
Though Callamard said there is insufficient evidence to determine whether the United States knew of the threat to Khashoggi beforehand, she did note that states where dissidents find residency “are under an obligation to respect their human rights, and protect them against violence by the States of the countries they escaped from.”
Shortly after Khashoggi’s death, The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence intercepts of Saudi officials’ communication revealed MBS ordered an operation to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from Virginia and detain him.
In the report released Wednesday, Callamard warned that there has been a lot of emphasis on who ordered Khashoggi’s death, but “the search for justice and accountability is not singularly dependent on finding a smoking gun and the person holding it.”
While she doesn’t ultimately accuse MBS of being guilty of anything — since the point of the report was to determine whether there should be further investigation — she notes:
At a bare minimum, Crown Prince condoned this behavior and allowed the repetition and escalation of these crimes. He took no action to prevent or punish those responsible. The Crown Prince willingly took the risk that other crimes, such as the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, would be committed, whether or not he directly ordered the specific crime.
The report is yet another reminder that the Trump administration’s foreign policy towards Saudi Arabia is not based on concern for human rights in the region. Many Saudi women activists who pushed for the right to drive remain behind bars. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition continues to bomb Yemen, often with warplanes and weapons made in America.