PARIS—There is no longer any question that the Saudi government was behind the savage murder of dissident journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. A meticulous report from the United Nations on Wednesday made that absolutely clear, once again.
The details are grisly, transcribed from bugged conversations in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was murdered and chopped up for disposal on Oct. 2.
Minutes before the journalist arrived to pick up papers for a civil marriage, Dr. Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, a forensic scientist with the Saudi interior ministry, is heard explaining to the head of the hit team how they’ll get rid of the heavy-set Khashoggi, referred to as “the sacrificial animal.”
“Joints will be separated. It is not a problem,” says the doctor. “If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.”
But there was nothing in the U.N. report that Donald Trump did not know long ago from U.S. intelligence agencies that had access to the same recordings and transcripts. And it’s clear Trump won’t do a damn thing about it beyond some toothless sanctions against a handful of alleged Saudi murderers not including the allegedly complicit Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Trump, who made his first trip abroad as president to Saudi Arabia, where he was feted, flattered, and promised billions in defense contracts, has not wanted to give up the money. Neither does he want to sacrifice the long-term lucrative relationship with MBS, as the crown prince is known, that’s been carefully nurtured by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The 15-man hit team that killed Khashoggi was made up of members of the Saudi royal guard, intelligence services, and staff from the office of MBS and his closest adviser. So Trump did what he usually does when faced with inconvenient facts: He acted as if they were unknowable. He declared in November that “it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event—maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”
The CIA concluded with “medium to high confidence” that MBS “personally targeted” Khashoggi and “probably ordered his death,” according to excerpts of its findings reported in The Wall Street Journal. Trump took that to mean “they did not come to a conclusion” about MBS’ involvement, adding that “they have feelings certain ways, but they didn’t—I have the report.”
Well, it’s time that all of us had that report as well as thousands of other U.S. government documents related to the case, and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits brought by the George Soros-funded Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), among others, that day may be approaching. The findings of United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard should provide added impetus to their cases.
“The report stands in stark contrast to the coverup by the Trump administration,” says the OSJI’s Amrit Singh. “The report underscores just how important it is for the CIA and the departments of state and defense to publicly disclose records related to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.”
“It is shameful,” she said, “that governments have chosen to prioritize money and arms sales over holding the Saudi government accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”
For months after the Freedom of Information Act requests were filed, all the U.S. government agencies involved simply stonewalled. Under law, they should have given an initial response in 10 days, or at most 20, but not until the OSIJ went to court in April did Federal Judge Paul Engelmayer light a fire under them.
“The public interest in compliance with FOIA is [at its] apex in a situation where you have top-of-the-front page, pressing, current news,” he told the government attorneys.
Since a second hearing on June 4, the processing of thousands of documents has sped up further, with set dates for the first production of actual documents on June 26 (National Security Agency), June 28, and July 12 (CIA and the Office of the Director for National Intelligence) and June 30 for the State Department, the Department of Justice, and the Defense Department.
Will some of the most important material be blacked out? Will many of the documents be irrelevant? Of course. But the process, which could last all summer, will take us at least a little closer to the truth—not about the murder, where the facts are pretty clear—but about Donald Trump’s desperation to defend the mastermind behind it.