Last week Wednesday marked one year since Saudi born journalist and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Istanbul, Turkey. The assassination was not only a blow to democracy in the Middle East, but also a revelation of the danger faced by journalists. But one year down the line Khashoggi is yet to receive justice. This was the cry of his fiancée last week at an event to mark his first anniversary when she said, ”I want to know what happened to his body. I want his friends to be released from jail. I want to know that those in power are held accountable for their actions.”
The 59-year-old Khashoggi who was a well-known critique of Saudi monarchs antidemocratic policies, was assassinated in Turkey on October 2, 2018, where he had gone to plan his wedding with his Turkish born fiancée, Hatice Cengiz. It all began on Sept 28, 2018, when the two went to a marriage office in Istanbul to get permission for their wedding. But since Khashoggi had been married before, the registrar asked them to obtain documents from Saudi government showing that he was divorced. In compliance, Khashoggi and his fiancée visited the Saudi Consulate Instanbul to obtain the documents which were necessary before any wedding could be conducted. However, the visit presented the Saudi murder squad with an opportunity to plan on how to liquidate him.
Khashoggi entered the consulate at around 11:50 am after leaving all his phones with his fiancée who remained outside. He came out 45 minutes later excited and informed his fiancée how the officials had been so friendly to him. But according to secret tapes released by Turkish intelligence officials who had bugged the building, as soon as Khashoggi stepped out, calls were made to Riyadh during which Khashoggi was referred to as one of the persons “that was being sought .”
Nevertheless, a few days later Khashoggi returned to the consulate to collect the paperwork after he received a phone call. As he made his way into the consulate at around 13:15, his fiancée who had accompanied him decided to walk to a nearby supermarket where she bought chocolate and water to help her pass time as she waited for him. But by 4 p.m, almost three hours later, her patience began to run out. Upon inquiring from the consulate she was told Khashoggi had already left and there was nobody in the building.
It later turned out that he had been murdered and his body dismembered inside the consulate by the assassin squad which had been flown in discreetly from Saudi Arabia. The squad included Dr Salah Mohammed Tubaigy, a forensic doctor with the Saudi Ministry of Interior, Mr Mahrer Abdulaziz Mutreb an Intelligence Officer who had previously worked in London, and Khalid Aedh Alotaibi a close aide of Saudi Crown Prince. The disappearance of Khashoggi made headlines all over the world. The Saudi government responded by professing to be as perplexed and worried as the rest of the world.
After United Nations became reluctant to conduct investigations Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing decided to use her mandate to carry out her investigations. She presented her findings in a 100-page report which she released in June this year. Her reconstruction of the events that transpired inside the consulate were largely based on the forensic work conducted by Turkey, and information she obtained from suspects who are under trial in Saudi Arabia.
According to the tapes she obtained after pleading with the Turkish intelligence for close to one week, at around 13:02, just minutes before Khashoggi entered the consulate, Mr Mutreb and Dr Tubaigy were heard having a conversation. Mutreb asked, “whether it will be possible to put the trunk in a bag?” Dr Tubaigy replied “No too heavy”. He went on to explain that it would be easy.
“Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.” Towards the end of the conversation, Mutreb in reference to Khashoggi asked whether the sacrificial lamb animal” had arrived.
Before Khashoggi entered the consulate at around 13:15, he left all his phones with his fiancée Ms. Cengiz. Once inside, he was ushered in the Consul-General’s office where he was asked whether he would be returning to Saudi Arabia, to which he replied that he would in future. “We will have to take you back. There’s an order from Interpol.” Khashoggi replied that there wasn’t a case against him. A struggle ensued minutes later during which it was suspected that Khashoggi was injected with a sedative and then suffocated using a plastic bag. His body was then dismembered by Dr Tubaigy whose main task was to get rid of the evidence. At around 15.00 CCTV cameras captured two vehicles which were believed to be carrying the dismembered body of Khashoggi for disposal.
Following international pressure, Saudi Arabia arrested those alleged to have been involved and put them on trial. However, in her report, the UN special rapporteur mentioned Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman as those who should be investigated by a proper authority to determine their criminality.”The only conclusion made is that there is credible evidence meeting further investigation, ” she said. The CIA, on the other hand, was very direct in their report by stating that the Saudi Crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder.
The Crown Prince who is also known as MBS has always denied his involvement and knowledge of prior plans to assassinate Khashoggi. But last week in his first interview with western media since the murder, he said that he takes all the responsibility for the assassination since it happened under his watch. “When a crime is committed against a Saudi citizen by officials, working for the Saudi government, as a leader I must take responsibility,” he told PBS. In other words, he is merely taking responsibility not because he was involved, but because those involved were citizens of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia of which he is a leader.
But in an article published in the Washington Post two days ago, Agnes Callamard, the UN rapporteur on extrajudicial killings dismissed the Prince’s remarks saying ,” In fact, my investigation established credible evidence of a far closer relationship between those who performed the killing and the crown prince — far closer than he has admitted. The evidence shows that the operation that killed Khashoggi involved state planning, resources and assets.”
Instead, Callamard demanded that “a public acknowledgement of full responsibility should be issued to the people of Saudi Arabia. A formal state apology must be given to Khashoggi’s family and his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.” She also called for the circumstances and institutions that enabled the execution of Khashoggi to be thoroughly and impartially assessed transparently.
But despite all the evidence including a report from the CIA pointing at the Crown Prince as the main culprit, Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic and business relationship with the rest of the world have remained unchanged. Some leaders have continued to embrace the prince simply for the sake of their business interests. In June this year, US President Donald Trump praised the prince for doing a “spectacular job” when the two met at the G20 summit in Osaka Japan. He went on to highlight to the prince and his delegation the importance of Saudi Arabia as one the biggest purchasers of US products and military equipment.
Khashoggi’s fiancée recently expressed her disappointment at this saying “A year later the first thing that comes to my mind is shame, an immense disappointment that the systems of the world are built on economic interests rather than ethical values.”And as Ian Bremmer of the Time wrote, “The Saudis just don’t care. And neither do most governments and businesses dealing with the Kingdom.” He, however, noted that “while Saudi Arabia’s government relationships and business interests have remained largely intact over the last year, the country’s reputation—and the reputation of MBS, once vaunted as a new kind of Middle East leader, has taken a hit.”
It is only by doing justice to Khashoggi and his family that the already tattered reputation can stand the unlikely chance of being salvaged. But as the west continues to handle Saudi Arabia with baby gloves, one should expect a continuation of brutality against the pro-democracy voices. In May this year, the CIA sent warnings to Khashoggi’s associates and friends that they were likely to be targeted by Saudi Arabia. It seems the American spy agency is trying to take precaution after it was criticised for failing to warn Khashoggi despite having confidential information that Crown Prince had ordered his capture.
As Khashoggi’s fiancée recently said in a heartfelt tribute published in the Time, “Jamal only wanted to practice journalism. He acted as a journalist should. But in the minds of those who only saw journalists as spies giving intelligence to the public, he was extremely dangerous. They tried to silence Jamal forever. But instead he has become the symbol of our collective moral conscience, the voice for the voiceless in the Middle East.”