With Khashoggi Brought Back to Discussion, Could Saudi Arabia Face Further Trouble?

This Wednesday, October 2, marks the one-year anniversary of the atrocious killing of Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul. And even as the privileged Saudi Arabia faces UN investigations into human rights abuses and accusations of war crimes in Yemen, it is still unclear whether Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman will ever be formally held accountable for what he and his government stand accused of.

Yet, in a documentary that will broadcast on Tuesday, October 1, Bin Salman says he bears all responsibility of the murder. “I get all the responsibility because it happened under my watch,” he said, according to a trailer released on Tuesday, September 26. The Crown Prince nevertheless denied having had any prior knowledge of the incident.

When asked how such an elaborate operation could take place without his knowledge, Bin Salman said he could not stay apprised of everything that happens in his country – supposedly, not even of the use of government jets in which the hit team had travelled from Riyadh to Istanbul.

To Hatice Cengiz, Jamal Khashoggi’s ex-fiancée, who was present in a Columbia University panel (“The Khashoggi Case: Silence is Not an Option,”) in New York on Friday, September 27, Mohammed Bin Salman’s admitting guilt while denying prior knowledge of the murder is a subterfuge.

“Right before the anniversary of Jamal’s killing, to ease the pressure exerted by international media, he employed this political tactic,” Cengiz said.

The interview in the documentary, Frontline, dates back from December 2018.

Agnès Callamard, who also attended the Columbia University panel on Friday, published a report on the Khashoggi case at the UN Human Rights Council in June. “Very quickly, the key findings were that Khashoggi had been the victim of a premeditated and organized execution,” she said.

Callamard, who is the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, added, “It was an extrajudicial execution to the extent that the State of Saudi Arabia was responsible for it, and not rogue elements as they tried to pretend.”

Saudi Arabia still refuses to disclose the names of the 11 suspects it had allegedly put on trial in relation to the Khashoggi killing, 5 of whom are facing death penalties. The court proceedings are still taking place in complete secrecy, and the few foreign diplomats and officials who Saudi Arabia said have attended the court were sworn to silence.

Agnès Callamard obtained a list from government sources that included the names of former Saudi officials among the 11 defendants, like Maher Mutreb, an intelligence official, Saher al-Tubaigy, an autopsy specialist accused of dismembering the body of Khashoggi, and Ahmed al-Assiri, the former deputy chief of the Saudi intelligence agency.

Saud al-Qahtani, though, remains out of the proceedings, she said. Al-Qahtani, a former major aide to the Crown Prince, was reported to have overseen the killing of Khashoggi, and appears in other reports of torturing dissidents in detention.

Lina al-Hathloul, who also spoke on the panel, said her sister, Loujain, had explicitly told her family that she was being tortured in detention while al-Qahtani supervised the torturing. Loujain was arrested on numerous occasions in Saudi Arabia – and kidnapped by Saudi agents in the Arab United Emirates – over her women’s rights activism, notably on fighting for the right to drive for women in Saudi Arabia.

Even though the driving ban was lifted in late June, Loujain al-Hathloul is still awaiting trial – in solitary confinement, according to her sister.

Besides all these alarming prospects, moreover, Bin Salman’s other violation has been the butcherly war taking place in Yemen since 2015, where Saudi Arabia leads a coalition with the support of Western countries to fight the Houthi rebels.

With prospects of peace out of sight, the war has caused the deaths of thousands of Yemenis so far and exposed millions of others to the risk of starvation.

On Thursday, September 26, Saudi Arabia attempted to halt UN investigations into human rights abuses in Yemen, but members in the UN Human Rights Council voted 22 to 12 to reject the kingdom’s effort in a meeting in Geneva. Saudi ambassador Abdulaziz Alwasil reacted by accusing the UN experts of seeking to legitimize the Houthi rebellion, saying their findings were “full of lies”.

Earlier in September, UN investigators had also published a report saying Saudi Arabia, along with some of its allies, may be complicit in war crimes in Yemen, as it also established a list of 160 military officers and politicians who could face the same charges.

The United Nations has called the war “the planet’s worst humanitarian crisis”, but Saudi Arabia remains a foothold for the United States and other Western countries in countering the Iranian threats and rejoices in their alliances, as it turns a deaf ear to its accusers.

“This is a country that has the potential to buy its way to many corners – economic, cultural, religious… It’s everywhere due to its financial might,” added Callamard.