Saudis deny Khashoggi killing as evidence mounts
A protester in TurkeyWhat happened
President Trump defended Saudi Arabia this week against charges that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, saying he’ll await results of the Saudis’ own investigation. After speaking with Prince Mohammed and King Salman, Trump said that both men made “strong denials” of any involvement in Khashoggi’s assassination, and he suggested that “rogue killers” may have been involved. Turkish authorities say they have audiotapes proving that Khashoggi—a Saudi native and legal U.S. resident—was tortured, killed, and dismembered minutes after he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul two weeks ago. A team of 15 Saudi agents was allegedly waiting for him there, according to Turkish authorities. The Saudi assassins allegedly cut off Khashoggi’s fingers while he was alive and then beheaded him, with a forensics doctor dissecting the body with a bone saw.
The New York Times independently confirmed that at least nine of the 15 suspects identified by Turkish authorities worked for the Saudi government. Many of them have close ties to Prince Mohammed, who is the country’s de facto ruler. Trump, who has prioritized close ties with Saudi Arabia, said he hoped the investigation would prove that the royals were not involved. “We need Saudi Arabia,” Trump said. He said the charge that the Saudis murdered the journalist reminded him of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “Here we go again,’’ Trump said, “guilty until proven innocent.”
What the editorials said
“The Saudi cover-up” is crumbling, said The New York Times, but President Trump continues to buy into the kingdom’s “lame denials.” Trump’s excuse-making is all too familiar coming from a president who has lavished praise on authoritarians Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. If this ghastly crime goes unanswered, “the world’s growing gang of autocrats will feel even less constraint.”
“The U.S. cannot afford to lose Saudi Arabia as an ally,” said WashingtonExaminer.com. We need the Saudis to help contain our common enemy Iran, “which conducts far more deadly operations outside its borders on a routine basis.” But Americans shouldn’t “lightly accept, let alone defend, that their ally should engage in such vile crimes as this one.” Once all the facts are known, there needs to be concrete consequences for those involved in Khashoggi’s killing, such as sanctions on individuals who are responsible. Trump’s credibility is at stake if he accepts this monstrous behavior “with nothing more than a shrug.”
What the columnists said
“Why is Trump so willing to let the Saudis slide?” asked Matthew Yglesias in Vox.com. He now denies having any financial interests in Saudi Arabia, but the president has repeatedly boasted about his business dealings with the kingdom. “They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them?” he said in 2015. The Saudis have also poured money into his hotels. When the crown prince visited New York City in March, his vast entourage helped Trump International Hotel grow its revenue 13 percent after two years of declines. Sadly, Trump’s finances are still a mystery because a pliant Republican Congress lets him get away with it.
Congress isn’t giving the Saudis a free pass, said Matthew Continetti in FreeBeacon.com. A bipartisan group of senators is pushing for sanctions. But Congress should think carefully before doing anything rash, such as cutting off military aid. It would not benefit the U.S. “if Iran ends up gaining the most from the Khashoggi affair.” Look—the Saudis do lots of “awful and appalling” things, including beheading convicted criminals, said Sohrab Amari in CommentaryMagazine.com. Nevertheless, they’re vital allies in a region “full of enemies.” So our response “must be measured.”
Until now, Prince Mohammed has played the West “like a fiddle,” said Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. He has won “bipartisan cheers” from Washington, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street for symbolic reforms like allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the kingdom. Meanwhile, he’s bombed Yemeni weddings and school buses, imprisoned scores of dissidents and rivals, and even kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon while consolidating power. Saudi Arabia’s “mad prince” doesn’t belong at celebratory state dinners. He “belongs in a prison cell.”
Cover Illustration by Howard McWilliam ■