Khashoggi fallout
June 19, 2019

In a long-awaited 101-page report released Wednesday morning, an independent United Nations human rights investigator said Saudi Arabia is legally responsible for the "deliberate, premeditated execution" of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khasoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. The investigator, Agnes Callamard, said her investigation, hampered by a lack of cooperation and likely obstruction by the Saudi government, found no "smoking gun" linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the "extrajudicial killing," but she found enough "credible evidence" to warrant "further investigation by a proper authority" outside Saudi Arabia.

"Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr. Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources, and finances," Callamard wrote. "While the Saudi government claims that these resources were put in place by [then–deputy head of intelligence] Ahmed Asiri, every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the crown prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched."

The CIA has concluded that Salman likely ordered Khashoggi's murder, but President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said the U.S. is still determining responsibility, also arguing that one bad incident isn't sufficient to derail the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Callamard also gave a detailed, minute-by-minute breakdown of Khashoggi's murder, from two Saudi agents discussing dismembering him before he entered the consulate to get marriage papers to the Saudi ruse that he was being taken to back Saudi Arabia, an aborted text message to his son, his sedation and suffocation with a plastic bag, and his dismemberment with a buzzsaw. His body has never been recovered. Peter Weber

February 22, 2019

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appears to be the only person arguing that the White House has complied with congressional demands that President Trump submit a report determining who is responsible for the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October. Last November, Risch's predecessor, former Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and ranking Democrat Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.) had triggered the Global Magnitsky Act, giving Trump four months to report back.

Two weeks ago, when the 120-day deadline lapsed, the White House informed the Senate that Trump "maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate," which most senators took to mean Trump was violating the Magnitsky Act. But Risch has been telling his Republican committee colleagues that Trump has, in fact, complied with the law, Politico reports. A majority of senators, after getting a classified briefing on Khasoggi's murder, believe that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was at least complicit in the killing.

In effort to quell open GOP revolt on his committee, Risch sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo a letter requesting a classified briefing on the administration's efforts to hold the Saudi government accountable. All but two committee Republicans — Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah) and Rand Paul (Ky.) — signed the letter, Politico reports, and Democrats declined to sign it after Risch rejected their insertion of a line about how the White House "is not in compliance" with the law, "which is of grave concern to members of this committee." Peter Weber

January 2, 2019

Apparently some theocratic Arabian monarchies just can't take a joke. On Wednesday, Netflix confirmed that it had pulled the second episode of Daily Show alumnus Hasan Minhaj's new topical comedy show, Patriot Act, from its streaming service in Saudi Arabia following complaints from the kingdom's Communications and Information Technology Commission. "We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law," Netflix said in a statement. The law in question is, curiously, Saudi Arabia's cyber-crime statute.

In the episode, Minhaj criticizes Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He also characterized MBS as autocratic and slammed his war in Yemen. "Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia," he said. "And I mean that as a Muslim and as an American." You can still watch the episode, first released in October, on Netflix in the U.S. and apparently on YouTube in Saudi Arabia. There is some NSFW language, but you can try to figure out which part the Saudis found so offensive in the barred segment (and its December update) below. Peter Weber

November 28, 2018

Defense Secretary James Mattis is defending the Trump administration's response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as questions continue to swirl about the CIA's conclusions.

Mattis told reporters Wednesday that there is "no smoking gun" implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of the Washington Post columnist last month, saying that he has personally reviewed the intelligence that has been collected. But The New York Times reports that the CIA has concluded bin Salman did, in fact, order the killing. CNN backs this up, reporting that the CIA has "assessed with high confidence that the prince directed Khashoggi's murder." When asked if this was correct, Mattis would not answer, simply telling reporters, "There you need to go to the CIA."

President Trump himself has claimed that the CIA "did not come to a conclusion" and they just "have feelings certain ways," reports the Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also defended the administration's response to the murder in a closed door meeting with senators about Yemen on Wednesday, telling lawmakers that there is "no direct reporting" implicating the crown prince, per CNN. CIA Director Gina Haspel did not participate in the meeting, which Pompeo reportedly said was a decision made by the White House, although a CIA spokesperson denies anyone told her not to attend. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was not happy about this, saying the meeting was "inadequate" because the CIA did not participate. Watch Mattis' comments below. Brendan Morrow

November 27, 2018

National Security Adviser John Bolton on Tuesday dismissed the idea that he should listen to the tape of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

When asked if he has listened to audio of Khashoggi being killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Bolton said he hasn't, and he doesn't see why that's necessary. "I guess I should ask you, why do you think I should?" Bolton shot back to the reporter at a press briefing. "What do you think I'll learn from it?" Bolton said the reason he hasn't listened to it is that he doesn't speak Arabic. When a reporter suggested he could listen to it and make use of an interpreter, he said, "Well, then I can read a transcript."

Bolton later said that he has been informed about the "substance of what's in" the tape. CNN's April Ryan in a follow-up suggested that if he listened to the audio recording, he could "hear the emotion, and a translator could help you understand what happened," but Bolton said he is "very satisfied that we know what the tape picked up." President Trump previously said that he did not want to listen to the tape of the murder because it is a "suffering tape." The Trump administration is currently sticking by Saudi Arabia and claiming there's no evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder, a position White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained, saying there has been no "definitive evidence" from the intelligence community. Watch Bolton's comments below. Brendan Morrow

November 19, 2018

During an interview with Fox News that aired Sunday night, President Trump said he will not listen to the tape recording of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist living in the United States, was killed last month inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The Turkish government has supplied the audio, Trump told Chris Wallace, adding that listening to it won't change how he decides to respond. It's a "suffering tape, it's a terrible tape," Trump said. "I've been fully briefed on it, there's no reason for me to hear it. I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it."

U.S. intelligence has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, which he denies. Khashoggi had been critical of the Saudi government, but also supported some of its policies. Trump told reporters on Saturday that a full report will be published by Tuesday, including the answer to "who did it." On Fox News, Trump said Saudi Arabia is "an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good." Catherine Garcia

November 15, 2018

The United States is considering extraditing one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political enemies in an attempt to get Turkey to "ease pressure" on Saudi Arabia, NBC News reported Thursday.

The Trump administration has been examining ways to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in Pennsylvania with a green card for almost two decades, the report says. This effort is reportedly directly tied to the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkey says was murdered by Saudi government operatives in Istanbul. NBC News reports that Gulen's extradition would be a way to "placate Turkey over the murder."

A U.S. official reportedly says there has been pushback against the possibility. "The career guys were furious" at the suggestion, said the official.

Turkey formally requested Gulen's extradition in 2016, after blaming him for an attempted coup, NBC News reported at the time. If extradition isn't an option, the Trump administration has also weighed the possibility of making Gulen relocate to South Africa. Turkey disputes the report and says there is "no connection" between Khashoggi's murder and the Gulen case. Alternatively, the release of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced to prison for evading sanctions, has also been considered, NBC News reports.

This news comes after Saudi Arabia once again changed its story about Khashoggi's murder, concluding the journalist was killed in an on-the-spot decision after previously calling his murder premeditated. News about Gulen's possible extradition drew immediate criticism, with NBC News' Benjy Sarlin summing it up: "So if I have this right," he wrote, "Trump looking into handing a prominent dissident over to an authoritarian regime to get them to ease up on a second authoritarian regime for murdering a second prominent dissident?" Brendan Morrow

November 15, 2018

Saudi Arabia has indicted 11 people in connection with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and five of them may receive the death penalty.

The Saudi public prosecutor, Saud al-Mojeb, announced the charges during a news conference Thursday, which came over a month after the journalist, who was critical of the kingdom, went missing at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, per The Washington Post. Al-Mojeb says a 15-person team was sent to the consulate to abduct Khashoggi, but when he resisted, they decided to kill him, The New York Times reports. The Saudi public prosecutor says they did so by injecting Khashoggi with an overdose of a sedative and then dismembering his body, per CNN.

After Khashoggi went missing in early October, the kingdom's narrative of events changed dramatically. At first, it said Khashoggi actually left the consulate safely, only to later say he was killed accidentally during a fistfight. Then Saudi officials suggested the killing was premeditated. Now, the public prosecutor claims the decision to kill Khashoggi was made on the spot, The New York Times reports.

Saudi Arabia also maintains that the operation was carried out without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even though officials say this is unlikely, the Times reports. "It is obvious that this murder was previously planned and that the order had come from high-level authorities in Saudi Arabia," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says. Brendan Morrow

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