Analysis: What happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

Jacob WassermanCourtesy Jacob Wasserman.
Jacob Wasserman.

Senior Reporter

On Oct. 2, Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi Arabian journalist who has been critical of the country’s government, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and has not been seen since.

Khashoggi has long been critical of Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, since he was declared the heir to the throne last year. In that time, Khashoggi had moved to the U.S. and had become a legal permanent resident. He had also been writing a monthly column for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post.

He was at the consulate to obtain documents relating to a marriage license, as he was set to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, shortly.

According to an op-ed Cengiz wrote in the Washington Post, Khashoggi had gone to the consulate in Turkey previously on Sept. 28. He felt that he was treated well, and he was told that he would need to come back on a later day, as the appropriate paperwork would have to arrive for him.

Khashoggi was still nervous. An Oct. 10 report by the Washington Post detailed why Khashoggi might have felt that way. U.S. intelligence reportedly shows that the Saudi government had tried to “lure” him back to the country by offering government protection and a government job. Khashoggi was very skeptical of the offer.

When he returned to the consulate on Oct. 2, Khashoggi told Cengiz to wait outside until he came back. After a few hours of waiting for her fiance, when Cengiz asked the consulate’s staff, she was told that her fiance had already left, which made her suspicious as she had not seen him. She then called Turkish authorities.

The Oct. 10 report also describes the Saudi operation that resulted in what they believe is Khashoggi’s killing. Two private planes arrived in Turkey at different times with a crew totaling 15 men. They allegedly were waiting for Khashoggi when he returned to the consulate.

Then, on Oct. 11, the Washington Post also reported that officials in the Turkish government told U.S. government officials that they have audio and video recordings that offer definitive proof to the claim that Khashoggi was not only detained in the Saudi consulate, but killed and dismembered.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan directly called for the Saudi government to produce evidence to support their claim that Khashoggi had left the building safely. That comes after the Turkish government summoned the Saudi ambassador twice to urge cooperation.

President Donald Trump has so far taken a more cautious approach, saying that he does not know anything about the situation for certain. He also seemed to distance himself from the situation.

“This took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen,” Trump said.

He also pointed out the financial relationship that the U.S. has with the Saudis when asked about possible consequences.

“I know they are talking about different kinds of sanctions, but they are spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs for this country,” Trump said. “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.”

Several senators, many from each of the parties, have expressed concern at the disappearance of Khashoggi.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, respectively, wrote a letter that was signed by a bipartisan group of 22 senators that triggered the Global Maginitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

Consequently, Trump must investigate whether the Saudis are responsible for the killing of Khashoggi. He must then report back to the Senate within 120 days with his conclusion, and a recommendation for whether sanctions should be imposed.

Many western media companies had also been pushing back against the Saudi government by pulling out of participating from the Future Investment Institute, which is a summit planned by bin Salman to show off his goals for future investment into his country, after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Economist and the Los Angeles Times have all pulled their participation in the conference. It is a clear sign of solidarity with Khashoggi, and the Washington Post, the paper that he wrote for.

Despite the worldwide pressure and scrutiny, the Saudis had maintained that Khashoggi left the consulate by himself, safely.

That is until Oct. 15, when CNN reported that the Saudis are preparing a report that will conclude that Khashoggi was killed during an interrogation-gone-wrong. The sources also said that the whole thing was done without government clearance, and that those responsible will be held “accountable”.

Though this conclusion will give closure to the debate over what happened to Khashoggi, it will certainly set of a whole new controversy, as now a government will have admitted to murdering a dissident journalist inside of their consulate within the borders of a foreign country.

When the report is actually issued, the controversy will still swirl. Was it done without government clearance? Also, can we trust the Saudi government after two weeks of them maintaining that Khashoggi was not killed at all?

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