Evidence Against Saudi Crown Prince In Khashoggi Murder Continues To Mount
The evidence against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi continues to mount. Will the Trump Administration care?
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was in close communication with the person who led the team that murdered Jamal Khashoggi both before and after the Saudi journalist and dissident’s death:
WASHINGTON—Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent at least 11 messages to his closest adviser, who oversaw the team that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in the hours before and after the journalist’s death in October, according to a highly classified CIA assessment.
The Saudi leader also in August 2017 had told associates that if his efforts to persuade Mr. Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia weren’t successful, “we could possibly lure him outside Saudi Arabia and make arrangements,” according to the assessment, a communication that it states “seems to foreshadow the Saudi operation launched against Khashoggi.”
Mr. Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom’s leadership who lived in Virginia and wrote columns for the Washington Post, was killed by Saudi operatives on Oct. 2 shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he sought papers needed to marry his Turkish fiancée.
Excerpts of the Central Intelligence Agency’s assessment, which cites electronic intercepts and other clandestine information, were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.
The CIA last month concluded that Prince Mohammed had likely ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, and President Trump and leaders in Congress were briefed on intelligence gathered by the spy agency. Mr. Trump afterward questioned the CIA’s conclusion about the prince, saying “maybe he did; and maybe he didn’t.”
The previously unreported excerpts reviewed by the Journal state that the CIA has “medium-to-high confidence” that Prince Mohammed “personally targeted” Khashoggi and “probably ordered his death.” It added: “To be clear, we lack direct reporting of the Crown Prince issuing a kill order.”
The electronic messages sent by Prince Mohammed were to Saud al-Qahtani, according to the CIA. Mr. Qahtani supervised the 15-man team that killed Mr. Khashoggi and, during the same period, was also in direct communication with the team’s leader in Istanbul, the assessment says. The content of the messages between Prince Mohammed and Mr. Qahtani isn’t known, the document says. It doesn’t say in what form the messages were sent.
It is unclear from the excerpts whether the 2017 comments regarding luring Mr. Khashoggi to a third country cited in the assessment are from Prince Mohammed directly, or from someone else describing his remarks.
The judgment on Prince Mohammed’s likely culpability, the CIA assessment says, is based on the crown prince’s personal focus on Mr. Khashoggi, his tight control over the Saudi operatives sent to Istanbul to kill him, “and his authorizing some of the same operators to violently target other opponents.”
Mr. Qahtani has led Prince Mohammed’s efforts to crack down on dissent internally and abroad. He is one of the 17 sanctioned by the Treasury.
A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the report. A White House official said Friday the White House doesn’t comment on intelligence matters. The Saudi Embassy didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did Mr. Qahtani.
Mr. Trump last week said the CIA only had “feelings” about Prince Mohammed’s involvement, a statement that irked current and former U.S. intelligence officials. U.S. intelligence assessments are rarely black-and-white, often relying on fragments of information gathered clandestinely.
The highly classified CIA assessment says that the Saudi team sent to kill Mr. Khashoggi was assembled from Prince Mohammed’s top security units in the Royal Guard and in an organization run by Mr. Qahtani, the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Royal Court, the Saudi royal court’s media department.
“We assess it is highly unlikely this team of operators…carried out the operation without Muhammed bin Salman’s authorization,” it says.
This news comes roughly two weeks after it was reported that the C.I.A. had concluded that the Crown Prince had specifically ordered Khashoggi’s capture and murder by a group of fifteen Saudis, many of whom had direct and close ties to the Crown Prince. Therefore, this latest report would appear to be corroboration of that report and at least a partial explanation of the evidence that the agency used to reach that conclusion. Well before the CIA came to this conclusion, though, the fact that the Crown Prince was likely directly involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance and death was something that anyone even slightly familiar with this situation could conclude. After having been a prominent Saudi insider, Khashoggi became a prominent critic of Saudi policy in general and of the Crown Prince in particular. This was especially true given the fact that, as the evidence of what happened to Khashoggi became public from Turkish law enforcement and other sources, it became ever more clear that there was simply no way that an operation of this type could have been carried out without the knowledge and permission of those in power, specifically including the Crown Prince himself. This was made even more clear due to the fact that, from the day that Khashoggi disappeared after walking into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi government has engaged in a long series of lies and ridiculous, impossible to believe, explanations for what happened. Taking all of that together, the conclusion that the Crown Prince was responsible for the murder of Khashoggi.
Throughout all of this, the Trump Administration has sat back and let the Saudi government quite literally get away with cold-blooded murder. While there have been some bland statements of concern about what happened to Khashoggi, who in addition to being a journalist employed by an American newspaper is also an American Permanent Resident with children who are naturalized, American citizens, it’s clear that the President and the White House are not interested in putting pressure on Riyadh to come clean about Khashoggi’s fate and even less interest in putting pressure on King Salman regard the fate of his son the Crown Prince. In no small part, of course, this is because M.B.S., as he is popularly known, has managed to ingratiate himself with both Trump and with Jared Kushner, with whom he apparently communicates on a regular basis. Additionally, the Trump Administration has already made clear that it is willing to look the other way while the Saudis commit nothing less than genocide in Yemen, so it’s not surprising that they’d be okay with the murder of a single journalist.
Now that the nation’s top intelligence agency has concluded that the Crown Prince was not only aware of the plot against Khashoggi but that he had ordered it and ordered Khashoggi’s murder, the question becomes what the Trump Administration will do with the information. The report about the CIA’s conclusions dropped mere hours after it was reported that the Trump Administration had imposed sanctions against 17 Saudi citizens in connection with Khashoggi’s murder. The only problem is that most of the people who are on this list are people who have already been arrested by the Saudis in connection with the affair, including five who are facing the death penalty for their roles in the matter. These 17 people are obviously fall guys for the people actually responsible for Khashoggi’s death and the sanctions are basically meaningless. Additionally, just days after the report, Trump himself appeared to side with the Saudis over his own intelligence agency and his National Security Adviser dismissed the idea of listening to the tape of Khashoggi’s murder because he doesn’t speak Arabic. All of this is a clear indication that the Administration has no intention of holding M.B.S. responsible for his involvement in this henious murder. They should be judged accordingly.