Saudis Looking To Pin Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder On Fall Guy

The Saudis are now apparently getting ready to push out a fall guy for the death of Jamal Khashoggi, an explanation as absurd as all the others they have offered to date.

The Saudi Arabian government appears to be intent on putting forward an explanation for the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi that absolves Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the rest of the Saudi government in responsibility for his death:

ISTANBUL — The rulers of Saudi Arabia are considering blaming a top intelligence official close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, three people with knowledge of the Saudi plans said Thursday.

The plan to assign blame to Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince, would be an extraordinary recognition of the magnitude of international backlash to hit the kingdom since the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi dissident. A resident of Virginia and contributor to The Washington Post, Mr. Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Blaming General Assiri could also provide a plausible explanation for the apparent killing and help deflect blame from the crown prince, who American intelligence agencies are increasingly convinced was behind Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Turkish officials have said they possess evidence showing that 15 Saudi agents assassinated and dismembered Mr. Khashoggi in the consulate.

After two weeks of blanket denials and mounting pressure from Turkey and Washington, Saudi Arabia said it would conduct its own investigation to determine who was responsible.

But even with the investigation still ostensibly underway, the Saudis are already pointing to General Assiri as the culprit, according to the three people familiar with the Saudi plans. People close to the White House have already been briefed and given General Assiri’s name.

Whether that move will be enough to calm the international crisis and what it may mean for Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s day-to-day ruler, remain to be seen.

(…)

General Assiri, who previously served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, is close enough to the crown prince to have easy access to his ear and has considerable authority to enlist lower-ranking personnel in a mission.

The Saudi rulers are expected to say that General Assiri received oral authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Mr. Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident’s life, according to two of the people familiar with the Saudi plans. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists.

Even in this scenario, however, Prince Mohammed would still have ordered an operation to abduct a resident of the United States, apparently only on the basis of his public criticism of Saudi leaders.’

Given General Assiri’s lofty rank, declaring his culpability would also reflect on the crown prince. Prince Mohammed elevated General Assiri to his current post, and General Assiri is close enough to him that he has often sat in when the crown prince meets with visiting American officials.

Some critics of the kingdom are already arguing that scapegoating an underling would be little more than a diversion.

“The responsibility is with the de facto ruler, who is the crown prince,” argued Madawi al-Rasheed, a professor at the London School of Economics and a frequent critic of Prince Mohammed.

This report, of course, is not dissimilar to the reports that circulated earlier this week stating that the Saudis were in the process of putting together an explanation for Khashoggi’s disappearance and death that involved what President Trump referred to as “rogue killers” when speaking to reporters after having talked to Saudi King Salman. As I noted at the time, though, that explanation strains credulity, and the addition of the identity of an official close to the Crown Prince who allegedly acted outside the scope of his apparent authority is equally absurd based on everything we know about how things operate in Saudi Arabia and about the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death in particular. I stated the reasons why this is the case earlier this week:

First of all, the idea that any operation, whether it was originally intended to be an interrogation or a rendition (a/k/a kidnapping) back to Saudi Arabia, could have been pulled off inside of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul without the knowledge or approval of either King or the Crown Prince is quite simply too absurd to be believed. By all accounts, there is nothing that goes on with respect to the Saudi government that one or both of these men doesn’t know about or which they have not approved. This would seem to be especially true when it comes to an operation that would involve a trip to another country by fifteen members of a team that included representatives from both Saudi intelligence services and the Saudi military.

Second, the idea that the initial intention of the operation was to interrogate Khashoggi or to kidnap him and bring him back to Saudi Arabia for interrogation seems implausible given the fact that members of this team that traveled to Istanbul included a doctor who specialized in autopsies and that the team was reported to have brought a bone saw with it. Based on that, it seems clear that the idea that Khashoggi would not make it out of the consulate alive was at the front of the minds of those who planned and participated in the plot.

Finally, even if the Saudi claim that the original intention was to interrogate or kidnap Khashoggi is true, this is hardly a defense or excuse for murder whether it happened accidentally or not. Essentially, this explanation is asking the world to accept the fact that the Saudis “only” intended to kidnap and interrogate via torture a man who had done nothing wrong other than dissent from the policies of the government in Riyadh, that his death was an “accident,” and that they apparently responded to this accidental death by carrying his body back to Saudi Arabia in pieces in luggage that had been brought by the team that had arrived in Istanbul earlier in the day. Under most definitions, this would still qualify as murder, and the Saudis should not be permitted to get away with trying to brush it aside with such an utterly ridiculous claim.

All of this applies, and doubly so, to this new variation of the “rogue killers” nonsense that was circulating earlier this week. The idea that General Assiri, who has been identified as one of the Crown Prince’s closest advisers and allies, would step beyond the scope of his authority makes no sense whatsoever. In an environment such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, such action would obviously be grounds for arrest, a quick trial, and either a very long prison sentence or death depending on the circumstances. Second, the assertion that the initial intent of the operation was to abduct Khashoggi is belied by the fact that the team of Saudis apparently sent to Turkey to conduct the operation included medical experts, including a doctor who specializes in autopsies, and that the team brought with it a bone saw that was apparently used in the dismemberment of Khashoggi’s body. Finally, even if it were true that abduction and rendition was the original intent of the operation, that hardly absolves the Saudis of guilt. If Khashoggi’s death happened in the context of carrying that operation out, then the Saudis are as culpable as they would be if the intent of the operation were to murder him. Therefore, the fact that the Crown Prince may have “only” authorized an abduction and rendition is utterly irrelevant. Khashoggi still died because of orders he would have given. Attempting to push this all off on to a fall guy is a ridiculous and absurd notion that no reasonable person can accept.

Despite all of this, this appears to be the road that the Saudis are headed down, and while the court of public opinion won’t buy it, it’s quite possible that the Trump Administration. As I noted earlier this week, President Trump has repeatedly demonstrated moral cowardice in the face of evil, and that has made itself apparent this week in the extent to which he has become one of the Saudi government’s chief apologists. Given the fact that his son-in-law Jared Kushner, who apparently communicates with the Crown Prince on a regular basis, is reportedly lobbying Trump to stand by bin Salman. Given this, it seems most likely that the President will be reluctant to significantly punish the Saudis, and that he’ll accept whatever nonsense explanation the Saudis come up with. In that case, it will be up to Congress to act by pushing for sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, blocking arms sales to the Kingdom, and pushing the Administration to justify its support for the Saudi’s genocidal war on Yemen. Whether they’ll have the courage to act themselves is, of course, an entirely different question.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Middle East, Politicians, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. James Pearce says:

    it will be up to Congress to act by pushing for sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, blocking arms sales to the Kingdom, and pushing the Administration to justify its support for the Saudi’s genocidal war on Yemen. Whether they’ll have the courage to act themselves is, of course, an entirely different question.

    Congress isn’t going to do anything about it…

    Evil wins another day.

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  2. Kathy says:

    Not that it applies strictly, but if the Crown Prince ordered an abduction and ti resulted in a killing, even if accidental, then he can be charged in many jurisdictions under the felony murder doctrine.

    None of this will ever get to a court, of course. But the guilt and responsibility can still be determined based on the facts. If MBS says he sent a team to kidnap Khashoggi, and the team leader either accidentally or on purpose killed Khashoggi, then the Crown prince is as guilty of murder as the team leader, and incidentally every other person on the team.

  3. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Whether they’ll have the courage to act themselves is, of course, an entirely different question.

    Muhwahahahahahahahahahahaha.
    Senator Liza Graham said, a week ago, that if the Saudi’s had Khashoggi murdered “there would be hell to pay.” Today? Crickets.
    Dennison has responded by praising Gianforte for body-slamming a journalist.
    There will be no price to pay for this.

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  4. Franklin says:

    But according to conservative spin, this is all okay because of the big bad bogeyman known as the Muslim Brotherhood.

    Which reminds me, I think I’ve got a great Halloween costume idea to try in a nearby Republican neighborhood …

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  5. Teve says:

    Dennison has responded by praising Gianforte for body-slamming a journalist.

    Stupid people with shitty values.

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  6. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Franklin:

    Which reminds me, I think I’ve got a great Halloween costume idea to try in a nearby Republican neighborhood …

    Yeah, problem with that: If you show up wearing a Thawb, they will likely think you are wearing a sheet… and it may end up being the opposite effect you seek.

  7. Kathy says:

    @Franklin:

    Which reminds me, I think I’ve got a great Halloween costume idea to try in a nearby Republican neighborhood …

    Be careful with that.

    When frightened, dogs look for their humans, cats look for a place to hide, and Republicans reach for their guns.

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  8. charon says:

    Despite all of this, this appears to be the road that the Saudis are headed down, and while the court of public opinion won’t buy it, it’s quite possible that the Trump Administration.

    To KSA, what DJT thinks or pretends to think matters a lot, probably a major reason for this ploy.

  9. charon says:

    For example:

    https://twitter.com/page88/status/1052696850917203968

    Just now realizing: Khashoggi was banned in KSA was not because he was critical of Mohammad bin Salman, the devastation of Yemen, Wahhabism, or the Salafi movement. It was because, ON NOVEMBER 10, 2016, in DC, Khashoggi mildly criticized…Donald Trump.

    As reported by the Independent (UK paper).

  10. Gustopher says:

    The Saudi rulers are expected to say that General Assiri received oral authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Mr. Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident’s life,

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s going to suck to be General Assiri.

  11. James Pearce says:

    @Franklin:

    Which reminds me, I think I’ve got a great Halloween costume idea to try in a nearby Republican neighborhood …

    “But mah culture isn’t your Halloween costume.”

  12. charon says:

    @charon:

    I find it not difficult at all to imagine MBS telling DJT ahead of time what was planned, seems like something DJT would be quite ok with. DJT is currently in the news (again) ok with roughing up journalists here in the USA.

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  13. Scott F. says:

    As Daryl notes, Trump celebrates Gianforte for body-slamming a journalist and his rally crowd cheers. So this BS story where “MBS only meant for his general to rough up a dissident journalist (and it sadly got out of hand)” should be a fig leaf sufficient to allow Trump to let the Crown Prince off the hook. The rally crowds will continue to cheer and the Congressional Republicans will continue to turn a blind eye.

    If the attrocities occurring daily in Yemen aren’t enough to get the (wholly controlled by the GOP) US government to sanction and isolate the Saudis, this tragic murder won’t be enough either.

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  14. JohnMcC says:

    @charon: A gentleman named Sawer who was recently the boss man at MI-6 gave an interview to BBC today (I found it at the Guardian) in which he ridiculed the idea that Pres Trump somehow did not get advance word of the assassination.

    Highly recommended.

  15. JohnMcC says:

    Little factoid: The presumed ‘odd man out’ who seems likely to be named is Gen Ahmad al-Assiri. (There are a couple of Saudi’s with similar names in English, btw.) He’s previously been associated with the Yemen war (he released the May Declaration declaring the major cities in Yemen to be targets). Looking up his picture is highly recommended.

    One can see quite a bit of similarity between MbS and Pres Trump in choosing scapegoats.

  16. charon says:
  17. Kathy says:

    The Saudis don’t come clean

    I hope the link works. Apologies if it doesn’t. I’m on my phone.

  18. Kathy says:

    Trump has shown he-s either to buy whatever s**t the Saudis are selling.

    The price may be what this analysis piece on CNN says.

    The relevant part:

    Turkey has been leaking just enough to keep the issue in the headlines, judiciously serving up a soupçon of evidence at a time.
    Imagine a scenario where Saudis offer their version of events and fire — or worse — a few top officials for dereliction of duty, even treason. And Trump, over the heads of senators and intelligence advisers, buys the narrative.
    Imagine the same scenario a few days later, when Turkey drops another evidential bombshell. Not only is MBS burned, but so is Trump and big dollop of American credibility is spooned out of the pot and into the fire.

    When El Cheeto finally slithers out of office, the US won’t have any credibility left.

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  19. charon says:

    @Kathy:

    The absence of credibility is the point, a big middle finger to DJT critics – as in “so what, what are you going to do about it?”

  20. JohnMcC says:

    @charon: As you say, the main message is: What you gonna do ’bout it, huh?

    Searching my vocabulary for a word to describe this when it’s a technique of statecraft. Searching….

    Got it! FASCISM.