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.
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.