Saudi Arabia has denied any and all of the recent evidence that connects it to the disappearance and likely murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The kingdom continues maintaining that it had no part in the event and even Saudi King Salman had no knowledge of any of the developments. US President Donald Trump appears to be the only person believing the Saudi side.
On October 15th, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Riyadh where he is to speak with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the disappearance of the journalist.
Pompeo would be looking to expand a conversation held between Trump and the Saudi King. Tweeting about the call, Trump said: “Just spoke to the king of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened ‘to our Saudi Arabian citizen’.” According to him, the Saudis are working closely with Turkey to unravel what has happened.
He later told reporters: “The denial was very, very strong. It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?” Trump did threaten “severe punishment” if the kingdom was found responsible for Khashoggi’s death. It does seem dubious that the Saudi King did not know that a 15-man team travelled to Turkey and returned the same day. The team included the head of the forensic medicine department at the Saudi Interior Ministry.
Just spoke to the King of Saudi Arabia who denies any knowledge of whatever may have happened “to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” He said that they are working closely with Turkey to find answer. I am immediately sending our Secretary of State to meet with King!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 15, 2018
King Salman ordered an investigation into the missing journalist on Monday. Saudi statements up to now have dismissed allegations of a killing as “baseless” and “lies.” Saudi Arabia has also angrily rejected what it called political and economic “threats,” saying it would respond to any punitive action, such as sanctions, “with a bigger one”
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on October 16th demanded that the kingdom and Turkey reveal all that they know about the case.
CNN cited two unnamed sources that claim the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge Khashoggi’s death and that it was a result of an interrogation that went wrong. According to the sources, the interrogation was to be followed by Jamal’s abduction from Turkey.
BREAKING — 2 sources tell @clarissaward and @TimListerCNN that the Saudis are preparing a report that will acknowledge Jamal Khashoggi's death was the result of an interrogation that went wrong, one that was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) October 15, 2018
According to one of the anonymous sources, the report would also claim that the operation was performed without clearance and transparency and those involved will be held responsible and prosecuted. One of the two sources said that the report is still being drawn and that it is possible for things to change.
On October 15th, conflicting reports over Khashoggi’s disappearance prompted his family to call for an inquiry. “The strong moral and legal responsibility which our father instilled in us obliges us to call for the establishment of an independent and impartial international commission to inquire into the circumstances of his death,” they said in a statement. It added that they were “sadly and anxiously following the conflicting news regarding the fate of our father after losing contact with him two weeks ago, when he disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.”
This is in strong contrast with a statement his family released on October 7th claiming that the media is politicizing his disappearance and affirmed their trust in the Saudi government to resolve the issue.
On the same day, Turkey were allowed inside the consulate to search it. As reported by BBC and can be seen from pictures, a Saudi team entered first. The team included cleaners. The Turkish team followed about one hour later. The Turkish investigators, some wearing overalls, gloves and covered shoes. stayed for about eight hours, leaving in the early hours of October 16th.
Yet another intriguing development at the Saudi Consulate today before Turkish police force arrival for inspection.
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) October 15, 2018
They reportedly took with them samples, including of soil from the consulate garden.
Saudi Arabia initially had allowed Turkish officials to conduct a “visual inspection”, which would be quite superficial. Turkey reportedly rejected and requested for investigators to perform a thorough search. It is unclear which of the two alternatives took place.
It would be interesting to see how the US would respond if Saudi Arabia did admit to interrogating, torturing and killing Jamal Khashoggi. Trump did say that it would be unwise to call off a $100 billion arms deal.
It is interesting that the death of Sergei Magnitsky, for which Russian officials were accused of led to the Magnitsky Act and Sanctions in 2012 despite the lack of actual evidence to put blame on the Kremlin. Would there be sanctions if Jamal Khashoggi was actually tortured and murdered?