Karen Attiah, the editor of Washington Post’s global opinion pieces, wanted to wait to publish the column Jamal Khashoggi turned in shortly before he went missing earlier this month. “The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together,” Attiah wrote in an editor’s note introducing the column, which the Post published Wednesday night. “Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen.”
It’s become clear that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered after being lured into the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. A Saudi Arabian citizen with U.S. residency, Khashoggi was often critical of the kingdom’s regime, which appears to be what prompted his alleged assassination. Khashoggi was a fierce advocate for freedom in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia is not free. (Disclosure: Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund has reportedly invested $200 million in Penske Media Corp., Rolling Stone’s parent company.)
He goes on to describe a climate of disinformation in the Arab world that will sound familiar to any American. “A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative,” he writes. “Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.”
Restricting the flow of information is a pillar of any authoritarian regime, and Khashoggi describes the occupational hazards of reporting in the Middle East. “My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press,” he writes. “He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment.”
Khashoggi ultimately argues that the Arab world needs “a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events.” Such an independent international forum, he writes, is necessary for Arab citizens to understand how their governments functions so they can “address the structural problems their societies face.” A localized system will always be undercut by the ruling class, especially when they are not held accountable for their efforts to oppress journalists like Saleh al-Shehi. “These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community,” Khashoggi writes. “Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.”
“Condemnation following by silence” is another theme that should sound familiar to Americans in the Trump era. Take what Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) tweeted Wednesday afternoon, echoing what several other Republican lawmakers have said in response to Khashoggi’s alleged murder. “The murder of Jamal Khashoggi as described by the Turkish press is an atrocity,” she wrote. “We must get to the bottom of this, and if the Saudis killed Mr. Khashoggi, those responsible must be held accountable.”
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi as described by the Turkish press is an atrocity. We must get to the bottom of this, and if the Saudis killed Mr. Khashoggi, those responsible must be held accountable.
— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) October 17, 2018
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) condemned Saudi Arabia on CNN, proclaiming that “there isn’t enough money in the world to purchase back our credibility on human rights.” On Fox News, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) called Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed to have been behind the attack, a “wrecking ball” who needs to be taken out of power. “He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it,” said Graham. “I feel used and abused. I was on the floor every time defending Saudi Arabia.”
Though any of these senators could push for a congressional hearing, they almost certainly won’t, because the president appears to be actively looking for ways to insulate the Saudi royal court from being held accountable. The public statements he has given over the past week have made this obvious, and now it’s being reported. On Wednesday night, the Post revealed that the “Trump administration and the Saudi royal family are searching for a mutually agreeable explanation,” citing analysts and officials. Another Post report noted that, according to White House officials and the president’s own advisers, “Trump has repeatedly reached for reasons to protect the U.S.-Saudi relationship.”
Meanwhile, the evidence that Prince Mohammed is responsible for Khashoggi’s alleged murder has become overwhelming. According to the New York Times, U.S. intelligence agencies are “increasingly convinced” the order came directly from the Saudi royal court, and the Post also cited U.S. intelligence reports in outlining a case against Prince Mohammed that is hard to refute. “It’s inconceivable that an operation using royal guards, other court officials and the consulate was not authorized by the crown prince,” Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution fellow and Saudi Arabia expert who worked at the CIA for over 30 years, told the paper. “That’s not how the kingdom functions, especially with MBS as heir apparent.” On Thursday, the New York Times reported that an aide to Prince Mohammed entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul just hours before Khashoggi.
Though U.S. intelligence agencies are reportedly preparing an assessment for the president, it’s unclear if he will pay it any mind. Just as he deferred to the word of Vladimir Putin over the consensus of American intelligence in regard to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Trump has repeatedly stressed that King Salman and Prince Mohammed have forcefully denied any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi. The president has also pushed Khashoggi’s Saudi Arabian citizenship as if it in some way lessens the need to take his disappearance seriously. So far, the president’s only real rebuke has been telling Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin not to go to a high-profile Saudi Arabian conference.
Trump even likened the widespread condemnation of the Saudi royal court to the treatment of Brett Kavanaugh. Just as was the case when the newly minted Supreme Court justice was battling multiple sexual assault allegations, the Trump administration is touting a dubious investigation that they believe will allow them to put the issue to rest. “I think we have to find out what happened first,” Trump told the Associated Press. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”
NEW: “We can make decisions about how or if the United States should respond” after the Saudi investigation
Sec. Pompeo on disappearance of journalist Khashoggi pic.twitter.com/Jpo2wZw6Ao
— TheBeat w/Ari Melber (@TheBeatWithAri) October 18, 2018
As with the Kavanaugh investigation, Trump expects the Saudi investigation into its own alleged murder of a journalist to wrap up quickly, telling reporters the facts should be known “by the end of the week.” The president will likely use whatever the Saudi royal court concludes to rationalize moving on from Khashoggi’s murder so he can continue to reap the financial rewards of the kingdom’s investments into his properties. The Republican senators forcefully condemning the Saudis will then dutifully rescind into silence.