John Oliver focused the main segment of Sunday’s Last Week Tonight on the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Saudi Arabian citizen, and the controversial relationship between those two countries.
Khashoggi, whom Oliver described as a “thoughtful and by no means radical critic of the Saudi royal family,” has been missing since October 2nd, after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to pick up some paperwork. Turkish authorities have alleged that a 15-person “team” assassinated and dismembered the journalist, citing audio and video proof, though Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS) has denied the claim.
“It’s absolutely horrific,” Oliver said. “Saudi officials have scrambled to explain all the suspicious activity surrounding his disappearance with the Saudi-owned channel Al Arabiya claiming that the 15 people who turned up in Istanbul were just tourists – which is clearly bullshit given that flight logs show that most of the men arrived on a private charter plane at 3:13 a.m. and that all of them departed the same day they arrived, which is a pretty weird vacation, isn’t it? ‘I want to see Istanbul but only for a few hours, mostly at night, and I need to bring my bone saw.'”
The comedian continued, “This is all worrying because the only reason to kill a journalist in your own consulate with 15 people and a bone saw you flew in that day is because you wanted to send a message and you were sure you could get away with it. Which raises the question: ‘Why would they be so sure with that?”
The answer, Oliver said, involves Saudi Arabia’s “long and morally compromised history” with the U.S. – including its particularly close ties with President Trump. The host briefed viewers on the dichotomy between MBS’ outwardly “progressive” policies (like ending a ban on women driving and bringing back movie theaters after a 35-year ban) and the “much grimmer truth” lurking under the surface, including the leader’s arrest of female rights activists and an “absolutely brutal war in Yemen” that has resulted in over 16,000 casualties.
Still, Oliver noted, Trump has “catered [to Saudi Arabia] at every turn” – from supportive tweets to visiting the country on his first foreign trip as president. “It really shouldn’t be that surprising to anybody that Trump has so enthusiastically embraced the Saudi royal family,” the host said. “They have the two qualities he admires most in the world: having a lot of money and giving it to him.”
“I am by no means saying that Trump is the first U.S. president to make distasteful arms deals with the Saudis,” he continued. “We’ve been doing it for decades. The Obama administration still sold them weapons even as Saudi Arabia got involved in Yemen, but Trump has continued doing so even as signs mount of Saudi recklessness in air strikes. Two months ago, they dropped an American-made bomb on a school bus full of children. But just a month later, Trump’s defense secretary said that Saudi Arabia was doing everything it could to prevent civilian casualties.”
And even as Trump has vowed to inflict “severe punishment” if it’s proven that Saudi Arabia was behind the disappearance of Khashoggi, Oliver expressed doubt of the president’s commitment.
“Trump’s intense bromance with MBS is bad news because when you set no boundaries on an oppressive regime, they are always going to ask themselves, ‘How much can we get any with here?'” Oliver said. “And as we saw this week, the answer to that may well be ‘pretty much anything.'”