President Donald Trump wants Americans to believe that the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 has little to do with the United States. Even though Khashoggi was a columnist at the Washington Post. Even though Khashoggi was a U.S. resident, living in Virginia. And, even though he was likely killed on the personal orders of a man who is supposed to be one of our closest allies in the Middle East.
But, for Trump and his administration, the matter should be put aside now. No matter how heinous the crime, it seems it is none of our business to inquire into it.
And it is most particularly not for us to ask too closely about the role Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), may have played, even though he is widely assumed to have ordered Khashoggi’s killing. Indeed, Trump’s statement last month, in which he stood with Saudi Arabia, was notable for its glaring omission of any reference to American values. This was juxtaposed against Trump’s boastful (and untrue) claims about “the record amount of money” he had negotiated for the Saudis to spend in the United States.
After meeting with lawmakers last week on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to be trying to put an end to any further inquiry by stating that there was “no direct reporting” connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Khashoggi. And yet, leaked reports of what the CIA has in its possession compellingly tie MBS to the murder. On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal cited a “highly classified CIA assessment” to report that MBS had sent at least 11 messages to Saud al-Qahtani, his closest adviser and the man who oversaw the team that killed Khashoggi in the consulate, in the hours before and after his death. This most recent revelation comes on top of prior media reports revealing the gruesome details of how Saudi agents killed Khashoggi, including the use of a bone saw to dismember his body.
To find out the truth, we have filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA, and with other federal agencies, for the release of all U.S. records relating to the Khashoggi murder—which would include the CIA’s report to the White House.
The records should be declassified and made publicly available because they are already the subject of intense public debate and the focus of bipartisan calls in Congress for the facts about who was ultimately responsible. If the Trump administration is deliberately hiding evidence of the crown prince’s responsibility—essentially that one of our closest allies is a cold-blooded murderer—then the American people have a right to know.
But there is more at stake here. The information currently in the CIA’s possession may contain evidence critical to any attempt—and there will be attempts—to hold MBS and other alleged perpetrators of this horrific crime to account before national courts outside the United States. A complaint filed with Argentine judicial authorities on the eve of last weekend’s G-20 summit in Buenos Aires is only the first of what will almost certainly be a series of attempts to translate popular revulsion at this crime into legal proceedings.
CIA Director Gina Haspel has a special responsibility to ensure the CIA comes clean. Her own involvement more than a decade ago in the illegal American campaign of secret detention and torture of 9/11 suspects did not impede her from assuming the CIA’s helm. But it did sully her reputation. Moving now to disclose what the CIA knows about Khashoggi’s killing would go some way to repairing that. It appears she did not hold back this week when she briefed a select group of senators. Based on what lawmakers took away from her briefing, it seems Haspel made a clear case for MBS’ culpability, unlike the message Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sent last week. Now, the American public deserves the same level of candor.
This would help restore some faith in America’s institutions at a time when many are worried about their capacity to survive an administration ruled by personal interest and little else.