The narrative around the death of Washington Post reporter and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been complicated and contradictory, with remarks from U.S., Saudi, and Turkish officials constantly changing. However, the fact can be avoided no more: a journalist was killed inside a Saudi consultant in Istanbul, Turkey, in the beginning of October, and we still don’t know the truth behind the story.
Khashoggi entered the consulate on Oct. 2, and failed to leave. Video footage captured his entrance, as well as the entrance of a 15 member team sent from Riyadh. On Oct. 5, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told journalists from Bloomberg that Khashoggi had left the consulate. A day later, reporters from Rueter were allowed into the consulate to look for Khashoggi. On Oct. 9th, Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, said that any reports of Khashoggi being killed were “absolutely false, and baseless.”
Yet 18 days later, the narrative changed. The Saudi government acknowledged after repeated denial that Khashoggi had in fact been killed inside the consulate. Suddenly, new reports and facts emerged.
The 15 man team seen entering the consulate after Khashoggi were sent to remove Khashoggi and send him back to his home country, according to new reports from Saudi Arabia. The report also stated that Khashoggi resisted the team, and when a fight broke out, he was placed in a fatal chokehold.
However, the body has yet to be found. The Turks have claimed that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered with a bone saw by an autopsy specialist, and transported from the consulate to a nearby unknown location in large suitcases. However, Saudi officials claim that the body was given to a local “collaborator” to dispose of. This official remained anonymous, and failed to mention the nationality of the collaborator. This leaves room for the Saudi government to avoid responsibility and claim lack of involvement if the body is later found.
Further investigation by The New York Times and the Turkish government have identified some members of the team responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Included in the list of identified members were a renowned Saudi autopsy specialist with ties to security forces, and members of Saudi military and security forces who have worked closely with the Saudi Crown Prince.
When questioned on why it took so long for the team to come forward with the death, they claimed they feared consequences. However, when the Turkish government began to make accusations and ask questions, the Saudi officials then launched their own investigation and discovered the choking.
Additional to these accusations, Turkey has also released that it has audio evidence of Khashoggi’s murder, but have failed to present it to U.S. intelligence agencies or to other countries. According to The New York Times, this could be because the evidence doesn’t exist, the Turks are waiting to reveal the evidence to fully squash the Saudi narrative, or they do not want to admit to bugging the Saudi consulate.
The only constant in this narrative has been the denial of involvement and knowledge by the Saudi government. However, the operation that ended in the death of Khashoggi would have been hard to complete without the knowledge of Prince Mohammed, because the operation involved two private jets from a company linked to the Saudi royal family, and the murder took place inside their own Saudi consulate.
Another constantly changing force in this inconclusive narrative is President Donald Trump and his administration’s unstable responses to this gruesome murder. Khashoggi was a legal U.S. resident that reported for the Washington Post and was a advocate for free speech. Historically, the United States has claimed and promoted a democratic and liberal ideology, in which free speech and free press are a strong foundational element. Yet, Trump has refused to maintain a consistent reaction.
Early after the death was confirmed, according to the New York Times, Trump and his administration stood beside their Saudi allies, and said the U.S. and Saudi relations were “excellent” and that he did not want to introduce sanctions. Trump also spoke to the Crown Prince Mohammed himself, who denied any knowledge or involvement. Trump made it known he believed the prince through a tweet.
Later, Trump said in the Oval Office: “This is a bad situation. We cannot let this happen — to reporters, to anybody. We can’t let this happen.”
However, Trump was quoted in a Washington Post article saying “But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, knowing they have four or five alternatives, very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.”
Trump also has dismissed the 15 person team as possible “rogue killers,” and most recently, even though he admits that there have been “lies and deception” from the Saudi’s involving their role in the death, he praised the leadership of the Saudi prince in an interview with the Washington Post. In the same interview, he refused to say whether he will impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia, and repeatedly cited the importance of economic ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
Trump is failing to call for action in response to the suspicious death of this journalist. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, because it’s not like he has demonstrated respect for journalists in the U.S. either, mocking a disabled reporter, telling a reporter she’s “not thinking, you never do,” and constantly dismissing the media as fake.
Through these confusing and changing narratives we have seen the reemergence of a constant factor of the Trump’s presidency: economic relations matter more to this president and his administration than human rights. The death of this journalist, a U.S. resident, a reporter and warrior for free speech, clearly is not important enough to this administration to make a change in policy. The U.S. claims to promote an ideology of human rights and democracy, yet when events arise that call for a need of U.S. protection of human rights overseas, we hide behind our economic ties.