A recently declassified US intelligence report on the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul is “surprising,” according to British journalist Jonathan Rugman.
Rugman, a foreign affairs correspondent for Channel 4 and the author of The Killing in the Consulate, a minute-by-minute analysis of the brutal killing, thinks that the report’s naming Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the person who ordered the operation ending in Khashoggi’s death was unexpected.
“We knew from leaks of CIA findings in 2018 that the Americans believed the crown prince was behind the operation to capture or kill Jamal Khashoggi, but it's still very shocking to see it in black and white,” Rugman told Anadolu Agency.
The US intelligence community on Feb. 26 formally blamed the crown prince, also known as MBS, for the grisly murder.
The Director of National Intelligence's (DNI) long-sought unclassified report concluded that the kingdom's de facto ruler "approved" the operation in Istanbul to "capture or kill" Khashoggi.
“The significance of the report is that the Biden administration has taken a very different stance to the Trump administration. The Trump administration said maybe he maybe he wasn't involved,” Rugman said.
Then-President Donald Trump downplayed the idea of Saudi involvement and refused to make public the findings of government intelligence analysts, findings only released last month.
“The Biden administration has tried to keep to its election campaign promise to hold the Saudis accountable and specifically the Saudi crown prince,” said Rugman.
“Now the Saudi Crown Prince has been held accountable by their report in the sense that it came out and it shames him and embarrasses him and it names him.”
While Rugman said the crown prince is not “being properly held accountable in a court of law,” he added that he was also “surprised” that “the Americans have gone as far as they have.”
“I know a lot of people will be disappointed Americans didn't go further but they have sanctioned 21 individuals, leading members of the hit squad, but they haven't a sanctioned the crown prince himself,” he said.
“The calculation is clearly being made that the crown prince is too important to be individually sanctioned, but he's not welcome in America. He's not likely to be welcomed in America for a long time to come.”
Rugman also described the report as a disappointment to Agnes Callamard, the UN rapporteur on summary executions, as well as Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz, adding that he believes that the US tried to strike a balance in the report, as they may need to do business with the crown prince in the future as he is in line for the Saudi throne.
Rugman, a BAFTA-winning journalist who worked in Turkey in the 1990s, compiled the findings of his coverage of the Khashoggi murder in a book published in October 2019, the first anniversary of the killing.
Rugman’s book gives detailed background of the “heinous” crime and looks at the deep, longstanding links of US administrations with the Saudi Kingdom.
On Oct, 2, 2018, Khashoggi, a Saudi national and legal resident of the US, was killed and dismembered by a group of Saudi operatives shortly after he entered the consulate in Istanbul to get a marriage certificate.
After weeks of denying involvement, Saudi Arabia admitted that Khashoggi had been killed at the consulate but claimed that the royal family had no prior knowledge of a plot to murder him.
According to reports by the United Nations and other independent organizations, he was murdered and dismembered. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accepted responsibility for the killing but denied ordering it.
Looking back, Rugman said there was quite a lot of clear evidence of what happened behind closed doors “because the Turkish government leaked some details of the transcripts, what happened in the Saudi Consulate.”
“They also leaked to the press the photos and the pictures, the images of the hit squad arriving at the consulate and walking through Istanbul Airport,” he added, detailing Turkish government information on the killing released in the days after the grisly murder.
He said that despite seeing pictures of bags being carried by Saudis into the consul’s residence, it is not easy to say with certainly what exactly the bags contained.
“Those bags, we have believed to contain the body but it was difficult,” he explained.
It has never been more urgent to hold those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s killing to account. Genuine accountability could have huge implications for the many human rights defenders well as exiled Saudi Arabian activists in the diaspora. https://t.co/kTWiWL0QV3 📢— Amnesty International (@amnesty) March 4, 2021
Overreach by split prince
The British journalist also evaluated the two sides of MBS, who the US report named as the top person behind the murder of Khashoggi, the authority who ordered the killing.
“I think there's something rough and uneducated about the crown prince … He has this big, bearded, charismatic look. He looks like a sort of throwback to the tribal chieftains of the old Saudi Kingdom.
“But he also has this modernizing streak,” he said, referring to such moves as opening movie theaters in the Gulf country and granting women the right to drive.
“He's granted women the right to drive but put in prison those who campaigned for that right, so there's a strange split there.”
Pointing out that Saudi Arabia is still an absolute monarchy, Rugman warned that this means privileges given to people could also be taken away.
“So you give women the right to drive but you imprison those who campaign for it. Because that comes from the prince, from the king, doesn't come from the people,” he said, adding that the country has “no political parties, no trade unions.”
Speaking of the crown prince, he said: “In his hurry to transform Saudi Arabia, he has overreached himself.”
“He has taken on too much power. He has stifled rivals. He has arrested them. They've been accused of treason. We had that incident where hundreds of princes were rounded up in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel,” he said, referring to a November 2017 political purge.
“We have the [November 2017] alleged kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister. We have the [March 2015] launching of the war in Yemen, which was supposed to last few months and it's been going on for years.
“So there's a pattern of reckless behavior accompanied by a desire to change, but almost an inability to be able to do both.”
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