CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION COULD REACH MBS
Unnamed sources say Saud al-Qahtani, one of the key Saudi officials who have been officially held responsible by Saudi Arabia for the incident at the consulate in Istanbul, oversaw the interrogation of Khashoggi at the diplomatic mission, communicating via a Skype link. According to the sources, al-Qahtani ordered the killing of Khashoggi as a response to the latter´s defiance during the interrogation. The sources further say al-Qahtani ever since 2015 has been instrumental
in pressuring high-profile individuals, physically confronting them in interrogation-like environments, including detainees at the Ritz Carlton and the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri. Al-Qahtani had also reportedly for some time tried to lure Khashoggi back to the kingdom, an offer the late journalist declined out of fear that he would be detained.
The United States is reportedly concerned that Turkey will reveal details implicating HRH Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdelaziz Al Saud (MBS), amid growing international distrust of the official Saudi narrative of what happened to Khashoggi. The concern and skepticism were also reportedly the reasons why the Director of the United States (US) Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on 22 October 2018 left for Turkey.
As for domestic US politics, there are reports of increasing pressure on the US president Donald Trump to take the lead in punishing Saudi Arabia, to avoid the US Congress initiating potentially more long-lasting and damaging responses such as cancelling arms sales to the kingdom. Furthermore, the US Congress could also pass a law allowing Khashoggi’s family to sue the Saudi state, on par with the lawsuit against the kingdom over the 9/11 attacks. Setting various types of civil litigation aside, MBS and his confidants might also face criminal courts in several countries for alleged crimes related to the Khashoggi case. Prosecutors could bring criminal charges, based on international law, including violations of international laws such as a law to protect the individual from torture and forced disappearance. One possible legal avenue which could be pursued is the United Nations (UN) Convention against Torture, to which Saudi Arabia is a signatory. Regardless of whether MBS had advance knowledge of Khashoggi´s killing or not, he could still be held accountable under international law because he had command responsibility over the killers.
MEDIA ATTENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD
The prolonged international media attention to the Khashoggi case has resulted in a review of Saudi Arabia´s human rights record in general, as well as its alleged role in funding terrorism. Major Western media outlets increasingly describe the kingdom´s human rights record as appalling, citing the alleged support by Saudi individuals for the 9/11 hijackers and other terrorists, its online and offline censorship, war crimes in Yemen, intimidation and coercion of dissidents, secret and unlawful detentions, legally sanctioned corporal punishment and beheadings and seizing of funds of accused individuals without due legal process.
Furthermore, with the global spotlight now zooming in on Saudi Arabia, all the above is being connected to the current Crown Prince as the kingdom´s de facto ruler and figurehead of a regime which is increasingly seen as repressive rather than reformative. The timing is bad, coinciding with the flagship conference Future Investment Initiative which was to suppose showcase the modernizing efforts of the Crown prince.
Instead, the event has been mired in controversy as many Western business and political executives has dropped out over the Khashoggi affair. Adding injury to insult, the official website of the conference was hacked on 22 October 2018, with hackers displaying imagery displaying Khashoggi and messages urging sanctions against the kingdom.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini, the Editor-in-Chief of the digital platforms of major Saudi media outlet Al Arabiya News Channel, on 22 October 2018 adhered to the official Saudi version and attacked those behind what he called a media campaign designed to tarnish the reputation of Saudi Arabia in an op-ed article. Almuhaini further said the kingdom has never pursued well-known opposition figures, who in his view are granted space via satellite channels and on the internet to insult and incite against Saudi Arabia. According to the editor-in-chief, Saudi Arabia is targeted because it is at the forefront in a war against a dangerous mix of extremist organizations and rogue regimes, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Iran. The Khashoggi case, he contends, is being fully exploited to hurt Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Council of Ministers held a meeting under the chairmanship of the King on 23 October 2018, during which it was reiterated that the kingdom is seeking the truth in the matter and strives to bring those responsible to justice. The meeting also highlighted the restructuring and modernization of the General Intelligence Presidency by a ministerial committee headed by the Crown Prince MBS.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs has posted several infographics displaying the kingdom´s measures to bring clarity in the case, stressing that the Crown Prince was unaware of the incident and that those responsible will be brought to justice.
The exiled Saudi opposition activist Yahya Assiri has said that the Crown Prince immoral, inexperienced and prone to rash decision-making without thinking of the consequences.
TURKISH PRESIDENT ERDOGAN´S SPEECH
Below is a summary of the speech the president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave 23 October 2018:
Turkish media has continuously released what it says is evidence of high-level Saudi complicity in the alleged murder of Khashoggi. Among recent examples of leaks from purported Turkish officials with insight into the investigation, a major newspaper said the attaché of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, whom they named as Ahmad Abdullah al-Muzaini, was the main orchestrator of the murder. Al-Muzaini reportedly was at the consulate when Khashoggi visited it on 28 September 2018 and then flew to Riyadh where he met with the deputy chief of Saudi intelligence, Ahmad Asiri. He returned to Istanbul on 01 October 2018 to carry out the assassination the next day.
Based on media comments as well as official announcements such as president Erdogan´s speech, the Saudi narrative of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul has not been accepted as corresponding to the actual circumstances of 02 October 2018. Other Saudi narratives of a Muslim Brotherhood-led campaign against the kingdom have not been convincing either, appearing almost farcical as more facts are released daily pointing to a premeditated murder.
While speculations on a future civil or criminal lawsuit against the Crown Prince or his henchmen might seem farfetched, the reputational damage has been done, in particular regarding the role of the de facto ruler´s perhaps closest associate, Saud al-Qahtani, who has often portrayed himself as a loyal soldier serving his country and boss. Furthermore, his aggressive stance on Qatar as well as social media campaigns targeting domestic adversaries will no doubt reflect badly on MBS over the Khashoggi affair.
The Saudi Crown Prince is thus beset on all sides, with Western pressure over human rights abuses as well as possible criminal conduct in the Khashoggi case, Turkish demands to extradite Saudi suspects to stand trial in Turkey, and a tarnished reputation not only for himself as the great reformist but also for Saudi Arabia whose image of a changing youthful nation has been replaced by a repressive monarchy ruled by a brutal dictator.
In a more long-term perspective, the increased Western unease of doing business with Saudi Arabia over its treatment of dissidents and other human rights issues, will open the door to Russian, Chinese and other non-western countries, where those concerns are a non-issue. The list of participants of the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh 23-25 October 2018, boycotted by many high-level Western attendees, contained Chinese and Russian delegations eagerly looking for investment opportunities in the kingdom.