Jared Kushner's Saudi BFF Having Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week
Sucks to be Muhammad bin Salman, AKA "MBS"!
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines just released a declassified report on the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October of 2018. In the least surprising plot twist ever, American intelligence agencies have concluded that "Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi."
Really, it wasn't much of a WHODUNIT. Turkish intelligence agencies had bugged the Saudi embassy and caught the whole thing on tape. It didn't take long to work out that the Saudi government had lured the prominent critic of its royal family to the consulate to complete paperwork for his upcoming wedding. A 15-man squad of assassins had flown in from Riyadh the day before, toting their infamous bonesaw, done the deed, dispatched a decoy body double out the back door of the embassy clad in Khashoggi's clothes, and then caught the next flight out.
American intelligence officials, including former CIA director Gina Haspel, listened to the tape years ago. And although it hasn't been widely released, Al Jazeera reported on it in September of 2019:
In the audio recorded minutes before Khashoggi entered the consulate building, [senior Saudi intelligence officer and MBS bodyguard Maher] Mutreb asked whether it will "be possible to put the body in a bag".
In response, Salah Mohammed Abdah Tubaigy, a well-known Saudi forensics doctor, replied: "No. Too heavy, very tall, too."
He added: "Actually, I've always worked on cadavers. I know how to cut very well. I have never worked on a warm body though, but I'll also manage that easily.
"I normally put on my earphones and listen to music when I cut cadavers. In the meantime, I sip on my coffee and smoke. After I dismember it, you will wrap the parts into plastic bags, put them in suitcases and take them out [of the building]."
As today's report notes, multiple members of the kill team were members of the Crown Prince's private guard, and "[s]ince 2017, the Crown Prince has had absolute control of the Kingdom's security and intelligence organizations, making it highly unlikely that Saudi officials would have carried out an operation of this nature without the Crown Prince's authorization."
None of which is surprising — there's a reason he's been known as Mohammed "Bone Saw" for two years. But the public release of the report does signal a sea change in the position of the United States vis à vis Saudi Arabia in specific, and the Middle East generally.
For the past four years, Jared Kushner had free rein with his good buddy Mo to reorient American foreign policy in favor of a Saud-UAE-Israeli partnership, aligned against Iran. Donald Trump didn't give a shit about geopolitics or human rights anyway, and could be easily distracted with promises of major arms purchases. Remember that hilarious time the US government came out in support of the Saudi blockade of Qatar, a nation that houses a US air base, 10,000 American troops, and freaking CENTCOM, by convincing that fucking idiot the country was a state sponsor of terrorism? Remember when Trump said we couldn't say mean stuff about Saudi Arabia because they were going to buy $400 billion worth of weapons from us (they weren't) and create "a million and a half" American jobs (try 500)?
As long as the evangelicals kept saying he was the greatest friend of Israel, Trump wasn't going to worry about millions of dead Yemenis or the unilateral annexation of Palestinian land, much less one dead journalist. So we continued to sell arms to the Saudis, and the Trump administration blocked the release of an intelligence report concluding that MBS personally ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, with the DNI even flouting a law that required him to release an unclassified version of the report. According to Trump troll Ric Grenell, who was then acting DNI, they couldn't say who was responsible for the killing without "jeopardizing sources and methods." Shhhhhhh, can't say that we got that info from Turkey! It's a big secret! (Albeit, one that appeared on the front page of every major newspaper in the world.)
As usual, Trump was more blunt. "I saved his ass," the president told Bob Woodward. "I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop."
In the leadup to the election, Joe Biden refused to speak with the 35-year-old Prince Mohammad, and continues to insist his Saudi counterpart is really the 84-year-old King Salman. Yesterday, the two leaders spoke by phone in anticipation of the release of this report. According to the White House readout, President Biden "affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law." And just this afternoon the Treasury Department added more sanctions to those already in place on members of the Crown Prince's retinue who participated in the Khashoggi killing. In addition, they've laid down a marker that the American government will no longer turn a blind eye to the Kingdom's extra-territorial kidnappings of its own citizens overseas, and its massive cyberhacking campaign.
"Those involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi must be held accountable," reads an announcement on the Treasury Department website from Secretary Janet Yellen. "With this action, Treasury is sanctioning Saudi Arabia's Rapid Intervention Force and a senior Saudi official who was directly involved in Jamal Khashoggi's murder. The United States stands united with journalists and political dissidents in opposing threats of violence and intimidation. We will continue to defend the freedom of expression, which is the bedrock of a free society."
Which is NOT an end to Saudi arms sales. And we're NOT freezing out Prince Mohammad, who is likely to succeed his ailing father very soon. The immediate effect of today's actions is probably minimal. Because hard problems are hard.
But the Biden administration is signaling strongly that Saudi Arabia is going to be held at arms length from here on out and will not be treated as a staunch ally entitled to a blank check from Uncle Sam. See also Benjamin Netanyahu waiting an entire month to get a phone call from the new American president. Politico has a good rundown of how the relationships might change under the new administration.
So, all in all, getting appendicitis is probably the best thing that happened to MBS all week. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.