Dial M For Mohammed Bin Salman (And Also Murder)
The United Nations on Wednesday released a special investigative report on the October 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The report says there's "credible evidence" that top Saudi Arabian officials, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were involved in ordering the murder. The report also offers the most detailed account so far of what happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the day Khashoggi was murdered. We suppose for the sake of conforming to Wonkette Style we're supposed to add in a bonesaw joke here, but Jesus this is grim stuff.
The 100-page report by Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur for the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, lays out a detailed timeline of the killing, including evidence that points to premeditation on the part of the Saudis, who sent a 15-member team to Istanbul under cover of diplomatic immunity. The timeline also details, where possible, the efforts the Saudis took to cover up the killing from Turkish investigators. In addition, there's considerable discussion of how all that violated international human rights laws and the treaties covering embassies and consulates (short version: diplomatic immunity doesn't cover murders in consulates).
But before getting into the sometimes dry examination of international law, the report's introduction places the whole horror show in a painfully human context:
By appointment, on 2 October 2018, Mr. Kashoggi entered the Consulate of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, to obtain papers he needed to pave the way for his marriage to his fiancée, Ms Hatice Cengiz. She waited outside the Consulate for him to return, but brutally slain within the Consulate, he never would; the bitter reality of his murder made all the more poignant by the joyous purpose for which he entered the Consulate in the first place.
As for the international law stuff, the report is quite clear on its findings: "Mr. Khashoggi's killing constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible." The report notes that, as far as international human rights law goes, that state responsibility
is not a question of, for example, which of the State officials ordered Mr. Khashoggi's death; whether one or more ordered a kidnapping that was botched and then became an accidental killing; or whether the officers acted on their own initiative or ultra vires. [that's law talk for going beyond their legal authority -- Dok Zoom]
Callamard makes clear that the planning for Khashoggi's killing started immediately after he first went to the consulate on September 28, to request that document allowing him to get married. Officials at the consulate phoned Riyadh with the news that Khashoggi had been told to return on October 2: "Yes, we were all shocked. [...] There isn't anything official but it's known that he is one of the people sought."
The Saudis started sending members of the 15-person team to Istanbul immediately, and even making at least a gesture toward a cover story, contacting a tourist agency to request hotel suites with a "sea view" for the vacationing kill team guys. Consulate staff also made sure that on October 2, no foreign workers were to come to the building, and Saudi employees were told to stay in their offices.
If you don't want to see the horrifying details related to the actual killing, go ahead and skip to the "Cover Up" heading below, OK?
The day of the murder, shortly before Khashoggi arrived at the consulate, recordings captured a conversation between intelligence officer Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb and Doctor Bonesaw himself, Salah Mohammed Tubaigy. The two discussed dismembering the body, and Tubaigy worried about whether his ass was sufficiently covered (we've added paragraph breaks here):
At 13:02, inside the Consulate, Mr. Mutreb and Dr. Tubaigy had a conversation just minutes before Mr. Khashoggi entered. Mr. Mutreb asked whether it will "be possible to put the trunk in a bag?" Dr. Tubaigy replied "No. Too heavy." He expressed hope that it would "be easy. Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them." "Leather bags." There was a reference to cutting skin.
Dr. Tubaigy also expressed concerns: "My direct manager is not aware of what I am doing. There is nobody to protect me."
At the end of the conversation, Mr. Mutreb asked whether "the sacrificial animal" has arrived. At 13:13, a voice said "he has arrived." In these recordings heard by the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Khashoggi's name was not mentioned
That really doesn't sound like a couple of guys who were planning a kidnapping that went tragically wrong, huh? Relying on reconstructions of events by Turkish intelligence, as well as the audio recordings she listened to, Callamard goes into some detail on the actual killing, which appears to have been finished within ten minutes of Khashoggi's arrival. The Saudi agents tried to get Khashoggi to write a message to his son, as if everything's just ducky, but Khashoggi refused, even asking, "What should I say? See you soon? I can't say kidnapping." He also exclaimed, "How could this happen in an embassy?" The Saudi agents continued with the fiction that they were planning to kidnap Khashoggi, at least long enough to get a needle in his arm, telling him
"Type it, Mr. Jamal. Hurry up. Help us so that we can help you because at the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don't help us you know what will happen at the end; let this issue find a good end."
At 13:33, Mr. Khashoggi said "there is a towel here. Are you going to give me drugs?" "We will anesthetize you."
After that, just noises of the killing and dismemberment, and we won't add any more details.
OK, safe to read again, mostly. The report details the comings and goings of a Saudi forensic cleanup team that scoured the consulate, as well as the efforts the Saudi government made to mislead the world about Khashoggi's disappearance, including sending an agent with roughly the same build as Khashoggi along with the kill team, so he could appear in CCTV video leaving the consulate and wearing Khashoggi's clothes -- a step Callamard notes just isn't used in kidnapping operations.
By the time Turkish police were allowed to visit the consulate -- and limited to a very limited investigation -- the crime scene had been so thoroughly scrubbed that swabs returned no sign of murder, or even of the sorts of everyday background stuff you'd find in a normal office.
As for the involvement of the Saudi Arabian government, the report acknowledges that while there's no "smoking gun" to prove Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, the amount of government resources involved in planning and cleaning up went far beyond what any "rogue operation" would likely be able to manage, although the Saudi government is prosecuting former deputy head of intelligence Ahmed Asiri for arranging the entire thing without anyone higher up knowing about it:
Evidence points to the 15-person mission to execute Mr. Khashoggi requiring significant government coordination, resources and finances. While the Saudi government claims that these resources were put in place by Ahmed Asiri, every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched.
The report calls for an international investigation, the suspension of Saudi Arabia's secret trial against 11 members of the kill team, and international sanctions against MBS and his personal assets "until and unless evidence has been produced that he bears no responsibility for the execution of Mr. Khashoggi." Ever the dreamer, Callamard also says that if Saudi Arabia wants to prove it will never let this sort of thing happen again, it could release all the people it's imprisoned for doing journalism or expressing their opinions.
In response, the US is busy getting ready for a war against Iran on behalf of our very good friends the Saudis, who buy lots of weapons systems from us, the end.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.