Finally, nearly three weeks after what most of the world suspected to be a foul murder, the Saudi regime has officially admitted that Jamal Khashoggi was killed in its consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. No sooner had the Saudis issued their latest lie to cover up previous lies, US President Trump was lending White House prestige to the travesty.
Trump said the belated Saudi version of what happened was “credible”. He also welcomed as “good first steps” the Saudi arrest of 18 individuals and sacking of several top officials.
The Saudi “explanation” of Khashoggi’s death stretches credulity to snapping point. They are saying he was killed after a fist-fight broke out in the consulate. The Saudis are also claiming the de facto ruler of the kingdom, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), did not know anything about the murder, its planning or aftermath. Recall that MbS asserted in an interview with Bloomberg on October 5 that Khashoggi had walked out of the consulate the same day he arrived.
Now the Crown Prince has been appointed by his father, aging King Salman, to head up a committee to oversee an overhaul of the royal court’s intelligence organization. The former deputy head of intelligence, Ahmed al-Assiri, is one of those senior aides who has been sacked and set to take the rap.
In other words, the heir to the throne, MbS, is being absolved of any responsibility in the scandal. The sacked aides and arrested men, who are believed to include the 15-member team that went to Istanbul to intercept Khashoggi, are being made the scapegoats.
It is customary Saudi treachery at work. There is simply no way that a 15-member team that included top bodyguards of the Crown Prince could have carried out the Khashoggi abduction and killing without the monarch’s knowledge and sanction.
US intelligence intercepts have claimed to show that MbS was indeed involved in the planning of Khashoggi’s doom. It is simply preposterous that the 15-member hit squad went “rogue” and carried out a murder on their own initiative.
But President Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appear to be coordinating with the House of Saud to project an alibi for the 33-year-old future king.
It was Trump who floated the idea last week of “rogue killers” being the culprits. Pompeo then flew to Riyadh where he held chummy photo-ops with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman. The top US diplomat ludicrously commended the Saudi “commitment” to a “transparent investigation” into what happened in Istanbul.
Now that the Saudis have finally admitted the killing, while denying the Crown Prince’s involvement, Trump is saying that such a patent lie is “credible”.
What’s more, the treachery in the House of Saud will likely involve the killing of the scapegoats to ensure they never talk about the plot against Khashoggi.
One of the 15-man hit squad has already been killed in a suspicious car accident in Riyadh last week. Mashal Saad al Bostani (31) was a Saudi Royal Air Force lieutenant who was identified by Turkish intelligence as being among the group that lay in wait at the consulate for Khashoggi. Turkish media have speculated that the House of Saud has begun destroying evidence and potential witnesses. Watch, in particular, the fate of the former Consul General in Istanbul, Mohammed al Otaibi.
The notion, according to the Saudis, that a fight broke out in the consulate leading to Khashoggi’s death does not tally with reports that the 15-man team was equipped with a bone saw. Turkish intelligence sources also say they have audio tapes showing Khashoggi was immediately assaulted on entering the consulate, then tortured by having his fingers cut off, before finally being decapitated and his body dismembered.
If the Saudi “explanation” is considered, then where is Khashoggi’s remains? If his death was somehow an accident, then the Saudis should be able to present his corpse. But they won’t because the far more credible account is that Khashoggi’s remains would testify to torture and mutilation.
Let’s also bear in mind the routine nature of treachery in the House of Saud, especially under the new Crown Prince. When he was made heir to the throne in 2017, the then incumbent Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was unceremoniously sidelined. It was a power grab that broke Saudi succession rules. Video footage at the time showed MbS feigning an act of humility and contrition to the ousted Bin Nayef, his older cousin. MbS was seen bending down to kiss the leg of the hapless former Crown Prince, in what appeared to be a show of magnanimity.
Within weeks of the ouster, it was then reported that Bin Nayef had been placed under continual house arrest by MbS with armed guards. The move was to ensure there would not be a counter-coup.
Next the new Crown Prince ordered the round-up and detention of several other senior House of Saud figures. Some of them were reportedly tortured and extorted for billions of dollars to buy their release.
MbS’s penchant for abduction then went overseas when he ordered the kidnapping of Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri. Hariri was reportedly slapped around while in detention in Riyadh before being forced to announce his “resignation” in a bizarre TV interview. An intervention by French President Emmanuel Macron, who was friendly with MbS, managed to secure Hariri’s release, and he reversed his resignation on returning to Lebanon.
These are just some examples of the Saudi Crown Prince’s nature as a psychopathic tyrant who thinks he can act with impunity. The image of a “reformist” monarch had been built up by the Western media and leaders like Macron and Trump. But that image is totally at odds with reality, as the Western media are slowly being forced now to admit after the barbarous killing of Khashoggi.
US media and many Republican and Democrat lawmakers in Congress are skeptical about the latest Saudi “explanation” for the death of Khashoggi.
Other Western governments seem also to be adopting a tougher line, with Britain, France and Germany withdrawing diplomatic contacts.
Trump also lately said there “will be severe consequences” after the Saudis admitted Khashoggi’s death in their consulate. But the lucrative multi-billion arms trade is off-limits for Trump if any sanctions are imposed.
The White House’s solemn rhetoric is belied, however, by Trump’s willingness to dignify the absurd Saudi response as “credible”. The whitewashing of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – the undoubted author of Khashoggi’s execution – is being given crucial gloss from the Trump administration.
Apart from the lucrative arms trade and Trump’s own personal enrichment from years of doing property business with the House of Saud, the other vital interest for the US is its reliance on the Saudis for the coming war with Iran. Trump said so himself when he tried to excuse not imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia by saying the country was “an important counter to Iran”.
In the next few weeks, the Trump administration is set to impose a global oil embargo on Iranian exports of crude. For the economic war to succeed, Washington needs the Saudis to ramp up oil supply in order to replace the anticipated Iranian shortfall and to prevent world market prices from soaring.
The imperative of US aggression towards Iran by Trump means that he has to, by sheer necessity, shore up the House of Saud. That means spinning a cover-up to absolve the Crown Prince. But such is the damning evidence against MbS over Khashoggi’s murder, the Trump media charade on behalf of the Saudis may prove to fall apart. For the sake of peace in the Middle East, we might hope so too.