There is credible evidence that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other high-level officials are individually liable for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a UN expert says.
A report by special rapporteur Agnes Callamard says the evidence merits further investigation by an independent and impartial international inquiry.
From the report:
“Joints will be separated,” he said. “It will not be a problem.”
Then, as the minutes passed, a Saudi intelligence officer asked whether the “sacrificial animal” had finally arrived.
That “animal” was the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist, and the exchange between the Saudi operatives as they waited to ambush and kill him last October was among the many details disclosed today in a new United Nations report on the case.
Within a day, the report said, new teams of Saudi operatives were already working diligently to thwart investigators and cleanse the crime scene — the Saudi consulate in Istanbul — including setting a fire in a barrel outside that may have been used to destroy evidence.
“Credible evidence,” the report found, points to “the crime scenes having been thoroughly, even forensically, cleaned.”
All the while, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, professed ignorance of Khashoggi’s fate.
“We are very keen to know what happened to him,” the prince said in a television interview three days after the killing.
But the destruction of evidence “could not have taken place without the crown prince’s awareness,” the report concluded.
The kingdom’s current secret trial of 11 Saudis in connection with the killing lacks credibility, the report said, and may be an effort to deflect blame from the most senior figures behind it.
The report, by Agnes Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions for the United Nations human rights agency, makes the most detailed and authoritative case to date that responsibility for the killing of Khashoggi and its cover-up lies at the highest levels of the Saudi royal court.
Drawing on extensive access to surveillance by Turkish intelligence agencies and the accounts of Turkish investigators, the report finds that “credible evidence” justifies the “investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the crown prince’s.”
It urges further criminal investigations both by the United Nations and, because of Khashoggi’s status as an American resident, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Western intelligence agencies have already concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.
But the report may present a new challenge to Trump, who has embraced Prince Mohammed as a pivotal ally and sought to avoid blaming him for directing the murder.
“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in a statement last November.
Administration officials have since repeated that they were awaiting the results of Saudi Arabia’s own investigation, which Callamard dismissed as a potential “miscarriage of justice.”
Outraged by Khashoggi’s killing, the Senate and House passed a resolution to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and to curtail Trump’s war powers.
But the president vetoed it in April.
Responding to the new report, Adel al-Jubair, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, said in a statement that the report offered “nothing new” and only “reiterates what has been published and circulated in the media.”
He argued that unspecified “unfounded allegations” undermined the credibility of the report, and he insisted that the kingdom’s own courts were “the only relevant authority in dealing with this case.”
Callamard’s report, however, said that the Saudi trial has been “clouded in secrecy and lacking in due process.”
Callamard called on Saudi Arabia to suspend the trial all together.
The court has not publicly disclosed the names of the defendants, the accusations against them or the evidence in the case.
But Callamard said that some of the 15 members of the Saudi assassination squad identified by Turkish authorities have not been charged.
On top of that, the report said, the defendants do not include other Saudi officials sanctioned by Western governments in connection with the killing — most notably Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed, and Mohammed al-Otaibi, the Saudi consul general in Istanbul.
The new report also highlights for the first time al-Otaibi’s role in organizing the killing, detailing a level of coordination that makes it hard to depict the killing as an unauthorized or a rogue operation.
In the days before the killing, the report notes, al-Otaibi sent two consular officials for a “top secret mission” to Riyadh, instructing them to buy plane tickets for their families in order to disguise their travel as a family vacation but to disclose the trip to no one, not even to their families.
To accommodate the incoming operatives, al-Otaibi then helped book hotel rooms in Istanbul with sea views, apparently to disguise their travel as vacation as well.
And on the eve of the killing, the report said, he was recorded instructing his staff to stay away from the area around his office.
“A commission” from Saudi Arabia “will have something to do on my floor in the office,” he told subordinates, and “their work inside will take two or three days,” the report said.
Starting as early as the next day, successive teams of Saudi officials with forensic expertise began to arrive, apparently to remove incriminating evidence while Saudi diplomats held Turkish investigators at bay, the report notes.
When the investigators finally examined the crime scene for genetic material or other evidence, the reports notes, the Turkish detectives reported finding it suspiciously immaculate.
“Even in a normal room, we would expect more reactions,” one investigator said, according to the report.
Evidence of a professional cleanup, Callamard said, suggested “that the Saudi investigation was not conducted in good faith, and that it may amount to obstructing justice.”
Although representatives of some foreign governments have been invited to attend the trial in Saudi Arabia, the report said, they have been required to commit to nondisclosure agreements, preventing them from reporting or commenting on the proceedings.
“A shadowy presence of international observers cannot, although clearly meant to, lend credibility to eminently problematic proceedings,” the report said. It argued that the presence of foreign diplomats could make them complicit in the “miscarriage of justice.”
MKhashoggi disappeared after visiting the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to obtain papers that would have enabled him to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting outside.
Saudi officials said at first that Khashoggi had left the consulate alive and denied any knowledge of his whereabouts.
But they later admitted that he had been killed in the building after what they said was a botched mission to bring him back to Saudi Arabia.
A “local collaborator” disposed of his body, Saudi officials have said, but has not been found.
“Khashoggi’s killing constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the state of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible,” and may also have been an act of torture under international treaties, Callamard wrote. “His attempted kidnapping would also constitute a violation under international human rights law.”
Attribution:The New York Times