AMONG the broadly sensible recommendations at the end of the report, released last week, by the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions following an “investigation into the unlawful death of Mr Jamal Khashoggi”, Agnes Callamard suggests that member states “impose targeted sanctions against individuals allegedly involved in the killing … These should include the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, focusing on his personal assets abroad, until and unless evidence has been produced that he bears no responsibility for the execution of Mr Khashoggi”.
Given that Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) most precious personal asset abroad resides in the White House, the suggestion is unlikely to have sparked any sort of panic inside the royal palace in Riyadh. After all, there has been much else to worry about in recent days, not least a ruling by the UK’s court of appeal that British arms sales to Saudi Arabia are unlawful in view of their contribution to civilian casualties in Yemen, and bipartisan votes in the US Senate along similar lines.
There is no prospect, however, of the Senate voting to override the inevitable presidential veto. In fact, Donald Trump on Sunday dismissed the special rapporteur’s request for a criminal investigation by the FBI into the murder of Khashoggi by saying it would interfere with the sales of weaponry. “I think it’s been heavily investigated,” he told NBC. “By everybody … I’ve seen so many reports.”
There’s no doubt Khashoggi’s murder was entirely premeditated.
These reports presumably include submissions by the US intelligence community, which reached the same conclusion as Callamard: namely that the US-based journalist could not conceivably have been butchered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul without the crown prince’s knowledge. The gruesome details in the special rapporteur’s report leave little doubt that the killing was entirely premeditated, down to preparations for disposing of the corpse, even though the aftermath hadn’t been clearly thought through. The idea of getting away with pretending that Khashoggi walked out of the consulate in one piece, followed by expressions of confected concern by Riyadh over his subsequent ‘disappearance’, is mind-boggling.
The Turkish authorities — which initially milked the murder for all it was worth, then stepped back after Recep Tayyip Erdogan got what he wanted out of Saudi Arabia — shared only brief excerpts from the audio recorded inside the consulate with the special rapporteur, who was not allowed to make copies of it or take notes. There are nonetheless telling instances, including references the day before the killing to chopping up the journalist’s remains, and the head of the death squad, Maher Mutreb, describing Khashoggi as “the sacrificial animal” shortly before the latter stepped into the consulate on Oct 2 last year.
The initial international reaction was horror, and a few nations and companies withdrew from an economic conclave scheduled shortly afterwards. In the somewhat longer term, though, MBS wasn’t mistaken in counting on getting away with it. It would be surprising if Callamard’s report were to seriously challenge his impunity.
Germany, to its credit, was the only significant nation to halt arms sales to the Saudis — and even though Berlin’s contributions to the Saudi arsenal have been relatively small, British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has reportedly lobbied the government of Angela Merkel to lift the embargo. Hunt is thus far the underdog among the last two contenders for Conservative Party leadership, but there is no reason to suppose his rival, Boris Johnson, who is expected to become Britain’s prime minister late next month unless he self-destructs in the interim, has a different opinion about arms sales to the Saudis.
A comprehensive report in The Guardian earlier this month noted that London’s military relationship with Riyadh extends to the deployment of personnel from the war industry and the RAF, which compounds British complicity in the aggression against Yemen — also initiated by MBS.
In this he had the crucial assistance of Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince and de facto ruler of Abu Dhabi who, according to an investigative report published in The New York Times some three weeks ago, was instrumental in elevating MBS to the position of Saudi crown prince (the previous incumbent, Mohammed bin Nayef, wasn’t particularly friendly with the Emiratis) and has served as his mentor.
He was also quick to ingratiate himself with the Trump team via Blackwater founder Erik Prince (who has helped to recruit mercenaries for the Yemen misadventure) and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, whose so-called peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians apparently has MBZ’s stamp all over it.
Nothing much will come of the UN’s Khashoggi investigation, given that the US and the UK, in their hostility towards Iran, have closely allied themselves with even more disruptive and potentially destructive elements in the shifting sands of the Middle East.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2019