By Karen DeYoung, THE WASHINGTON POST
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation that led to the brutal 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to a long-withheld U.S. intelligence report made public Friday.
The unclassified report, by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, confirmed classified conclusions reached by the CIA just weeks after the killing of the dissident writer, a Virginia resident and contributing columnist for The Washington Post.
The two-page report said the intelligence community based its conclusions on the absolute control the crown prince, known as MBS, had over decision-making in the kingdom, his “support for using violent measures to silence dissidents abroad, including Khashoggi,” and the participation in the operation of his senior aides and security officials.
The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi
On Oct. 2, 2018, Saudi agents killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. What has been done in the aftermath? (Joyce Lee, Thomas LeGro, Dalton Bennett, John Parks/The Washington Post)
It was not immediately clear what steps the administration will take to meet President Biden’s pledge of accountability for the crime. Lawmakers in both parties have variously suggested sanctions ranging from economic restrictions to prohibitions against U.S. dealings with the 35-year-old crown prince to criminal prosecution.
“I think there are a range of actions that are on the table,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday.
As part of his promise to “recalibrate” relations with Saudi Arabia, Biden has cited several areas that include Saudi human rights violations and political repression, prosecution of the Saudi-led war in Yemen and the Khashoggi death. He has already stopped the U.S. sale of offensive weapons used in the war against Yemen’s Houti rebels and paused for review all other weapons purchases by the kingdom, the world’s largest customer for U.S. defense goods.
But at the same time, Biden has called the Saudis important regional partners, saying the United States will continue counterterrorism cooperation and its assistance to them against regional threats, including Iran.
Future dealings with the crown prince — the heir to the crown now held by his 85-year-old father and already the country’s de facto leader — will be challenging. The White House delayed Biden’s initial call with King Salman until more than a month after the inauguration and made clear it did not want his son on the line.
Neither side mentioned whether the Khashoggi issue was discussed on the call, which finally took place Thursday.
Release of the report marks the end of a long process that began when Khashoggi, lured to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents, was drugged and dismembered by Saudi agents. His remains have never been found.
The CIA, based in part on intercepts of text messages and telephone calls, along with an audio tape of the actual killing, quickly contradicted the Saudi government’s claims that the crown prince was not involved. After a classfied briefing just weeks after Khashoggi’s death, lawmakers said the evidence was irrefutable.
“If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes,” then-Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters.
But president Donald Trump, who had also been briefed, continued to insist there were no firm conclusions, asking “well, will anybody really know?”
Although his administration sanctioned 17 Saudi officials with alleged direct involvement in the killing itself, Trump insisted that the U.S. security alliance and massive Saudi purchases of U.S. weaponry were more important than holding the top Saudi leadership accountable.
“We do have an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good,” he told Fox News after hearing the intelligence evidence.
In early 2019, Congress demanded that the ODNI produce an unclassified report of U.S. intelligence conclusions, including names of involved Saudi officials at all levels, and passed legislation giving the administration 30 days to release it.
For the next two years, Trump ignored the law, while he and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the White House official in charge of the Saudi account, continued to develop a close relationships with Mohammed.
Saudi Arabia, while convicting 11 intelligence agents of the murder in a closed-door trial — with five death sentences later commuted to 20 years — avoided directly addressing the CIA findings and instead raised Trump’s skeptical public comments.
The crown prince, during a 2019 interview with 60 Minutes, pointed out that the United States had never released “an official statement” implicating him. “There isn’t clear information or evidence that someone close to me did something,” he said.
Asked about the CIA finding, he said, “If there is any such information that charges me, I hope it is brought forward publicly.”
While bipartisan majorities voted to stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, they were unable to muster the votes necessary to override Trump’s veto. When further sales were up for approval by lawmakers, the administration bypassed Congress altogether and declared a national security emergency required delivery.
Last year, on the second anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, Biden said that, as president, he would “reassess our relationship with the Kingdom, end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.”
“Jamal’s death will not be in vain,” Biden said.
Asked during her confirmation hearing whether she would release the ODNI report, Biden’s National Intelligence Director Avril Haines said yes and confirmed she would “follow the law.”
Accountability for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
ANTONY J. BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE
FEBRUARY 26, 2021
In October 2018, the world was horrified by the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Individuals should be able to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms without fear of government retribution, retaliation, punishment, or harm. Jamal Khashoggi paid with his life to express his beliefs. President Biden said in a statement released last October on the second anniversary of the murder that Mr. Khashoggi’s death would not be in vain, and that we owe it to his memory to fight for a more just and free world.
Today, the Biden-Harris Administration submitted an unclassified report to Congress, providing transparency on this horrific killing. Alongside the transmission of that report, and as part of the President’s pledge, the United States Government is announcing additional measures to reinforce the world’s condemnation of that crime, and to push back against governments that reach beyond their borders to threaten and attack journalists and perceived dissidents for exercising their fundamental freedoms.
To that end, today I am announcing the “Khashoggi Ban,” a new visa restriction policy pursuant to section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The Khashoggi Ban allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons. Family members of such individuals also may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy, where appropriate.
To start, the U.S. Department of State has taken action pursuant to the Khashoggi Ban to impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals believed to have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing. When identifying individuals for purposes of the Khashoggi Ban, we will also review them for designation under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act of 2020, as carried forward by the CA Act of 2021, which authorizes the denial of visas to them and their immediate family members as well as their public identification.
As a matter of safety for all within our borders, perpetrators targeting perceived dissidents on behalf of any foreign government should not be permitted to reach American soil.
I also have directed that the State Department fully report on any such extraterritorial activities by any government in our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The United States will continue to shine a light on any government that targets individuals, either domestically or extraterritorially, merely for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
While the United States remains invested in its relationship with Saudi Arabia, President Biden has made clear that partnership must reflect U.S. values. To that end, we have made absolutely clear that extraterritorial threats and assaults by Saudi Arabia against activists, dissidents, and journalists must end. They will not be tolerated by the United States.