US President Donald Trump yesterday said he did not discuss the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a phone call with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“I did not because it really didn’t come up in that discussion,” Trump said on NBC’s Meet the Press program.
Asked if he would allow the FBI to investigate the murder and dismemberment of the journalist who was a US resident, Trump said: “I think it’s been heavily investigated,” adding: “By everybody. I mean, I’ve seen so many different reports.”
The phone call, according to the White House, focused on tensions with Tehran and oil, yet came just days after a grim UN report linked Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials to the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur, presented her report on her fact finding and issues of international law in the matter of the killing Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia in what the kingdom has conceded was a rendition-gone-wrong. She was assisted by such luminaries as Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.
Weighing in at 99 pages of worthy legalese, it is nonetheless a disappointing document.
Larded with yet more grisly details courtesy of Turkish authorities, the report calls for the sham trial in Riyadh against Jamal Khashoggi’s killers to be stopped and for Saudi-Arabia’s Crown Prince’s personal responsibility in the killing to be examined.
While this is all to be lauded and good to see the facts tested against rules of international law, if that is all there is to say then the rapporteur and her team have carefully moved the facts plus a few more strays around a different room. No harm done.
Sadly that is not what the report does.
In the murky Khashoggi stew there are the stirrings of at least two more nations: Turkey and the United States.
Their behaviour has been questionable rather than squeaky clean. It is here that the Callamard report underwhelms and does more harm than good.
Having clubbed Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and its legal system over the head, the report is in a rush to let the United States and even Turkey off the hook.
The report concludes, ‘Turkey or the United States did not violate their obligation to protect Mr. Khashoggi’.
Yet in both cases there were media reports, based on leaks by officials of these nations, that these nations had prior knowledge of what was going down.
The rapporteur acknowledges that the issue was serious enough, by addressing it in this UN report.
So it matters.
How does the UN Khashoggi report reach its absolution of Turkey and the United States?
The report starts by saying that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ and its investigation was ‘hampered by the lack of access to Intelligence assessment and by the inability to authenticate leaks reported by journalists.’
Essentially, the Turkish and US governments didn’t hand over their intel when asked. And nor did United States journalists (asking Turkish journalists is the same as asking Ankara in a case like this). Both for very different reasons. So, without evidence, to decide one way or another was not possible.
But that is not what the report says. The report moves on to ‘information available’ – which the rapporteur ‘could substantiate’. And on the basis of this arbitrary data set of what the rapporteur plus team could lay their hands on, the report nonetheless decides to exonerate Turkey and the US.
A future report by a Saudi institution could argue with the UN special rapporteur’s report by using the same argument – they didn’t have the same access as the rapporteur on those parts of the affair one would really like to exonerate their country.
The entire Khashoggi affair has been one dodgy event after another and this report could at least have framed the events like that, handing a red card to Riyadh and saying that the jury is out on yellow cards for Ankara and Washington DC.
Instead the report sanctioned their behaviour.
Over half of the world’s journalists were jailed by Ankara and Jamal Khashoggi was a blogger for the Washington Post under an administration that had until recently a White House spokesperson who is a liar.
Those are facts.