It’s official where it counts: bin Salman did personally order Jamal Khashoggi’s murder

Yesterday, CIA Director Gina Haspel briefed the U. S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the 11 phone calls Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman made to the assassination squad leader before, during and after the brutal killing of the Saudi journalist at the country’s Istanbul Consulate.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tennessee (above), said after the meeting, he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in “about 30 minutes.” He reflects the cross-party views of all the members of the committee on this subject.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who originally demanded the briefing with Haspel, said there is “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agrees with his republican colleagues that a strong U. S. reaction to Khashoggi’s death is necessary and backs legislation to end all U. S. support for the Saudi coalition waging war in Yemen.

These developments aligns the United States legislative and intelligence institutions with Turkey, while the Pentagon and the White House continue to back Saudi Arabia; the Pentagon in virtue of using the Syrian Kurds as a tool for its now almost automatic “jobs for the boys” military expansionism on Turkey’s borders. However, the Pentagon and Trump appear to be at odds, as Trump attacks the currently absurd levels of military expenditure.

“Trump Stands Up for Saudi Arabian Values”

NYT editorial, Nov 20, 2018

President Trump confirmed the harshest caricatures drawn by America’s most cynical critics on Tuesday when he portrayed its central objectives in the world as panting after money and narrow self-interest.

Ignoring the findings of the C.I.A., Mr. Trump said in a muddled statement released by the White House that, in effect, no matter how wrong the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, no matter where true responsibility lay, he would not stand up to the Saudi regime. He would not take any chance of risking its supplies of money, oil and help in the Middle East by holding the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, accountable for the killing.

The president made clear his commitment to the use of the exclamation point, if not to truth and justice: “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

Mr. Khashoggi, a resident of Virginia though not an American citizen, was a columnist for an American newspaper, The Washington Post. It did not serve the safety of journalists or Americans abroad that President Trump could not summon even a modicum of lip service to condemn the abomination of dispatching a hit team equipped with a bone saw to throttle and dismember Mr. Khashoggi for daring to criticize the crown prince. The crown prince, who is 33, is an ally and kindred spirit to Mr. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

At the outset of his statement, Mr. Trump declared, “The world is a very dangerous place!” Indeed. He is making it more so by emboldening despots in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. The killing, revealed in all its inhuman detail by a Turkish audio recording and followed by a stream of lies revising previous lies from the Saudi regime, seemed to reflect arrogance of a rising breed of autocratic rulers impervious to shame or moral judgment. Mr. Trump is confirming them in their impunity.

In simplistic and often inaccurate terms, the statement reflected Mr. Trump’s view that all relationships are transactional, and that moral or human rights considerations must be sacrificed to a primitive understanding of American national interests — or as he put it, “America first!” “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” the president declared. “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Mr. Trump’s first reference to Mr. Khashoggi came only after a long riff about Iran, which Mr. Trump depicted, remarkably, as solely responsible for the war in Yemen. With disregard for the abundant evidence that Saudi Arabia has waged an indiscriminate air campaign that is responsible for a humanitarian disaster, he claimed that the Saudis would “gladly” withdraw if Iran did, and would provide humanitarian assistance. That was followed by a passage on the tens of billions of dollars in arms sales and investment Mr. Trump claims he has extracted from Saudi Arabia — claims that are vastly overblown.

When Mr. Trump did briefly note Mr. Khashoggi’s murder — “a terrible one” — the president repeated Saudi slanders that the journalist was an “enemy of the state” and an Islamist, disingenuously adding that this did not affect his thinking. It’s not the first time Mr. Trump has suggested that this is not someone for whom America should jeopardize its interests.

In the absence of leadership from the president, it falls to Congress to take action and protect America’s standing in the world. Mr. Trump knows he is on a collision course with the legislature: His statement concludes with a challenge to members of Congress who “for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction” to go ahead and try.

Mr. Trump was referring to a swelling bipartisan demand to use the leverage of arms sales to punish Saudi Arabia. His words are above all a gauntlet cast to Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has vacillated between principled opposition and craven support for President Trump.

A few hours after the White House released the president’s statement, Mr. Graham issued a rebuke. I firmly believe there will be strong bipartisan support for serious sanctions against Saudi Arabia, including appropriate members of the royal family, for this barbaric act which defied all civilized norms,” he said. “While Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of the crown prince — in multiple ways — has shown disrespect for the relationship and made him, in my view, beyond toxic.”

The murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the causes of human rights, justice and truth demand that no one in Saudi Arabia, certainly not the crown prince, escape accountability.

Your move, Senator Graham.

The White House Saudi Arabian Conundrum

The action last week went as follows:

*The CIA confirms that bin Salman ordered the killing, dismembering and dissolution of Jamal Khashoggi

*The White House floats the idea to Ankara that attempted 2016 Turkish coup-leader Fethulla Gülen could be extradited to Turkey for trial; a potentially explosive move given that Gülen’s career has been inextricably linked with the CIA so far.

*Ankara refuses, however, to link the two matters under any circumstances, confounding Turkey’s critics, who maintain that the Turks are using the Khashoggi case in a self-interested ploy to obtain money from Saudi Arabia and political concessions from the US. The possibility that this case is helping Turkey reshape the future of the Middle East has so far escaped the purview of Western commentators.

*The White House takes the extradition of Gülen off the table and now mulls the fate of bin Salman. The White House’s search for an escape route for bin Salman appears to be an exercise in ruthless logical consistency. If the United States embraces, in Trump’s words, a ‘killer’ as Egyptian leader, what’s not to like about bin Salman?

NYT: ‘Tell Your Boss’ recording links bin Salman to Khashoggi killing

New York Times, Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt report from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from London.

— Shortly after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated last month, a member of the kill team instructed a superior over the phone to “tell your boss,” believed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, that the operatives had carried out their mission, according to three people familiar with a recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing collected by Turkish intelligence.

The recording, shared last month with the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, is seen by intelligence officials as some of the strongest evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist whose death prompted an international outcry.

While the prince was not mentioned by name, American intelligence officials believe “your boss” was a reference to Prince Mohammed. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of 15 Saudis dispatched to Istanbul to confront Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate there, made the phone call and spoke in Arabic, the people said.

Turkish intelligence officers have told American officials they believe that Mr. Mutreb, a security officer who frequently traveled with Prince Mohammed, was speaking to one of the prince’s aides. While translations of the Arabic may differ, the people briefed on the call said Mr. Mutreb also said to the aide words to the effect of “the deed was done.”

“A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer now at the Brookings Institution. “It is pretty incriminating evidence.”

Turkish officials have said that the audio does not conclusively implicate Prince Mohammed, and American intelligence and other government officials have cautioned that however compelling the recording may be, it is still not irrefutable evidence of his involvement in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

Even if Mr. Mutreb believed the killing was ordered by the crown prince, for example, he may have had an inaccurate understanding of the origins of the order. Prince Mohammed is not specifically named on the recording, and intelligence officials do not have ironclad certainty that Mr. Mutreb was referring to him.

In a statement on Monday, Saudi officials denied that the crown prince “had any knowledge whatsoever” of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. Referring to Mr. Mutreb’s instructions to “tell your boss,” the Saudi statement said that Turkey had “allowed our intelligence services to hear recordings, and at no moment was there any reference to the mentioned phrase in the recordings.”

The Turks may possess multiple recordings, including surveillance of telephone calls, and the Turkish authorities may have shared the audio only selectively. The call was part of a recording that Turkish officials played for Ms. Haspel during her visit in October to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, but they did not allow her to bring it back to the United States. On Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced that his government had shared the audio with Saudi Arabia, the United States and other Western allies.

But while Turkish officials have played the recording for American and other intelligence agencies and provided transcripts, the Turks have not handed over the recording for independent analysis, according to Turkish officials.

Turkey shared evidence from the case with “a large number of friendly nations,” a spokesman for Mr. Erdogan, Fahrettin Altun, said on Monday. Reacting to French criticism of Turkey’s handling of the case, Mr. Altun said that the Turkish government had played an audio recording for French intelligence officials and given them transcripts.

“Let us not forget that this case would have been already covered up had it not been for Turkey’s determined efforts,” Mr. Altun said.

The growing evidence that Prince Mohammed was involved in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi is certain to intensify pressure on the White House, which appeared intent on relying on a lack of concrete proof of his involvement to preserve its relationship with the crown prince. Prince Mohammed has fostered a close relationship with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and the Trump administration has turned Saudi Arabia into Washington’s most crucial Arab partner.

Some Trump advisers have argued that they would need indisputable evidence of Prince Mohammed’s involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing before they would punish him or the kingdom more harshly. Turkish officials have said the recording contains evidence of a premeditated killing, in which Saudi agents quickly strangled Mr. Khashoggi and methodically dismembered his body with a bone saw.

The administration, according to current and former officials, is hoping that making some modest moves on sanctions and curtailing support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen will satisfy critics, including those on Capitol Hill.

But the shift in power in Congress, where Democrats take control of the House in January, is also increasing pressure on the administration to take more punitive action. The C.I.A. and other intelligence officials were set to brief Congress this week, and congressional leaders will press Ms. Haspel for her assessment of Prince Mohammed’s culpability.

Mr. Trump himself has suggested more information would be coming out. “I’ll have a much stronger opinion on that subject over the next week,” he told reporters on Wednesday at the White House. “I am forming a very strong opinion.”

Signs of a hardening stance within the administration are emerging. The State Department issued a tough statement on Sunday saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Prince Mohammed in a phone call that “the United States will hold all of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable.”

Saudi officials planned to release their own inquiry in the coming days, but Turkey’s revelation that they and Western officials also have the transcripts of the recordings could force the Saudis to scramble before any presentation they planned to make.

Even without definitive proof, intelligence agencies had already concluded that only Prince Mohammed could have ordered the operation to kill Mr. Khashoggi, given the personal character of his governance and the depth of his control over the kingdom. Evidence from the tape also showed that Mr. Khashoggi was killed soon after he entered the room of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where the security team was waiting for him, further proof that the killing was planned, according to people briefed on the intelligence.

Current and former intelligence officials insisted that it is rare that all of the pieces of a complex puzzle like Mr. Khashoggi’s killing would ever be available. Intelligence, according to a former official, simply does not work like a spy thriller or television cop show where a case turns on a crystal-clear recording.

Investigators were unlikely to collect a piece of evidence that incontrovertibly links the crown prince to the killing, said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, who is set to lead the House Intelligence Committee next year.

“You are not going to have any of the people who carried out the murder speak openly about who they got their orders from or who is in the loop on it,” Mr. Schiff said in an interview. “That is not realistic to expect.”

The absence of direct evidence does not prevent the intelligence community from laying responsibility at Prince Mohammed’s feet. An intelligence assessment includes an agency’s best judgment on what happened based on the available facts and experience of officials.

Mr. Schiff promised that when he takes charge of the Intelligence Committee, he will investigate Mr. Khashoggi’s killing and examine Saudi Arabia’s actions more broadly in the Middle East, including its military campaign in Yemen, which has prompted a humanitarian crisis.

“We need to do our own due diligence, we need to make sure we are getting good intelligence, and we need to make sure the administration doesn’t misrepresent to the country what foreign actors are doing,” Mr. Schiff said.

Nonetheless, current and former officials said they do not expect Mr. Trump to drop his support for Prince Mohammed.

“The Trump family and the president have built up such an overwhelming reliance on the crown prince that the relationship is now, in their view, too big to fail,” Mr. Schiff said.

Policymakers — not Ms. Haspel or Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence — will decide what sort of relationship to have with Prince Mohammed and what punishment Saudi Arabia should face for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, current and former officials said.

 

Absentee Prayer -صلاة الغائب – for Jamal Khashoggi Friday 16th November

Bin Salman was the future once: desperate efforts by Netanhayu and the Christian Right cannot save him

Under pressure, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner,  Netanyahu, and Saudi and UAE paid lobbyists in Washington are arguing vehemently that unseating Mohamed bin Salman would destabilise the Saudi Kingdom as a whole. A delegation of right-wing Christian Evangelicals visited bin Salman to give him their political backing and positive coverage in their media outlets in the US, to try to tip the balance in the fraught atmosphere surrounding the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

The arguments put forward acknowledge what are now called bin Salman’s proven “missteps”: the arrests of women activists, diplomatic crises with Germany and Canada, the “imbroglio” surrounding thye kidnap of Saad Hariri, the Qatar boycott, and the “misfiring” war on Yemen. But then it is maintained that to remove bin Salman as crown prince is “neither realistic nor prudent”, and that he must remain for the Saudi state to endure and for the sake of stability in the Middle East region.

In the Al-Jazeera documentary above Mohammed Mukhtar al-Shanqiti disagrees that the Saudi state needs him to survive, and that any support from the Christian Right can tip the scales on the extreme pressures Trump now faces to let go of him. Furthermore, if bin Salman had one iota of credibility left on the Arab Street, that is now shot to pieces after the airing of the video of his meeting with the delegation of Christian right-wingers.

Al-Shanqiti takes special exception to the concept of stability as it is being pushed by Kushner et al which, he maintains, reeks of racism and hypocrisy. It is clear from the discourse that stability for Arab countries is only understood in the context of the imposition of tyrannical régimes and reckless despots, such that stability becomes synonymous with tyranny. In the American and European contexts, of course, stability is only ever understood as being based on democracy.

In his recent article David Hearst concurs that Mohammed bin Salman’s political future is narrowing quickly: ‘After a prolonged absence in London, his uncle and nemesis, Prince Ahmad bin Abdulaziz, returned home to a hero’s welcome. Senior princes have flocked to greet him, at the airport and receptions held afterwards. The welcome includes heavyweights like former intelligence chief Khaled bin Bandar, former deputy defence minister Khaled bin Sultan, and former crown prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz.’

Hearst goes on: ‘It is telling that no photographs have emerged so far of Prince Ahmad with Mohammed bin Salman, although there are reports that bin Salman and his brother, Khaled bin Salman, greeted him at the airport.

Bin Salman, in less than a week, has gone from strutting the world stage to circling the wagons. His initial arrogance is well documented. Just reread the interview he gave to Bloomberg a few days after Khashoggi’s murder. It took a while for reality to dawn on him about the scale of the problems he faced.

There are two scenarios now for Ahmad to pursue. The first is to get bin Salman to strike a deal. He abandons his position as crown prince along with his security portfolio, defence ministry, interior ministry and security services. In exchange, he retains his role as an economic reformer.

The second is to go for his defenestration. The chairmanship of the Allegiance Council, which nominally at least vets and approves royal appointments, is vacant after the death of Meshaal bin Abdulaziz. If Ahmad were nominated chairman of the body, he would play the role of kingmaker.’

The US and the UK are taking over from bin Salman

The US is calling for a Yemen ceasefire within the next 30 days – not later, says Mattis. The Pentagon will ground the Saudi Air Force. The State Department (Pompeo) has made the formal US call for the ceasefire.

Ahmed bin Abdelaziz, King Salman’s brother has returned to Saudi Arabia from London with MI6/SAS protection. Bin Salman (MBS)’s Blackwater bodyguard has been told to stand down.