In 2018, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect the documents he needed for his wedding. He never got out of there. At the consulate, a group of people waited to be murdered with the tools necessary to ensure that his body was never seen again. It was an attempt to make a critic disappear with the aim of simply being forgotten. This strategy appears to have worked for more than two years as the Saudi crown prince, who was blamed for the murder, escaped any significant form of accountability.
However, this week we had a harbinger that could result in the Crown Prince being held accountable when the Biden administration released a non-confidential CIA report of Khashoggi’s murder. This is the first official confirmation from the US government of the prince’s role in the murder. For more than two years, the Trump administration has foiled our judicial efforts to ensure the publication of records showing this information, including the same report.
Disclosure of the report is the first step towards being accountable and preventing the Crown Prince from going completely unpunished for the murder. However, decisive action must follow these revelations. For too long, the United States, the EU and the United Kingdom have condemned Khashoggi’s murder while in fact ignoring the murder. With more solid evidence, there is now a need for ramifications for such a serious crime. For this reason, my organization is calling on the EU and other countries around the world to end arms exports to Saudi Arabia and to impose financial and travel sanctions on the Crown Prince and everyone else responsible for the attack. Failure to perform these acts would be unconscious.
Ending all arms exports to Saudi Arabia would send a clear message that human rights violations in the interests of multi-billion dollar arms deals would no longer be ignored. That reality was something former President Donald Trump liked to boast about. Last month the Biden government temporarily suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia. However, it is necessary to go further and ensure that the ban remains in place as long as Saudi Arabia continues to engage in a consistent pattern of serious human rights abuses. Ending arms exports would not only send a strong message about the Khashoggi assassination, it would end Western complicity – the US, UK and France are the top three arms exporters to Saudi Arabia – in another area where Arabia Saudi Arabia violates human rights and international humanitarian law: bombing civilian targets in neighboring Yemen.
Specific financial and travel expenses make the consequences personal and not just abstract. As with the sanctions against Russian officials, the Crown Prince and his henchmen must be subject to asset freezes and travel bans. There is no reason why the Crown Prince should visit his € 250 million French castle as long as the crime he has orchestrated goes unpunished. Those who have carried out their orders and have not yet been sanctioned must also feel this pressure and know that things are no longer the same for them.
Disclosing more official US government information about Khashoggi’s murder would help prevent it from being overlooked and protect against repetition of such crimes. The report released this week wasn’t the only recording the Trump administration withheld from us in our litigation. A CIA report, widely quoted in the media but not officially published, concluded with “medium to high confidence” that the Crown Prince had ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. In court, the Trump administration even refused to admit that it had the report. However, the court’s latest ruling requires the U.S. government to identify the report and explain the legal basis for withholding it from the public. Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée, appealed to Joe Biden to break with the past and make it known.
No action will be effective if it is not supported by the international community. It is up to governments to advocate free speech and democratic values to ensure that the path to accountability takes place
The publication of new documents and the taking of decisive action against the Saudi government and the Crown Prince laid the groundwork for new accountability measures. Official attestation is critical to establishing public and legal accountability. Action shows that the impetus for accountability is not left to vague remedies by expressing “concern”.
While newer documents may continue to exit the US, no measures will take effect unless they are backed by the international community. It is up to governments to advocate free speech and democratic values to ensure that the path to accountability takes place. Right now, when the official conclusions of the report are clear to everyone, it would be immoral not to take decisive action against the Crown Prince and Saudi Arabia. This would only deprive Jamal Khashoggi and his family of the right to justice. And it would set the precedent for Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian governments to continue to murder and persecute dissidents with impunity.
Amrit Singh is an attorney for the Open Society Justice Initiative and a member of the Open Society Justice Initiative v. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit for disclosure of US government records of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Translation by Nelson Filipe