Veteran Arab journalist Abdel Bari Atwan says an international inquiry must be set up to get to the truth of what happened to Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It is painful to see the case of the disappearance of the well-known Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi becoming more mysterious by the day. With all the conflicting information, and the absence of conclusive evidence, it is increasingly beginning to resemble a fictional detective story.
Perhaps that is exactly what was intended by whoever was behind the operation — whether Saudi Arabia, which has denied all the accusations directed against it in this regard, or any other party that remains unknown.
It should be made clear that the Saudi government was seriously aggrieved by Khashoggi. Due to his fame in the Arab world and internationally, his criticisms of its human rights record and its persecution and abduction of opponents – whether from within the ruling family or outside it – were highly damaging.
This makes Saudi Arabia the prime suspect. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman acknowledged in his interview with a group of Bloomberg journalists that around 1,500 Saudis had been arrested and were currently behind bars. These cases could now attract growing international attention, squandering the hundreds of millions of dollars the kingdom has spent on international public relations campaigns aimed at depicting it as a reforming state.
The Turkish authorities insist – according to the accounts provided by a variety of officials – that Khashoggi never left the consulate which he entered at 1pm last Tuesday. Sources affiliated to them leaked to The Washington Post that he was murdered and dismembered in the consulate, and taken in boxes in diplomatic cars with blackened windows to an unknown destination, perhaps Istanbul’s airport. The paper, for which Khashoggi had become a columnist, supported its account with a CCTV still showing him walking into the consulate.
Turkey’s foreign ministry has announced that the Saudi authorities agreed to allow Turkish police to search the consulate premises where Khashoggi was allegedly detained or killed. But the Saudi king’s son and ambassador in Washington, Prince Khaled Bin Salman, said all the reports of Khashoggi’s disappearance were “fake” and that the investigation would reveal many surprising facts. He added that Jamal was his “friend” despite their differing views, that they had met often both at the embassy and elsewhere, and that they were in constant contact when he was in Washington.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erodgan added to the mystery with his cautious reaction to the affair, declaring that he was awaiting the outcome of investigations and urging the Saudis to provide solid proof supported by evidence that Khashoggi left the consulate.
We doubt the Saudi authorities would have allowed Turkish security to search the premises if Khashoggi was there, or if he was killed and dismembered there if that really happened. But the investigators would be likely to find some useful evidence one way or the other even if many traces of the crime – if the story is true – were covered up.
There remain, in our view, several questions that need to be answered, all related to remarks attributed to Turkish officials:
First: Why were all local employees at the Saudi consul’s residence given a surprise “day off” on the Tuesday that Khashoggi disappeared – as reported by the pro-Erdogan Turkish daily Sabah? What about the local Turkish employees at the consulate? Were they given a holiday too?
Secondly: The same paper suggested Khashoggi might not have been killed, but taken alive to Istanbul airport in one of the vehicles used by the 15-member Saudi security team which arrived at the consulate on the morning of the disappearance. Two private Saudi planes were waiting for them there: one headed to Dubai and the other to Cairo.
Third: The Washington Post published pictures of members of this security team, who reserved rooms at a nearby hotel but never stayed in them. Their faces were clearly apparent. Will the Turkish authorities investigate them, their role and mission, and the reason for their sudden departure from Istanbul?
Fourth: If one plane went to Cairo and the other to Dubai, where – if Khashoggi was aboard one of them, dead or alive — was he offloaded? Will both airports’ authorities be questioned? And why did neither plane fly directly to Riyadh?
Fifth: The Turkish authorities have summoned the Saudi ambassador in Ankara twice since the disappearance. But we heard nothing about the consul in Istanbul or any of his diplomatic staff being summoned. Why were they not expelled if the Turkish authorities, as they initially affirmed, were sure he was killed inside the consulate? The UK expelled 25 Russian diplomats after it accused Moscow of trying to assassinate former spy Sergei Skripal and is daughter using chemical agents.
Truth needs to emerge
All these questions require answers from all parties concerned, especially the Saudis and the Turks. Khashoggi was abducted and may have been killed. Public opinion worldwide has been troubled by these developments and has a right to know. If it is confirmed that he was detained or killed by Saudi security operatives in the consulate, everyone responsible – from top to bottom – must be held to account.
In this paper, we have refused from the outset to treat any of the speculation about this affair as the truth, waiting to know the facts and see the evidence. We have pointed to confirmed events: such as Khashoggi’s meetings with the Saudi ambassador in Washington, his purchasing and furnishing of an apartment in Istanbul to be his new marital home, and his desire to take up permanent residence there.
On Tuesday, we were sent a text message whose authenticity we cannot confirm. The anonymous sender said that Jamal was still alive. He was supposedly arrested in the consulate by the security officers who were sent to apprehend him, and taken out in a black vehicle which headed for the port, where he was placed in a container which was put on a ship that headed for the Saudi Arabia.
Pressure was put on him to make him talk, but he was not tortured so that no marks would be apparent once he was released, and he was then moved to a secret jail. King Salman and his Crown Prince were appraised of the operation, according to this account.
The case of Khashoggi’s disappearance must not be allowed to disappear from view or be forgotten with the passage of time. All the details should be revealed and his abductors identified. An international commission of inquiry ought to be set up, comprising experts from different parts of the world and involving Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Until the truth emerges, whether via the investigations conducted by Turkey or the findings of such a panel, let us wait and see. Jamal Khashoggi may not have been a former prime minister or tycoon like Rafiq al-Hariri, into whose killing a UN investigation was launched. But big or small, justice should be applied equally to all.