Saudi Arabia attempts to explain away journalist’s murder

Two weeks after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi went missing after entering his nation’s consulate in Istanbul, the Saudi government is preparing a report that will acknowledge his death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong. CNN’s Clarissa Ward and Tim Lister report that the Saudis will claim that the detainment of Khashoggi was intended to lead to his abduction from Turkey.

The about-face from the Saudi government is striking, as it has spent the days since Khashoggi’s disappearance claiming the journalist had left the consulate safely. Before reports of the Saudi plan broke, President Trump had appeared to boost the theory that top Saudi officials were unaware of the mission that resulted in Khashoggi’s murder, positing that it was possible that “rogue killers” were responsible for the journalist’s death. That statement, which appeared to suggest the president would not hold Saudi leaders responsible for Khashoggi’s murder, was met with outrage from journalists and some US politicians. “Been hearing the ridiculous ‘rogue killers’ theory was where the Saudis would go with this,” tweeted Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who expressed disbelief that Trump would act as the kingdom’s “PR agent.”

On Monday morning, after speaking to King Salman of Saudi Arabia by phone, President Trump tweeted that he would send Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet with the king. Later in the day, The Washington Post reported that Turkish investigators were finally allowed to search the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi was last seen.

RELATED: Reexamining coverage of MBS after Khashoggi’s disappearance

Khashoggi’s disappearance and reported murder have resulted in an international relations crisis for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who had enjoyed close ties with the US administration after consolidating his power in the kingdom over the past year. Despite a lack of explicit condemnation of the crown prince from the White House, MBS has come under sustained criticism from leading business and media figures in the past several days.

The suggestion that a team of 15 Saudi operatives, including an autopsy expert at Saudi Arabia’s internal security agency, would enter Turkey to interrogate and possibly return Khashoggi to Saudi Arabia against his will, all without the knowledge of Saudi leadership, is highly unlikely. Reports of the Saudi’s qualified admission, along with President Trump’s suggestion that the conspiracy may not reach all the way to the top, indicate that leaders of both countries are scrambling to find a way out of the crisis while still maintaining their close ties. But after the brutal silencing of a prominent journalist, the moment for compromise and cover-ups should already have passed.

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Below, more on the latest developments in the Khashoggi case.

 

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Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the location of the consulate where Jamal Khashoggi was last seen. 

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.