The Washington Post has denounced Donald Trump’s decision not to punish Saudi Arabia for the murder of its columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Trump said in a statement yesterday that the killing of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last month was a “horrible crime” that the US “does not condone”.
But he reiterated that Saudi Arabia is a “great ally” and said calls to stop arms trading with the Middle Eastern kingdom, worth billions of dollars, would only benefit Russia and China who would snap it up instead.
The 631-word statement, headed “America First”, opened with the line: “The world is a very dangerous place!”
The US President said King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “vigorously deny” any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Khashoggi on 2 October.
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t,” Trump said.
“That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.”
Trump said the US intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of the country. “America First!” he wrote.
US intelligence officials have concluded that bin Salman, the kingdom’s de factor leader, ordered the Khashoggi’s killing, according to a US official familiar with the assessment.
Others familiar with the case caution that while it is likely that the crown prince had a role in the death, there continue to be questions about the degree to which he was involved.
Washington Post publisher and chief executive Fred Ryan said Trump’s response to the “brutal” murder was a “betrayal of long-established American values of respect for human rights and the expectation of trust and honesty in our strategic relationships”.
“He is placing personal relationships and commercial interests above American interests in his desire to continue to do business as usual with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Ryan said.
“The Central Intelligence Agency has thoroughly investigated the murder of this innocent journalist and concluded with high confidence that it was directed by the Crown Prince. If there is reason to doubt the findings of the CIA, President Trump should immediately make that evidence public.
“President Trump is correct in saying the world is a very dangerous place. His surrender to this state-ordered murder will only make it more so. An innocent man, brutally slain, deserves better, as does the cause of truth and justice and human rights.
“In this failure of leadership from President Trump, it now falls to Congress to stand up for America’s true values and lasting interests.”
It is believed Khashoggi’s corpse was dismembered and secretly buried. His fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, has said she believes the Saudi regime knows where his body is buried and has described him as a “martyr”.
She has revealed she was waiting for him outside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul when, unbeknownst to her, he was killed.
The US earlier sanctioned 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing, but members of Congress have called for harsher actions.
Saudi Arabia has previously said 21 people were being held in custody over Khashoggi’s death, with 11 indicted and referred to trial. Prosecutors have said they are seeking the death penalty for five of the suspects.
The Turkish Government has said it wants them to be put on trial in Turkey.
Taking questions from the press about his statement on Khashoggi, Trump was asked if he was saying that human rights are too expensive to fight for, to which he responded: “No, I’m not saying that at all.”
Trump also said oil prices would “skyrocket” if the US made the “terrible mistake” to break with Saudi Arabia.
He added that he was not going to “destroy” the world’s economy by being “foolish with Saudi Arabia”, adding that the US needs Riyadh as a counterbalance to Iran.
Trump said he knows some members of Congress will disagree with his decision and that he would listen to their ideas, but only if they are focused on US national security.
Senators Bob Corker and Bob Menendez wrote a letter to Trump yesterday calling for his administration to “make a determination” on whether the crown prince was responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
They asked for an investigation under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act which requires the president to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for an extrajudicial killing, torture or other gross violation of internationally recognised human rights against an individual exercising freedom of expression.
Late last week, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that calls for suspending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, sanctions on people who block humanitarian access in Yemen or support the Houthi rebels, and mandatory sanctions on those responsible for Khashoggi‘s death.
Some foreign policy experts have not only recommended tougher punitive measures against Saudi Arabia, but have advocated for a complete reset on relations with Riyadh.
Committee to Protect Journalists executive director Joel Simon said: “If you boil the White House statement down to its essence, President Trump has just asserted that if you do enough business with the US, you are free to murder journalists.
“That’s an appalling message to send to Saudi Arabia and the world.”
Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta