Skeptical responses to Saudi story
by Harvest Prude
Posted 10/22/18, 01:06 pm
WASHINGTON—White House senior adviser Jared Kushner said Monday the Trump administration is still in the “fact-finding phase” of the investigation into the death earlier this month of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Speaking at a CNN forum in New York, Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a key strategist on Middle East policy, said the White House was working to balance U.S. interests in the region amid “what is obviously a terrible situation.”
Saudi Arabia has faced widespread criticism over its evolving explanation of the dissident’s death. Khashoggi, who was a Saudi national and a U.S. resident, went to the consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to obtain marriage documents and never came out. CNN obtained footage of one of the Saudi operatives suspected in Khashoggi’s killing who apparently acted as a body double afterward. In the video, a man identified by a Turkish source as Mustafa al-Madani left the consulate dressed in Khashoggi’s clothing and wearing a fake beard and glasses.
Saudi Arabia admitted early Saturday that Khashoggi died at the consulate but called it an accident. Officials blamed his death on a “fistfight” that broke out and said 18 Saudi suspects were in custody and four top intelligence officials had been fired. Later, a Saudi official said Khashoggi had died in a chokehold. Then on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in a Fox News interview that Khashoggi’s death was a “murder” and a “mistake.” He said officials didn’t know what happened to the body, but they are “determined to punish those who are responsible.” All explanations have so far shielded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has close diplomatic ties with Kushner, from responsibility.
U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called the Saudi explanations absurd. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the crown prince “has his fingerprints all over this,” and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., tweeted that the Saudis should produce Khashoggi’s body.
The official Saudi explanation has not squared with Turkish intelligence. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that within 48 hours he would reveal what his country has called a Saudi coverup, The New York Times reported. Turkish media and government sources claim a Saudi intelligence team tortured and killed Khashoggi and then dismembered his body.
Germany, Britain, and France issued a joint statement condemning the killing, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country would discontinue arms sales to the Saudis for the time being. U.S. lawmakers have asked the Trump administration to respond similarly, but the president has so far maintained such a move would punish the United States economically. On Friday, he called Saudi Arabia’s announcement a “good first step.” He told The Washington Post on Saturday that “obviously there’s been deception,” and the Saudis’ “stories are all over the place.”
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