One Year After Khashoggi’s Brutal Murder: Business as Usual

Saudi Arabia is holding its “Davos in the Desert” investment conference at the end of this month and mendacious world leaders and businesspeople are once again embracing a country that should be a pariah state, writes Medea Benjamin.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, second from left, at 2018 Saudi Future Investment Initiative. (YouTube)

By Medea Benjamin 
Common Dreams

Heinous. Savage. Ghastly. It’s hard to find the words to describe the act of luring journalist Jamal Khashoggi into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, suffocating him, chopping him up and dissolving his bones.

Yet a year later, governments and businesspeople around the world are eager to forgive and forget — or already have. 

So far, not a single Saudi official has been found guilty or punished for this crime. The Saudi government has put 11 officials on trial but these trials, which began in January and drag on behind closed doors, are a mockery of justice. The government is prosecuting lower-level officials but not the top guns who are truly responsible. The defendants have not been named but it is known that Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) and the alleged mastermind of the murder, is not a defendant and the government refuses to say where he is. 

And what about the crown prince himself? In a Sept. 29 PBS interview, MbS accepted responsibility for the killing because it happened “under his watch” — but he denied having prior knowledge. The CIA, however, concluded in November that the prince, who maintains tight control in the kingdom, likely ordered the killing. A report by United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard said there was “credible evidence” linking him to the murder and cover up of what she said was undoubtedly a “state killing.” Still, the trials continue even though they do nothing to indict the person who gave the orders.

Opposition to War in Yemen

When Khashoggi was murdered, the outrage had a major effect on U.S. congressional support for the Saudis, manifested by growing opposition to the U.S. support for the catastrophic Saudi war in Yemen. Several key Republicans turned against MbS, not in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen but in response to the public outcry against Khashoggi’s horrific murder.

A broad-based coalition of peace, human rights and humanitarian groups was able to convince a majority in both the House and the Senate to cut off support for the Saudi war in Yemen, a necessary step to hold MbS accountable for his complete disregard for human life. Even some of the most hawkish Republicans stepped up in response. Lindsey Graham, for example, called MbS a wrecking ball and voted to end support for the war, explaining in a statement, “I changed my mind because I’m pissed. The way the administration had handled [Khashoggi’s murder] is just not acceptable.” President Donald Trump vetoed the bills, but Congress is still trying to force the president’s hand by including an amendment in the must-pass military funding bill (NDAA). 

Kamal Khashoggi: Murdered in Istanbul Oct. 2, 2018. (Google Images)

On the heels of Khashoggi’s death, businesses, embarrassed by their Saudi connections, started pulling out of deals. Dozens of companies and notables, from The New York Times to Uber CEO to the head of the World Bank, decided to skip the major annual Saudi Future Investment Initiative, also known as Davos in the Desert. Talent agent Endeavor returned a $400 million investment from Saudi Arabia. Several think tanks, including the Brookings Institution and the Middle East Institute, announced that they would no longer accept Saudi funding. In the past year, five PR firms — Glover Park Group, BGR Group, Harbour Group, CGCN Group and Gibson, Dunn & Crutche — have severed ties with the kingdom. At the behest of groups including the Human Rights Foundation, singer Nicki Minaj canceled her performance in Saudi Arabia, citing concerns about the treatment of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression. Freedom Forward was successful in getting the New York Public Library to cancel its “Youth Forum” with MbS’s charity, the Misk Foundation. 

Saudi Rebranding Effort

Still, the Saudis have been investing huge sums of money in companies and notables to “rebrand” the kingdom, prompting CODEPINK to launch a full-blown Boycott Saudi campaign in January. The campaign includes urging entertainers not to perform, asking Vice Media to stop producing promotional/propaganda videos for the Saudis, encouraging Lush Cosmetics to close their Saudi stores and pushing the G-20 nations to reconsider their decision to hold their 2020 meeting in Saudi Arabia. The campaign’s long list of targets shows just how much money Saudi invests in whitewashing its crimes and how overreaching its influence is.

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While human rights groups work to hold the private sector accountable, the biggest obstacle to holding the Saudis accountable is the Trump administration continued support. Trump has focused on Saudi Arabia’s key role as a purchaser of U.S. weapons and an ally against Iran. In the wake of the Sept. 14 attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure, Trump announced the deployment of 200 troops and Patriot missiles to Saudi Arabia to bolster its defenses against Iran.

Trump, who vetoed legislation to end military assistance for the Saudi war on Yemen on three different occasions, went so far as to declare a state of emergency to sell $8 billion in weapons to the Saudis while bypassing congressional disapproval.

(Code Pink)

Trump Backing MbS

Trump has not only stood by MbS but pushed for his rehabilitation on the world stage. With the “Davos in the Desert” Future Investment Initiative taking place against this year, on Oct. 29-31, Jared Kushner — the president’s son-in-law who serves as Trump’s senior adviser —is expected to lead a robust U.S. delegation. Big banks and investment firms, including Goldman Sachs, BlackRock, CitiGroup, are once again lining up to attend. It seems the money to be made in the anticipated initial public offering of the world’s wealthiest company, the Saudi oil company Aramco — valued at between $1.5 trillion and $2 trillion — is just too enticing.

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Khashoggi himself was critical of the international community’s unwillingness to take substantive steps to hold the Saudi regime accountable. In a column about the need for freedom of speech in the Arab world, he remarked that the repression by Arab governments “no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.” The sad irony is that in response to his own murder, governments and private interests are proving his point.

One year later, their silence has allowed MbS to tighten his grip on power and increase repression against political rivals and women’s rights activists. It has given the green light for governments around the world to sell weapons to the Saudis to destroy Yemen. It allows businesses to rake in billions in petrodollar investments and foreign entertainers to provide a veneer of normalcy and modernity to the kingdom. Far from being held accountable for Khashoggi’s murder, MbS is thriving — thanks to his rehabilitation by an international community that cares more about money than it does human rights.

In times like this, it’s difficult not to ask oneself: Who is more evil — the maniacal Saudi crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and the murder of tens of thousands of Yemenis, or the mendacious world leaders and businesspeople who continue to embrace what should be a pariah state?  

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.” 

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5 comments for “One Year After Khashoggi’s Brutal Murder: Business as Usual

  1. Chuck
    October 4, 2019 at 01:37

    Michael Hastings was the US’s “Khashoggi” but it was more subtle.

    • jack o'Dreams
      October 5, 2019 at 22:03

      100% agree.

  2. October 3, 2019 at 12:13

    A deal was made with the devil down at the crossroads years ago. Now future generations will lose their souls as part of this bargain. The American government partners with this country who financed the 9/11 hijackings. Will the madness ever end?

  3. October 2, 2019 at 21:36

    The absolutely best measure there is of the complete corruption in Washington, both parties, top to bottom, is continued support for this bloody tyrant.

  4. Evangelista
    October 2, 2019 at 20:03

    One year later the question of the year, that was never asked, remains unasked, ignored, not addressed:

    Who was responsible for sending Kashoggi into a Saudi Embassy wired like a Christmas Tree and broadcasting like a Cell-Tower?

    Were Kashoggi, who must have agreed to be so wired, and to so broadcast, and whoever he was broadcasting to, really that naïve that they believed a foreign embassy in a quasi-neutral foreign state would not have electronic monitoring equipment? It is apparent from the incident that Kashoggi, et al, had not, themselves, monitored elecctronics-field news and information, which had noted sales of such equipment to the Saudi government, and so did not have that publicly available information at hand.

    With that information being public, and with walking into any embassy wearing wires being viewed by every nation a hostile action, how is it that the questions any such wiring should have raised, have never been raised, or addressed, or received any real attention?

    The absence makes me suspect the whole situation to have been a set-up. I suspect not by Kashoggi, who one must imagine believed he could get away with broadcasting from within the Saudi embassy undetected, since he could have, should have, anticipated something much like what he is aserted to have got (which I have not heard of being proved).

    And then, it is Turkey going short of breath and threatening having fainting fits about the matter. Isn’t that like Samson, the Parisian Executioner during the Reign of Terror asserting being outraged by the brutality of a housewife skinning and jointing a cat to make a hassenpfeffer?

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