Ed touched on this earlier but it deserves a separate post, especially in light of Trump’s comments yesterday. It’s fine for him to say that the Khashoggi allegations are terrible but not worth canceling a $100 billion arms deal over — so long as the matter remains abstract.
But what if video emerges of the deed being done? It might, if this WaPo story is accurate.
If footage of the Saudis strangling Khashoggi rocketed around the world, Congress would barf even if Trump wouldn’t. And Trump might: It was footage of the victims of Assad’s gas attacks that reportedly helped persuade him to bomb Syria. But even if he didn’t, the forces in the legislature that want to rebuke the Saudis would instantly gain the upper hand. There might be enough outrage to produce veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate to impose sanctions and outlaw arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
And the repercussions might be worse than that if U.S. intelligence knew that the Saudis were looking to capture Khashoggi but didn’t warn him.
The audio recording in particular provides some of the most persuasive and gruesome evidence that the Saudi team is responsible for Khashoggi’s death, the officials said.
“The voice recording from inside the embassy lays out what happened to Jamal after he entered,” said one person with knowledge of the recording who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss highly sensitive intelligence…
“You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic,” this person said. “You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”
The existence of such evidence would explain why Turkish officials were quick to accuse Saudi Arabia of killing Khashoggi. But Turkish officials are wary of releasing the recordings, fearing they could divulge how the Turks spy on foreign entities in their country, the officials said.
Yeah, that’s one reason to keep the tape under wraps. The other reason is that releasing hard evidence will eliminate plausible deniability for the Saudis, which will leave all the major players in a jam as to relations going forward. The surer the international public is that Mohammed bin Salman had Khashoggi murdered, the more pressure there’ll be on Trump and Erdogan to take draconian diplomatic actions they’d rather not take. Frankly, my mental picture of how the last few days played out behind the scenes was of U.S., Saudi, and Turkish officials huddling to try to come up with an explanation for what happened to Khashoggi that’ll let the Saudis save a bit of face — enough, at least, to let diplomacy proceed more or less normally afterward.
But if he went into the consulate and never came out and now he’s dead, what possible explanation could there be? They’re not going to claim that Khashoggi just so happened to suffer a fatal heart attack on the premises, are they? That would be so insulting to the public’s intelligence it would actually make things worse. The most “innocent” plausible explanation of what happened is that they had no intention of killing him, they merely wanted to, er, kidnap him and imprison him in Saudi Arabia, no doubt with plenty of torture as punishment for his criticism of Salman. But somehow, in drugging him to prepare for removing him from the country, they accidentally administered too high a dose and killed him. That theory has been floated, in fact, and has some evidence to support it.
But “we accidentally killed the dissident we were hoping to keep alive and brutalize indefinitely” isn’t great spin. Especially for a Saudi monarch who’s spent most of his reign to date trying to convince westerners that he’s a kinder, gentler Salafist overlord.
There’s evidence against the overdose theory too. The Turks are being coy about exactly what their audio and video show but there’s no hint in their descriptions of the Saudis “accidentally” going too far in roughing up Khashoggi. And if you believe the overdose theory, that the Saudis meant to keep him alive and to put him on a plane back to the Kingdom, how do you explain this?
One of the 15 Saudis named by Turkish officials as being involved in the disappearance of a journalist last seen entering a diplomatic consulate in Istanbul is a forensic expert known for pioneering rapid and mobile autopsies, according to Arab media reports and his own academic writings. Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy flew into Istanbul shortly after Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate and flew out nine hours later, Turkish officials say.
The alleged presence of Tubaigy, who has taught and published papers on gathering DNA evidence and dissecting human bodies, amplifies a macabre narrative put forth by Turkish investigators that a team of Saudis killed Khashoggi and then dismembered his body to conceal the murder…
“It sticks out,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and Brookings fellow who has written a book about Saudi-U.S. relations. “I can’t think of an alternative of why you would need a forensics expert unless you were covering up evidence of a crime.”
You shouldn’t need a man practiced at cutting up bodies on the scene unless you were planning all along to have a body there. The “rendition” theory doesn’t make sense in that light. But then it also doesn’t make sense that the Saudis would have murdered Khashoggi at a diplomatic facility, which they’d have every reason to believe was being monitored by Turkish intelligence. It was foreseeable that the Turks might end up with A/V evidence of the crime. The Saudis went ahead anyway. How come? Did they think Erdogan would keep it under wraps for them?
While we’re at it, why did Erdogan go public with the evidence instead of trying to extort the Saudis privately? It’s not as though he’s a stickler for diplomatic politesse. Did he try to extort the Saudis privately, and when they called his bluff he decided to blow them up by going to the media about it?
That’s the big gap in my knowledge in trying to process all of this. Why would the Turks turn this into an international incident by leaking about the evidence instead of handling it privately and trying to squeeze the Saudis for concessions over it? I understand that there’s tension between the two countries over matters like the Qatar standoff, and I understand that the fact that the alleged murder was committed in a consulate in Turkey means the Turks couldn’t simply look the other way. But they didn’t have to go public. Why did they? I could half-ass a theory for you about how Erdogan sees Salman as a natural rival to become de facto leader of the Sunni world and wants to blow him up before the west gets too cozy with him. (Particularly considering how the west has soured on Erdogan himself over the last few years.) But that’d be conjecture. Anyone have a more informed theory on what Erdogan’s game here is?