This is something that actually came out on Sunday night, but I missed it with all the other garbage flying around in the media whirlwind. In a relatively rare offer of public access to western media, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman showed up for an interview on 60 Minutes. Obviously, you can’t have the Prince in the guest chair and not ask him about the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi so he was forced to address the question. What followed was one of the lamest cases of “taking responsibility” for something terrible in television history. (Associated Press)
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a television interview that he takes “full responsibility” for the grisly killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but he denied allegations that he ordered it.
“This was a heinous crime,” Prince Mohammed, 34, told “60 Minutes” in an interview that aired Sunday. “But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”
Asked if he ordered the killing of Khashoggi, who had criticized him in columns for The Washington Post, Prince Mohammed replied: “Absolutely not.”
The slaying was “a mistake,” he said.
“A mistake?” Did you really just describe a mafia-style snuff job and the cutting up of a human body with a bone saw a “mistake?”
Leaving that aside for the moment, let’s address the idea of MBS actually taking responsibility. Yes, he said the words, but he threw in a lot of caveats later that made the so-called admission essentially meaningless. The first was when he said he took full responsibility “as a leader in Saudi Arabia” and the murder was committed by “individuals working for the Saudi government.”
He later follows that up by stating that it would be “impossible” for him to know what the three million people who work for the Saudi government are up to on a daily basis. This explanation would make perfect sense if we were talking about a trash truck driver in Medina who accidentally ran over the Mayor’s dog. But several of the people identified as (most likely) being Khashoggi’s killers work directly for the Crown Prince as his personal staff and bodyguards. The idea that they were out there freelancing the killing of someone as well known as Khashoggi is laughable at best.
Of course, when asked directly whether or not he ordered the killing, Prince Mohammed smoothly responded in the negative. “Absolutely not.”
Of course not! Perish the thought. How rude of anyone to even ask.
Look, we don’t have the smoking gun (or sword) in this case, it’s true. There’s no video or audio definitively catching MBS giving the order to whack Khashoggi and we don’t even know where the body is. We may never know, given that Saudi Arabia isn’t exactly a model of open, transparent government. But the evidence is so overwhelming and the motives so obvious that I think we can sometimes be forgiven if we leap to conclusions.
This is one of the perils we face when we team up and build alliances with less enlightened, more brutal governments. Sadly, we deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. Take a look at the human rights record of China, for example. It’s beyond abysmal, but they’re still one of our largest trading partners and are treated with kid gloves in diplomatic circles. How much barabarism we tolerate from our friends generally depends on how much of our debt they hold. And Saudi Arabia is quickly climbing the list of those sorts of “allies” in our stable.