Saudi Ara­bia must an­swer for Khashoggi

The Washington Post - - FREE FOR ALL - BY JOHN BREN­NAN The writer served as di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency from March 2013 to Jan­uary 2017.

It ap­pears in­creas­ingly likely that Post colum­nist Ja­mal Khashoggi was de­tained and killed at Saudi Ara­bia’s con­sulate in Is­tan­bul. There is still much that we don’t know, but if such an au­da­cious act was car­ried out, it al­most cer­tainly would have re­quired the ap­proval of Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man.

Since the pass­ing of King Ab­dul­lah in 2015 and the as­cen­sion of Mo­hammed’s fa­ther, King Sal­man, to the throne, the crown prince has been on a re­lent­less march to con­sol­i­date po­lit­i­cal power. He has used his royal stand­ing as the king’s fa­vored son to out­ma­neu­ver, side­line and ef­fec­tively neuter both royal and non­royal ob­sta­cles in his path. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of his fa­ther’s di­min­ished men­tal acu­ity, Mo­hammed gained the king’s ac­qui­es­cence to push his un­cle, Prince Muqrin bin Ab­dul Aziz, and his older and more se­nior cousin, Prince Mo­hammed bin Nayef, off the crown prince perch in short suc­ces­sion, grab­bing for him­self the role of day-to-day de­ci­sion-maker in Riyadh.

His po­lit­i­cal con­sol­i­da­tion cam­paign did not stop there. The well-pub­li­cized de­ten­tion and shake­down of more than 100 princes, se­nior tech­nocrats and busi­ness­men at the Ritz-Carl­ton ho­tel in Riyadh that be­gan in Novem­ber 2017, un­der the guise of an an­ti­cor­rup­tion cru­sade, was akin to a sin­gle pot call­ing dozens of ket­tles black. The move was in­tended to root out and in­tim­i­date po­ten­tial op­po­si­tion as well as to fill Mo­hammed’s royal purse with more than $100 bil­lion in funds needed to pur­sue his do­mes­tic am­bi­tions and re­gional ad­ven­tures, in­clud­ing his disas­trous mil­i­tary foray into Ye­men.

To leaven some of his ag­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal moves and gain pop­u­lar sup­port, the crown prince also spear­headed some long-over­due so­cial ini­tia­tives, such as al­low­ing women to drive, cur­tail­ing the ac­tiv­i­ties of the much-re­sented religious po­lice and break­ing down some mixed-gen­der pro­hi­bi­tions. But here, too, he brooked no crit­i­cism of the pace and scope of so­cial change, or­der­ing the ar­rest of ac­tivists, in­clud­ing out­spo­ken Saudi women, who dared to chal­lenge him.

Khashoggi was a par­tic­u­lar irritant to the crown prince. Khashoggi was widely known and re­spected in­side and out­side the king­dom for his lit­er­ary tal­ent, po­lit­i­cal acu­men and prin­ci­pled op­po­si­tion to Mo­hammed’s in­creas­ing au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and ar­ro­gance.

Sev­eral decades ago, Saudi in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity ser­vices had a well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion for heinous ex­tra­ju­di­cial acts against Saudis and non-Saudis alike. Much of that sor­did his­tory was left be­hind when Nayef, the for­mer crown prince, served as deputy min­is­ter and min­is­ter of in­te­rior from 2004 to 2017. But Nayef lost his se­cu­rity port­fo­lio, and his abil­ity to con­tinue the pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of Saudi se­cu­rity forces, when he was de­posed by Mo­hammed. The se­cu­rity forces now an­swer to the in­tol­er­ant and vin­dic­tive crown prince.

As his­tory has shown, au­thor­i­tar­ian lead­ers such as Mo­hammed be­come in­creas­ingly para­noid over time and use the in­stru­ments of na­tional power to elim­i­nate real and per­ceived sources of op­po­si­tion. By lever­ag­ing his ab­so­lute con­trol over sub­servient in­ter­nal se­cu­rity ser­vices, the crown prince has me­thod­i­cally in­tim­i­dated and neu­tral­ized po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

The news re­ports and Turk­ish gov­ern­ment ac­counts of Khashoggi’s dis­ap­pear­ance from the Saudi Con­sulate, and the con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous ar­rival of two planeloads of Saudis, have the hall­marks of a pro­fes­sional cap­ture op­er­a­tion or, more omi­nously, an as­sas­si­na­tion. As some­one who worked closely with the Saudis for many years, and who lived and worked as a U.S. of­fi­cial for five years in Saudi Ara­bia, I am cer­tain that if such an op­er­a­tion oc­curred in­side a Saudi diplo­matic mis­sion against a high-pro­file jour­nal­ist work­ing for a U.S. news­pa­per, it would have needed the di­rect au­tho­riza­tion of Saudi Ara­bia’s top lead­er­ship — the crown prince.

Maybe Mo­hammed thought that his close ties to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the vir­tual ab­sence of U.S. mo­ral lead­er­ship on the global stage would help pro­tect him from fall­out. In par­tic­u­lar, a vis­ceral, shared an­i­mus for the Ira­nian regime prob­a­bly gave him the im­pres­sion that the U.S.-Saudi re­la­tion­ship is bul­let­proof.

I am con­fi­dent that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have the ca­pa­bil­ity to de­ter­mine, with a high de­gree of cer­tainty, what hap­pened to Khashoggi. If he is found to be dead at the hands of the Saudi gov­ern­ment, his demise can­not go unan­swered — by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, by Congress or by the world com­mu­nity. Ide­ally, King Sal­man would take im­me­di­ate ac­tion against those re­spon­si­ble, but if he doesn’t have the will or the abil­ity, the United States would have to act. That would in­clude im­me­di­ate sanc­tions on all Saudis in­volved; a freeze on U.S. mil­i­tary sales to Saudi Ara­bia; sus­pen­sion of all rou­tine in­tel­li­gence co­op­er­a­tion with Saudi se­cu­rity ser­vices; and a U.S.-spon­sored U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the mur­der. The mes­sage would be clear: The United States will never turn a blind eye to such in­hu­man be­hav­ior, even when car­ried out by friends, be­cause this is a na­tion that re­mains faith­ful to its val­ues.

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