Devil’s Bargain: The Kashoggi Charade


In the first days after Jamal Kashoggi’s “disappearance”in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018, press accounts quoting Turkish officials and also American officials left little doubt that Kashoggi, an occasional columnist for The Washington Post and a  relatively mild critic of the Saudi Arabian government and its new de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known and MBS),  was in fact a gruesome murder and dismemberment of Kashoggi ordered by the highest levels of the Saudi government.

Turkish authorities leaked to newspapers that they had audio and video recordings that left no doubt as to what had happened in the Saudi Consulate.

15 Saudi officials had flown into Istanbul’s airport on private planes on the morning of October 2, proceeded directly to the Saudi Consulate, and after several hours there and at the residence of the Consul General of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, had checked out of their hotels and departed the Istanbul airport on the chartered private jets, on the same day.

We are now witnessing an elaborate and coordinated charade designed to protect Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the U.S.

First, the Turkish officials realized, somewhat belatedly perhaps, that to make their recordings public would reveal that Turkey was bugging the Saudi consulate, in open violation of the 1962 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.  So far, the recordings have not been released to the public.  They are not likely to be, which doesn’t mean their contents have not been shared–in a highly reliable way–with U.S. intelligence officials..

Second, the Saudis understood that the Turkish evidence directly implicated MBS, the de facto  day-to-day ruler of Saudi Arabia.  MBS, while showing a reformist image to the West, and particularly to Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, has at the same time manifested a a dark and authoritarian streak in dealing with critics and potential opponents back home in Saudi Arabia.  Thus, while he has authorized women to drive, he has at the same time arrested those who were advocating for this right.  He apparently kidnapped the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Sa’ad Harriri, and released him only after massive diplomatic pressure from Western capitals.  He has launched a blockade against Qatar, in what appears to be open and flagrant violation of international law, and maintains that blockade in force. He detained many powerful members of the Royal Family and other powerful individuals in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, where he reportedly shook them down for billions–all without the slightest hint of due process.

Apparently in order to protect MBS, the Saudi government and MBS have adamantly denied any role in the “disappearance” of Kashoggi.  Moreover, they have threatened to retaliate strongly against any country that takes measures against the Kingdom as a result of the Kashoggi affair.

Third, President Donald Trump has come under considerable pressure to punish Saudi Arabia for the medieval and gruesome murder which the Saudis apparently committed within their Consulate in Istanbul.  His responses have been evasive and even shocking.  He has even suggested that “rogue” elements of the Saudi government may have been involved. He has indicated that a claimed $110 billion arms sale agreement with Saudi Arabia will not be rescinded, and made absolutely horrific statements to the effect that the U.S. should not care about a murder that does not take place in the U.S.

This is the way the Saudis and the U.S. are hoping to manage the crisis, negotiating what they think will be accepted as a plausible version of the truth, without affecting the power or position of MBS–or Jared Kushner and Donald Trump.  It is rather shocking to hear Trump sound off as a Saudi propaganda vehicle.

Their “negotiated truth” will be an “alternate fact” whose purpose is to obscure the real truth, which they don‘t even feign to pursue.

Turkey, for its part, receives massive investments and many tourists from Saudi Arabia, important interests to take into account, in addition to the desire not to reveal Turkish intelligence is bugging foreign diplomatic missions.

Trump has apparently also been misleading in another regard.  He has said, repeatedly, that he’s waiting for the U.S. to receive the results of investigations into Kashoggi’s death.  Almost certainly he has received intelligence briefings from his own officials regarding the “proof” that Turkish officials have of how Kashoggi was murdered and dismembered in Istanbul. They have themselves apparently obtained intercepts that show that Saudi Arabia planned to lure Kashoggi back to Saudi Arabia in order to detain him.

The Saudis have offered no public explanation of what the 15 Saudi officials were up to, when they flew in on private jets, proceeded to the Consulate and the Consul’s residence, and then checked out of their hotels and departed Istanbul on the private jets, all on October 2, 2018.

The charade that is underway is the narrative that the U.S. doesn’t yet know what happened to Kashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, that Turkey doesn’t admit anything about the surveillance of diplomatic missions in the country, and that if anything happened–which the Saudis and the U.S. don’t know yet!–it was done by rogue elements of the Saudi regime, and MBS was in no way involved.

If you believe that, I have a bridge I would like to sell you in Brooklyn.

It all boils down to a question that Trump implicitly raised:  “How much is one human life worth?”

This issue is explored in depth in a brilliant play entitled “The Visit” (“Der Besuch der alten Dame”) by the Swiss playwright, Friedrich Dürrenmatt.  The play explores the question of whether citizens of a small town should accept the offer of $ 1 billion, to be split half and half between the town and its inhabitants, from a a wealthy former resident who was wronged in her youth.  The only condition for the “gift” is that the young man who wronged her must be killed.

There is no more sacred human right than the right to life.

The importance attached to this right by Trump is painfully in view.  No more poignant abdication of moral leadership by the U.S. in the world could be imagined.

Some murders can have major political consequences, such as those of

Vladimir Herzog in Brazil, whose torture and murder by the military dictatorship led to a showdown among military factions in which relatively  moderate forces prevailed;

Archbisip Oscar Romero in El Salvador (1980), whose murder unmasked the true nature of the Salvadoran regime, and eho was canonized in Rome this month; and

Steve Biko in South Africa, (1977) whose murder gave impetus to the divestment  movement and the end of aparteid rule.

Similarly, Khashoggi’s murder is likely to have very significant consequences.

The rule by terror of the Saudi regine has finally been unmasked, in a way which will be impossible to cover up.

The Trenchant Observer