Jamal Khashoggi is—or maybe was—a Saudi journalist who reported for the Washington Post, the progressive Arab paper Al Watan, and the short-lived Al Arab News Channel. Videos shows that on October 2, he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. They do not show him walking out again. Various reports about the fate of Khashoggi indicate that he may have been kidnapped by Saudi officials. Or he may have been killed and dismembered on the floor of the Saudi consulate.
Khashoggi has been a consistent critic of the power of religious authorities and the Saudi royal family, especially Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman. Bin Salman consolidated power in 2016 and 2017 by executing members of his own family, driving others from power, and securing the strong support of Donald Trump and Jared Kushner. Kushner in particular has visited bin Salman at his lavish home. Reports indicate that Kushner shared US intelligence with bin Salman, naming members of his family who opposed his rule. That information sharing may have led directly to bin Salman’s attacks and executions. Reports indicate that Khashoggi’s final ban from writing in Saudi Arabia came directly because he criticized Donald Trump. Following that ban, Khashoggi was not allowed to publish in Saudi Arabia or appear on television.
After fleeing Saudi Arabia in 2017, Khashoggi has been in self-imposed exile in Turkey, where he has written a series of articles criticizing both bin Salman and the Saudi intervention in Yemen. In Turkey, he became engaged. The intention of his visit to the Saudi consulate was to obtain documents necessary to marry Turkish national Hatice Cengiz.
Writing in the Washington Post, Cengiz pleads with Donald Trump and with Saudi authorities to do something about her vanished fiancé.
Cengiz: More than a week has passed since our last meeting outside the consulate of Saudi Arabia, before his disappearance became global news. We were in the middle of making wedding plans, life plans. After the consulate, we were going to buy appliances for our new home and set a date. All we needed was a piece of paper.
Leaks from Turkish police have indicated that Khashoggi was tortured for hours inside the consulate. But most disturbing of all, leaks from US officials indicate that US intelligence knew in advance that Khashoggi was in danger, but failed to warn him.
Cengiz writes that Khashoggi, who has spent considerable time in the United States, had applied for American citizenship. He was worried about his visit to the consulate because of bin Salman’s expanding wave of arrests and detentions across Saudi Arabia, but Khashoggi didn’t feel like the Saudi royal could detain him inside Turkey. Cengiz is still clutching to hope that her fiancé is alive. Some reports have indicated that he may have been taken out of Turkey on one of two private Saudi jets which landed in Istanbul near the time of his visit to the consulate.
Cengiz: I implore President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal's disappearance.
For his part, bin Salman claims that the Saudi government has no knowledge of Khashoggi and that he left the consulate less than an hour after entering. No security camera footage has been found that confirms this story. Reuters reported that 15 Saudi nationals, including officials connected to bin Salman, arrived in Istanbul and entered the consulate while Khashoggi was in the building, then returned to Saudi Arabia later that day. The BBC has published images of what are reported to be Saudi intelligence officers passing through Istanbul airport on that day. Saudi officials have said they will permit Turkey to conduct a search of the Saudi consulate in the search for Khashoggi.
Khashoggi isn’t without criticism in the west. He knew Osama bin Laden and interviewed him several times. Though some reports indicate that Khashoggi attempted to convince bin Laden to turn away from violent actions, the two appear to have remained friendly. Khashoggi has also been a harsh critic of Israel, and of western nations’ tepid attempts to slow Israeli settlements in occupied territories.
CNN indicates that, according to reports, US intelligence intercepted information indicating that Saudi Arabia was planning to kidnap Khashoggi. According to the Washington Post, a squad of Saudi nationals was “lying in wait” for Khashoggi when he entered the consulate. And US intelligence knew what was going to happen.
Before Khashoggi’s disappearance, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture him, according to a person familiar with the information. The Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there, this person said. It was not clear whether the Saudis intended to arrest and interrogate Khashoggi or to kill him, or if the United States warned Khashoggi that he was a target, this person said.
The Post account details the Saudi movements on the day of Khoshoggi’s disappearance, and looks at how the journalist could have been removed from the consulate without passing in front of the array of security cameras that dot Istanbul. They also show that Saudi insistence that they did not have agents on the ground is nothing short of a lie.
If US intelligence knew about the threat and did not warn Khoshoggi, that would be a direct contravention of rules governing US officials. Section 191 requires that “Intelligence agencies that discover a threat to a person’s life or safety are obliged to alert the intended target.” That applies to both US citizens and non-US citizens.
One: Jamal Khashoggi is—or was—a journalist who wrote articles critical of Donald Trump and Trump’s personal friend, billionaire murderer Mohammad bin Salman.
Two: If US intelligence was aware of the threat against him, Khashoggi was also someone US intelligence was obligated under law to warn.
The big question is whether the first item affected the second. With Donald Trump declaring any reporting he doesn’t like is “fake news” and calling journalists “enemies of the state,” did US intelligence allow a journalist critical of Trump and bin Salman to fall victim to kidnapping or worse?