By Elder Yinka Salaam
Time has indeed come for the world to deeply reflect on its humanity and our collective existence before the horrendous killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post Columnist becomes history or consigned to a segment of our ugly past.
Aside the global outrage that greeted the killing, four developments have emerged as pointers to the fact that what has become the most savaged killing of a tale-bearer, a message conveyor or an information carrier in the history of man would not be forgotten too soon.
Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, had been living in exile in the United States because of his criticism of the Saudi regime. This earned him the esteem of audiences that read his political commentary in both Arabic and English.
Khashoggi had gone to the consulate on October 2, 2018 to conduct paperwork that would allow for the two of them to be married.
In the event that he did not emerge, Khashoggi had told Cengiz to call his friend Turan Kislakci, the head of the Turkish Arab Media Association.
Khashoggi’s body likely burned in large oven
In the latest documentary aired by Al Jazeera on Sunday March 4, 2019, Turkish investigators revealed that the body of slain Saudi journalist was likely burned in a large oven at the Saudi Consular General residence in Istanbul.
Turkish investigators also found traces of Khashoggi’s blood on the walls of the Saudi consul’s office after removing the paint that the assassination team applied after killing the veteran columnist on October 2.
According to Al Jazeera, Turkish authorities monitored the burning of the outdoor furnace from outside the premises as bags believed to be containing Khashoggi’s body parts were transferred to the Saudi consul’s home after he was killed inside the consulate a few hundred meters away.
Al Jazeera interviewed a worker who constructed the furnace who stated it was built according to specifications from the Saudi consul. It had to be deep and withstand temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius – hot enough to melt metal!
Turkish authorities reported that large quantities of barbeque meat were grilled in the oven after the killing in order to cover up the cremation of the Saudi writer’s body, adding that burning of Khashoggi’s body took place over a period of three days.
Hatice Cengiz’s tweet
The second was a parting message by Khashoggi’s fiance, Hatice Cengiz – in a tweet published on October 22, 2018, after Saudi authorities eventually admitted the journalist was killed at the country’s consulate in Istanbul – following undisputable revelations that put a lie to earlier denials.
“They took your bodily presence from my world. But your beautiful laugh will remain in my soul forever. My darling #jkhashoggi,” Cengiz wrote on Twitter.
Cengiz, who was waiting outside the consulate when Khashoggi entered the building, had not previously accepted that he had died.
Cengiz releases a book
The third development is a book about the life and work of Khashoggi – her late fiancé. Cengiz said, at the unveiling of the book, that bringing Khashoggi’s murderers to justice would alleviate the pain of his loved ones.
The memoir titled ‘Jamal Khashoggi: His Life, Struggles and Secrets,’ was initially published in Turkish, then followed by English and Arabic versions.
Cengiz, who released her book on February 5, 2019 at an event hosted by the Turkish-Arab Media Association in Istanbul, said the publication was inspired by her personal diary.
“No work, nothing will bring Jamal back,” she said, adding that “punishment to the ones who are responsible for Jamal’s murder” would “calm the pain of the ones who care about him.”
Sinan Onus, one of the book’s co-writers, described the book “as one more brick in to the wall of the human rights struggle.”
UN findings indict Saudi authorities
And the fourth but more damning development is the UN-led inquiry into the murder of Saudi-born journalist. The report released on Thursday February 7, 2019 held that Saudi Arabian authority was responsible for the brutal killing of Khashoggi. It maintained that enough evidence showed the heinous crime was “planned and perpetrated” by Saudi officials.
Turkish and US intelligence agencies had earlier posited that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, ordered an operation to kill Khashoggi – a critic and Washington Post columnist, and said his body was dismembered and removed to a location still publicly unknown, though Riyadh has consistently denied the prince had any involvement in the murder.
In a statement issued in Geneva, Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur for Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions, said, “Evidence collected during my mission to Turkey shows prime facie case that Mr Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia”.
She said her Jan 28 – Feb 3 mission to Turkey with a team of three experts “could not firmly establish whether the original intention was to abduct Mr Khashoggi, with his murder planned only in the eventuality of this abduction failing.”
Saudi officials had “seriously undermined” and delayed Turkey’s efforts to investigate the crime scene at its Istanbul consulate, where Khashoggi had gone to get papers needed for his wedding, she said.
Delayed access to the consulate and residence and “clean up of the crimes scenes”, had severely limited the potential for the Turkish criminal forensic investigation to “produce telling evidence”, Ms Callamard said.
Callamard also had requested an official visit to Saudi Arabia due to “major concerns” regarding the fairness of proceedings for the 11 people facing trial there for Khashoggi’s killing.
“After Khashoggi’s first visit to the consulate on Sept 28, 2018, Saudi planning included “the travel of the three teams that carried out the operation; the presence of a look alike of Mr Khashoggi who was seen leaving the consulate; the presence of a forensic doctor; the escape of the teams’ members and, of course, the disposal of Mr Khashoggi’s body”, Callamard said.
As the search continued, reports suggested that an autopsy expert, Dr. Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy used injectors in the gruesome procedure.
Turkish Sabah newspaper reported on Nov. 23 that Tubaigy, who was in the hit team that killed Khashoggi at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, used injectors and scalpels that they brought to Turkey in their suitcases before dismembering the body.
“Khashoggi’s body was undressed. Tubaigy drew blood from his veins and let it flow into the bathroom sink. It was also Tubaigy who dismembered the body,” the report said.
“Tubaigy who was trained in forensics and pathology at the University of Glasgow had introduced his own project at a seminar in Australia, which was about a mobile autopsy device,” the newspaper added.
Other side to the story
It was earlier reported that Khashoggi’s body was dismembered in Saudi Consul Mohammed al-Otaibi’s office whose floors were covered in plastic sheets.
In the seven-minute audio recording revealing the moments of Khashoggi’s murder, he was reportedly heard leading the brutal dismembering of the body.
Hürriyet correspondent Toygun Atilla said that the Saudi hit team also used coagulants to stop the bleeding during the dismembering process.
Unbelievable but real: Initiative admission
What makes the killing more worrisome to a reporter like me is that the scenario seems unbelievable but real. It is indeed a tragedy to all lovers of truths, every journalist, all social critics and haters of oppression. In the words of Callamard, “the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the sheer brutality has brought an irreversible tragedy to his loved ones.”
Indeed, it is one murder too many. One, the victim whose body has not been seen was a global personality. Two, the suspected killers are citizens of Saudi Arabia – the cradle of Islam. Three, the gruesome killing took place inside the Saudi consulate by the hit squad of the present ruler of the kingdom and more worrisomely, the killing took place in an ‘unfriendly’ foreign land of Turkey. Much more mind boggling is that, the victim had not been declared wanted for any known criminal offense.
‘I can’t breathe’ were Khashoggi’s last words, according to the transcript/audio tape of the final moments before the journalist’s murder.
The transcript of the gruesome recording includes descriptions of Khashoggi struggling against his murderers. It also references sounds of the journalist’s body “being dismembered by a saw”.
The transcript made it clear the killing was premediated and suggests several phone calls were made to give briefings on the progress.
Turkish intelligence services, which prepared the original transcript, revealed that those calls were made to top officials in Riyadh.
A close friend of Mr Khashoggi revealed that he was about to obtain “documentary evidence” proving claims that Saudi Arabia had used chemical weapons in its proxy war in Yemen.
“I met him a week before his death. He was unhappy and he was worried,“ said a Khashoggi’s friend who did not wish to be named.
“When I asked him why he was worried, he didn’t really want to reply, but eventually he told me he was getting proof that Saudi Arabia had used chemical weapons. He said he hoped he would be getting documentary evidence.
“All I can tell you is that the next thing I heard was that he was missing.”
It was also claimed that Saudi Arabia had been using US-supplied white phosphorous munitions against troops and even civilians in Yemen,
Chemical warfare expert, Col Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said: “We already saw in Syria that nothing is as effective as chemical weapons in clearing urban areas of troops and civilians – Assad has used phosphorous for this very reason.
“If Khashoggi did, in fact, have proof that Saudi Arabia was deliberately misusing phosphorous for this purpose, it would be highly embarrassing for the regime and provides the nearest motive yet as to why Riyadh may have acted when they did against him.”
According to the British intelligence network, the late Khashoggi was about to disclose details of Saudi Arabia’s use of chemical weapons in Yemen. Separate intelligence sources disclosed that Britain had first been made aware of a plot a full three weeks before he walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Intercepts by GCHQ of internal communications by the kingdom’s General Intelligence Directorate revealed orders by a “member of the royal circle” to abduct the ‘troublesome’ journalist and take him back to Saudi Arabia.
Though they commanded that Khashoggi should be abducted and taken back to Riyadh, they “left the door open” for other actions should the journalist prove to be troublesome, sources said.
Those suspects are within a 15-strong hit squad sent to Turkey, and include serving members of GID.
It concluded that, “It is a near certainty that Khashoggi is not only dead, but extra dead, where that means his body parts have probably been dissolved in acid or else buried in Consul-general Mohammad al-Otaibi’s yard. What’s equally certain is that the U.S. government knew what was likely to happen to poor Jamal ahead of time.”
US knowledge and complicity
Another version backed by video evidence that went viral on social media said, Jamal Khashoggi was strapped to a table and dismembered alive by Saudi Arabian henchmen on October 2. His blood curdling screams were broadcast to the outside world on his Apple Watch for the seven minutes it took to kill him.
According to CNN, the next day, on October 3, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, privately drafted her resignation letter. (Thank you, Paula Cobia). Six days later, on October 9, she submitted it to a stunned public. No plausible explanation was offered for her sudden departure.
It was not until October 11, over a week after the brutal killing, that the world began to even learn what happened to Khashoggi.
What was clear, was that the American government certainly knew of Khashoggi’s killing in advance of the murder itself.
“Pat Robertson of the Evangelical community has told his flock all the Trump talking points. That this man’s life and extrajudicial torture and assassination should not matter to us, because $100 billion is on the table in weaponry that the Saudis need to kill the Yemeni people with, and, as seems to be the new reality in Gotham, who could possibly know the truth anyway?”
US Senate disagree with Trump
On Thursday, December 13, following the briefing by the CIA, US senators had voted in favour of a non-binding resolution holding Saudi Crown Prince responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.
While the bipartisan vote came two months after Khashoggi’s murder, US President Donald Trump refused to point the finger at Prince Mohammed, even after the CIA concluded that the Saudi royal was responsible.
Breaking with President Donald Trump, senators leaving a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel said they were even more convinced that MBS Muhammad bn Salman) was involved in the death of Khashoggi.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn said he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in “about 30 minutes.”
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who demanded the briefing with Haspel, said there is “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved in Khashoggi’s death.
“There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw,” Graham said, referring to reports from the Turkish government that said Saudi agents used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi after he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Graham said “you have to be willfully blind” not to conclude that this was orchestrated and organized by people under the crown prince’s command.
Even before the Senate briefing, Trump had stood by MBS despite a CIA assessment that he ordered Khashoggi’s killing and pleas from US senators for Trump to condemn the kingdom’s de facto ruler.
In the process, a Saudi dissident in Canada, Omar Abdulaziz said he was suing an Israeli software company that he said helped Riyadh hack his phone to spy on his correspondence with Khashoggi.
Abdulaziz is a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia’s government and its powerful crown prince.
Middle East Eye had reported that Ahmed al-Assiri, a senior Saudi intelligence official, was a key figure in the creation of a special unit established by the crown prince to target Saudi dissidents abroad.
Known as the “Tiger Squad”, a source with knowledge of how the unit was created told MEE, an online newspaper it had been named after Assiri.
“Assiri is well-known among his colleagues as ‘the Tiger of the South’. Since the coalition’s war on Yemen, the Saudi media also started calling Assiri ‘the Beast’, and he liked this nickname,” the source said.
Assiri, who was later sacked in October over his involvement in the killing, was reportedly involved in buying the spyware, as well as in the murder of Khashoggi. Reports say Assiri made secret trips to Israel on behalf of MBS to discuss how Saudi Arabia could benefit from Israeli surveillance technology (spyware).
The reports also said that both Assiri and another Muhammad bn Salman’s close aide, Saud al-Qahtani were part of the unit’s command structure.
Trial of the suspects
Few days ago, the United Nations expressed disagreement with how Saudi Arabia, regarding how the trial of the suspected killers of Khashoggi has been shrouded in secrecy, six months after the killing.
It will be recalled that the kingdom vowed to prosecute the culprits, after it acknowledged last year its agents had killed and dismembered Khashoggi.
Callamard last month demanded more transparency from Saudi authorities as they conducted the trial.
“The government of Saudi Arabia is grievously mistaken if it believes that these proceedings, as currently constituted, will satisfy the international community,”
Reports said only few Diplomats from the United States and several European countries and a member of Khashoggi’s family were allowed to attend several of the court sessions, where defendants had pleaded “not guilty”.
The defendants are said to include two of the most prominent members of the “kill squad” allegedly sent to confront Khashoggi in the Istanbul consulate: Maher Mutreb, the leader of the squad, and Salah al-Tubaigy, an autopsy specialist who is also believed to be involved directly in the dismembering of Khashoggi’s body. Reports also said, one high-ranking Saudi official, Ahmed al-Assiri, is also a defendant.
But Saud al-Qahtani, a close aide to the crown prince, is not on trial. According to Reuters, “though the U.S. government has imposed sanctions on al-Qahtani because of his suspected role in the plot, his absence has led to accusations that Saudi Arabia is throwing mostly lower-level soldiers to the wolves rather than aggressively pursuing justice in the case.”
Consequently, the court sessions have been closed to the public and journalists, with every detail of the trial proceedings: their frequency, the names of the 11 defendants (out of the 15-member hit squad) and the exact charges remaining a matter of speculation.
After weeks of repeated denials it had nothing to do with his disappearance, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind the gruesome murder, yet, whereabouts of his body remains unknown six months after.
My first concern as a journalist is, does the right to freely report happenings and speak out against the tyranny of an oppressive monarchy like Saudi Arabia or repressive regimes like Israel and China, as guaranteed under the freedom of expression, still exist?
If a journalist of a global standing with an eminent status of Khashoggi could be murdered in an embassy of the custodians of the religious sanctuaries, what then becomes the fate of critics from the developing nations like Nigeria, African or Asian countries?
Then should such a brazen murder go unprobed and the perpetrators escaped unpunished, in spite of the overwhelming documented, verbal and video evidences?
An intriguing question that equally troubles the mind is, if Saudi Arabian authorities unabashedly slaughtered a mere critic in an ‘unfriendly’ territory as Istanbul, it is unimaginable what could be happening to critics within the Kingdom and ‘friendly’ territories like United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Egypt, Israel and so on.
Another challenge thrown up by Khashoggi’s death is the myth of US citizenship, visa or residency. If Donald Trump could turn a blind eye to the confounding evidences and deafens his ears to the deafening cry for justice of the innocent soul of Khashoggi, if the almighty USA could trade the innocent blood of a resident for monetary gain, then it appears the ultimate defeat of the truth by the falsehood has practically emerged from the horizon and the world (including the UN) stands totally disgraced.
Just like Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and an official in Turkey’s ruling party remarked: “Killing an innocent person is one crime, the treatment and extent of what was done to the body is another crime and dishonour.”
What then is this wicked world turning into and where exactly are we headed?
Expect the conclusion in Part Two…..
Elder Yinka Salaam
Voice of Nigeria, Lagos
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