The Saudi government's response to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi would be laughable if the crime weren't so serious. The kingdom is trying everything in its power to steer world attention away from substantial evidence linking Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the planning, execution and cover-up of a professional hit job at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
For the Trump administration, Khashoggi's murder enormously complicates its already disjointed Middle East agenda. President Donald Trump cannot convincingly portray Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against major human rights violators and meddlers like Iran when the Saudi government proves just as oppressive and murderous.
Nor can the administration point to Saudi Arabia as a model of social reform for the region when the kingdom goes to such extreme lengths to stifle dissent. In May, Trump heralded Saudi Arabia's social opening during a multinational summit in Riyadh, the kingdom's capital, where he joined King Salman and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in placing their hands atop a glowing orb.
They were, ironically, celebrating the opening of the new Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology, devoted to fighting groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State that abduct innocents and then torture or kill them because of their beliefs.
Khashoggi was lured into the Istanbul consulate, at a minimum, to be tortured, kidnapped and forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia — not because he violated any laws, but because his beliefs conflicted with those of Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis contend that the abduction went wrong and Khashoggi was killed while being placed in a chokehold.
Turkish officials say they have evidence indicating the killers were in place with the specific intent to murder Khashoggi and that their team included an autopsy specialist equipped with a bone saw.
Somebody is lying. Would it be Turkey, whose story has been consistent throughout this two-week ordeal (and whose surveillance video shows the arrival and pre-positioning of the 15 men linked to Khashoggi's murder)? Or would it be the Saudis, whose story has changed on a daily basis? First, they denied everything and accused Turkish officials of lying. They wouldn't even acknowledge that Khashoggi was dead. Then government officials said that Khashoggi was the victim of "rogue killers" — after he visited the consulate. Then they tried to portray Khashoggi as an al-Qaida and Islamic State sympathizer.
Now the kingdom acknowledges that its men carried out the killing, meticulously covered up their crime and then smuggled out the body past consular staffers and guards. And it took the kingdom two entire weeks to find out this newest "truth."
The orb glows bright at the hypocrisy of those who claim to uphold the fight against extremism, only to feed it with murderous thuggery and lies. When Trump balks at condemning the Saudis, he becomes their enabler.
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