Washington, DC – The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) demanded accountability on Thursday for the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi – a day before the US government is due to report to Congress on the killing.
“The US Congress has rightfully condemned the murder and asked for answers from the Trump administration, which has insisted on doubling down on the ‘special’ relationship with the repressive kingdom and discounted the findings of his own intelligence agency,” Courtney Radsch, CPJ’s advocacy director, said outside the White House.
Khashoggi was killed on October 2, 2018, after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His body was dismembered and has not been found.
Initially, Saudi Arabia denied any involvement in the killing. But following a series of contradictory statements, the kingdom admitted that a team of Saudi agents killed the writer inside the consulate.
According to media in the United States, the CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered the murder, an allegation Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied. The White House has not included the crown prince on a list of sanctioned individuals they believe to have been involved in the murder.
Separately on Thursday, a UN-led inquiry found evidence suggesting the murder was a premeditated killing.
“The evidence presented to us during the mission to Turkey demonstrates a prima 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 and others acting under the direction of these state agents,” said UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, citing the “chilling and gruesome audio material” obtained by Turkish authorities. She said her team has not yet been able to independently authenticate the audio.
Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at CPJ, told Al Jazeera that journalists from the Middle East and elsewhere have expressed concern over their wellbeing following the murder, which she compared to an attack by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) “ISIS-like attack”.
Khashoggi “was killed and chopped up in an ISIS-like attack”, she said, adding that the murder, sends a chilling message that “no one is safe from Saudi Arabia’s reach”.
She also called for the release of the 16 journalists and writers held in Saudi prisons, 12 of whom were arrested after MBS became crown prince in June 2017.
CPJ said the US “cannot stand passively on this case, and must draw the line and send a united message to Saudi Arabia” over the murder.
Ahmed Bedier, president of United Voices of America and founder of the Justice for Jamal campaign, said the “mystery” was not who carried out the murder, but “why the US continues to cover up for Saudi Arabia’s sake”.
“It’s time the White House stops providing cover up for Khashoggi’s killers, specifically Mohammed bin Salman,” he said.
The US government has until Friday to submit a report about the killing under the Global Magnitsky Act, which was invoked on October 10, 2017, by a bipartisan group of senators.
Although the White House has sanctioned 17 Saudi individuals for their involvement in the murder, including two top aides to MBS, members of Congress have called for greater action to be taken against the kingdom and its leaders.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders sent a second letter after the sanctions were announced, specifically asking if MBS ordered Khashoggi’s killing.
Calls for a Congress-led probe
Bedier said if Congress was not happy with Friday’s report, members of Congress should conduct their own investigation into the murder and travel to Turkey to listen to the audio recordings.
He added that members should hold congressional hearings on Saudi Arabia, specifically looking at the US ally’s human rights record and lack of press freedom.
Last year, the Khashoggi killing proved to be a tipping point for several politicians, who had already voiced frustration over US support for the Saudi-UAE war in Yemen.
In December, the Senate passed a non-binding resolution condemning Saudi Arabia for its conduct in Yemen and for Khashoggi’s murder. Politicians have vowed to bring the measure and similar legislation up again this year.
On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced a bill that would end US involvement in the Yemen war. The “War Powers” resolution now goes to the House floor for debate.