On February 26, 2021 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a four-page document assessing the role of the Saudi Government in the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The 2018 killing, which took place in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, put a spotlight on journalistic freedom in Saudi Arabia. It also cast doubt on the Kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (also known as MBS).
Initially hailed as a reformer, seeking to liberalize his nation and diversify its economic interests by shifting focus away from oil, the Crown Prince has come under intense scrutiny for some of his actions including his support for the war in Yemen and his government’s crackdown on dissenters at home and abroad.
On his frequent foreign tours he interacts with dignitaries, presents his brainchild Vision 2030 regarding the development goals of the nation, and lays out his government’s policies to eliminate corruption, foster entrepreneurship and promote tourism. Despite this outreach, his ascension to the role of Crown Prince has resulted in escalating tensions in the volatile Middle East. In 2017, led by Saudi Arabia, three Gulf countries accused Qatar of funding terrorism and ended their diplomatic relations with the nation.
The Khashoggi murder raised eyebrows throughout the world as people waited with bated breath for the US government’s response. Former President Donald J. Trump only reaffirmed his support for the Kingdom, calling them “a great ally in our very important fight against Iran.” Instead of holding the Crown Prince accountable, President Trump claimed that the truth about the killing may never be known and chose to spotlight the Kingdom’s investment in the United States worth US$ 450 billion.
The inauguration of President Biden lent hope to those waiting for justice to be delivered in the Khashoggi case. During the Democratic debates in November 2019, when Mr. Biden was asked if he would punish senior Saudi leaders, he answered in the affirmative, adding that he “would make [Saudi Arabia] the pariah that they are.” He further stated, ”There is very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.”
The Director of National Intelligence has concluded that the Saudi Crown Prince approved an operation in Istanbul to capture or kill Khashoggi. The report released alleges that “The Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the Kingdom and broadly supported using violent means if necessary to silence him.” It is made strikingly clear that the Crown Prince was involved in this gruesome assassination.
However, justice is still elusive as the newly elected American government has so far failed to penalize those at the very heart of this operation. The Biden administration’s response has included a phone call about human rights between MBS and the President, and the imposition of the “Khashoggi Ban,” a new visa restriction policy.