The Saudi-born Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi has been missing for over a week—with reports strongly indicating he was murdered last week by a 'hit team' sent by the government of Saudi Arabia while inside the country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey—but critics from across the political spectrum say the Trump administration still has not used its close ties to the ruling Royal Family, and especially with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Sulman (MbS), to get anywhere nearer the truth of what happened to Khashoggi or hold the Saudis feet to the fire over the possible assassination of a U.S. resident and journalist.
In an op-ed in the Post on Wednesday, Khashoggi's fiancee Hatice Cengiz—who waited for him outside the consulate but says he never came out—said she believes he is still alive but implored "President Trump and first lady Melania Trump to help shed light on Jamal's disappearance."
In the Oval Office early Wednesday afternoon, Trump told reporters it was "a very sad situation, it's a very bad situation." But while he said he had spoken to Saudi officials—including possibly King Salman himself—Trump made no indication he pressed them for answers and seemed bewildered by the idea that he could possibly find out more. Additionally troubling, the Washington Post reports:
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.
As the Middle East Eye reported Tuesday, "social media users have criticized the 'deafening silence' from the US administration following the alleged death" with many calling on Trump to demand answers from Saudi leaders.
And it is not just Democrats and progressive voices demanding answers. Neoconservative Francis Fukuyama also echoed the demand of many progressive critics by demanding president's son-in-law and top Middle East advisor Jared Kushner, use his cozy relationship with MbS to get answers. "Kushner," he said, "should ask his friend Mohamed bin Salman what happened to Jamal Khashoggi."
In a tweet on Tuesday, Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East adviser to both Republican and Democratic administrations, said that "If Saudis were involved in Jamal's death or disappearance, that's obviously on them. But in failing to call MBS out on just about anything, particularly repression at home, Trump Administration has emboldened him and given him [the] sense he can do anything."
As many have noted, reporting by The Intercept earlier this year revealed the Kushner may have directly furnished MbS with information on Saudi dissidents living abroad and MbS was said to have bragged that the U.S. president's son-in-law was "in his pocket":
Kushner disclosed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, based on info he got from the President's intelligence brief https://t.co/RFsO4Q4FDK as #Kashoggi investigation begins, this article from March may play a role @AlexEmmons @ryangrim @claytonswisher
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— Heather Timmons (@HeathaT) October 10, 2018
While Turkish officials have said in recent days they believe Khashoggi was killed in the consulate and his body later removed by the "murder team" that came from Saudi Arabia, newly released video footage—provided to the Post from a Turkish source—shows a group of men coming and going from Turkey, including their movements before and after Khashoggi's alleged abduction.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported more harrowing details, based on a source who explained that the planned murder was "a quick and complex operation in which Mr. Khashoggi was killed within two hours of his arrival at the consulate by a team of Saudi agents, who dismembered his body with a bone saw they brought for the purpose." The unnamed official who spoke to the Times said it was "like 'Pulp Fiction'" in its gruesomeness.
Horrific NYT story on #JamalKashoggi! Turkish employees told not to come to work. 2 charter planes w 15 #Saudi thugs land and return same day. His body dismembered with a bone saw Saudis brought for the purpose! WTF!!!!!https://t.co/uv45ewEf7L
— Medea Benjamin (@medeabenjamin) October 10, 2018
As the Times notes, officials in Turkey "have left things murky enough" by "speaking on condition of anonymity and refusing to publicly disclose their evidence," which means that much of the reporting remains unverified and the lack of concrete evidence at this point leaves room for the possibility that Khashoggi was abducted from the consulate, but not killed.
But still, the missing piece has been the total absence of political pressure from the Trump administration, despite the strong and personal ties it maintains with the Saudis, and the Crown Prince in particular.
The fact that the Saudis under MBS, with Trump and Kushner's encouragement, can target an Establishment, non-dissident, ex-govt, mildly-critical-of-MBS Saudi public figure in this brutal & brazen way speaks volumes about what they think they can get away with - and do! https://t.co/YgViGbySDX
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) October 6, 2018