Khashoggi & Russian Spies: How West Changes Its Stance At Will

Trump’s ‘America First’ policy has allowed him to be blind to Khashoggi murder & not penalize Saudi.

5 min read
File Photo of Jamal Khashoggi used for representational purposes.

What is common between two Russians and one Saudi national – Alexander Litivinenko, Sergei Skripal and Jamal Khashoggi?

  1. Their respective governments wanted them dead. Two were actually killed and one narrowly escaped death, that is, Skripal.
  2. Their murders were ordered at the highest levels in their governments.
  3. All three were targeted on foreign soil.
  4. There was no due process of law, no warrant of arrest and no application to Interpol to have them extradited. They were simply assassinated by their respective secret agencies.
  5. Neither the Russian nor Saudi governments cared two hoots for the principles of international law or norms of behavior on foreign soil.
  6. Attacks on them raised an international outcry of varying degrees, exposing strange levels of moral deviance among the rulers of the West, who are generally inclined towards championing human rights, rule of law and principles of natural justice.

Khashoggi’s ‘Erdogan Link’ Escalated Cost of His Death

Certain details first. The Russians are double agents, in that they were earlier working for the KGB now known as Federal Security Bureau (FSB) and then defected to the MI6 now called the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in Britain.

Both Litivinenko and Skripal were poisoned, first one with a rare radioactive isotope – Polonium 210 and the second one with a nerve agent – Novichok. It was timely medical help that saved Skripal’s life, as the MI6 was well prepared to handle another attempted murder on British soil after the shock and shame of being outwitted by the KGB in Litivinenko’s murder.

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Jamal Khashoggi was a journalist with The Washington Post, well known to the Saudi royal family, who subsequently became a dissident with increasing hostility to the regime.

He was killed in a more primitive way, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, initially with fingers being cut off as part of an aggressive interrogation that devolved, resulting in a painful and tortuous death.

The fact that Khashoggi was a friend of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was an important factor in escalating the cost of his death to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Secret Service Blamed Squarely for Khashoggi Murder

President Putin once told a journalist who was becoming a nuisance to the government for highlighting the increasing violence against reporters in 2001, “You know Aleksi, you are not a traitor, you are an enemy”.

The journalist asked him what was the difference and how on earth was that supposed to be of any comfort? Putin explained, “Enemies are right in front of you, you are at war with them, then you make an armistice with them, and all is clear. A traitor must be destroyed, crushed,” as quoted by Mark Urban in his latest book Skripal Files.

This statement is revealed in the book not merely as indicative of Putin’s mindset but also as a possible directive to his agencies to deal with Russian traitors.

Though Litivinenko, in his dying declaration, directly blamed Putin for his death, the British government did not reveal it to the press at the time, nor did the Independent Enquiry Commission (set up later) blame Putin directly. They however, blamed the State Agencies of Russia for the death of Litvinenko in October 2006 and the near death of Skripal and his daughter in March 2018.

President Erdogan directly blamed the Saudi Secret Service for Khashoggi’s death with abundant evidence in hand.
  1. Firstly, the Turkish government was aware that a team of 15 Saudi nationals had flown into Istanbul in a private jet and had checked into a hotel near the consulate.
  2. Secondly, there was CCTV footage showing Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate but no footage of him exiting the building.
  3. Thirdly, they had gotten hold of audio recordings of the so-called interrogation from the cellphone of his girlfriend who was waiting outside the consulate.
  4. It is also suspected that Turkish security service had planted bugs inside the consulate, and that provided the gory details. This was the tape that was probably handed over to the CIA, which made a conclusive finding that it was a pre-meditated murder and that the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered it.

Similar Killings, Different Reactions

Britain reacted to the killing of Litivinenko almost after 10 years when the Enquiry Commission submitted its report in 2016. It had clearly fixed the responsibility for the killing on Andrei Lugovi and Dmitry Kouvtun, both ex-KGB personnel who were colleagues of Litvinenko.

Prime Minister Theresa May said that the assets of the two men would be frozen, and summoned the Russian ambassador to the Foreign Office to express the government’s “profound displeasure” at what she said was an “unacceptable breach” of international law. Many of her critics were dismayed at this weak and delayed protest.

Prime Minister Theresa May however, reacted much more sharply to the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter by expelling 23 Russian diplomats and freezing all Russian assets in the UK. More than 20 European allies expelled over 100 Russian diplomats and officials in solidarity with UK. Theresa May told the House of Commons that this was “the largest collective expulsion of Russian Intelligence officers in history”. Such was the European anger against Russia’s brazen methods of eliminating its traitors.

The US too followed suit and expelled about 60 Russian diplomats under the Magnitsky Act, though it stopped short of making a formal determination that it had broken international law. The Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act signed by President Obama in December 2012, was intended to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of a Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison in October 2009.

In 2016, the bill was extended globally and authorised the US government to punish human rights offenders, freeze their assets and ban them from entering the US.

Trump’s ‘America First’ Policy: No Penalty for Saudi

Even as he announced expulsion of Russian diplomats, President Trump appeared as if he was being forced to take the decision under pressure from the ‘Deep State’, as it went against his deep-rooted desire to build a warm personal relationship with Putin.

What has been the response of Europe and the US to Jamal Khashoggi’s death? For weeks after his killing, the governments of UK, France and Germany kept calling for a credible Saudi-Turkish investigation into the killing and identifying of persons responsible for his killing.

Only Germany took the matter forward by announcing a freeze on arms sale to Saudi Arabia, while questions hung over Khashoggi’s killing, and asked other European nations to follow the lead.

Of all the reactions, President Trump’s reaction is the most genuine one, as he makes no bones as to where America’s interests lie. He has clearly refused to listen to the tape handed over by Turkey, nor has he agreed with the assessment made by the CIA that the murder of Khashoggi was ordered by none other than Mohammed bin Salman himself. Trump’s simple argument is that USD 110 billion of arms deal with Saudi Arabia is at stake, and thousands of jobs in the US are at stake. Again it is the ‘Deep State’ (the military – industrial complex) that is guiding President Trump.

President Trump declared in his disarmingly agnostic manner that “we may never know all the facts surrounding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi….It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”

Trump is all deviance, sans morality. And he sports his deviance like a badge of honour dedicated to a higher cause – ‘America First’. No human rights, no rule of law can supersede that.

(The author is a retired diplomat, and is presently a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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