Thursday 19 September 2019

US senators say Saudi crown prince was involved in Jamal Khashoggi death

The politicians spoke after a briefing from CIA director Gina Haspel.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Yui Mok/PA)
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Yui Mok/PA)

By Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro, Associated Press

US senators leaving a briefing with CIA director Gina Haspel have said they are even more convinced that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said he believes if the crown prince were put on trial, a jury would find him guilty in “about 30 minutes”.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who demanded the briefing with Ms Haspel, said there is “zero chance” the crown prince was not involved in Mr Khashoggi’s death.

Senator Lindsey Graham (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“There’s not a smoking gun. There’s a smoking saw,” Mr Graham said, referring to reports from the Turkish government that said Saudi agents used a bone saw to dismember Mr Khashoggi after he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Mr Graham said “you have to be wilfully blind” not to conclude that this was orchestrated and organised by people under the crown prince’s command.

But President Donald Trump has equivocated over who is to blame for the killing, frustrating senators who are now looking for ways to punish the longtime Middle East ally.

Senators overwhelmingly voted last week to move forward on a resolution curtailing US backing for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

It was unclear whether or how that resolution will move forward.

CIA director Gina Haspel (Timothy D. Easley/AP)

The vote last week set up debate on the measure, which could happen as soon as next week, but senators are still in negotiations on whether to amend it and what it should say.

Ms Haspel met with a small group of senators, including the chairmen and top Democrats on the key national security committees, after senators in both parties complained that she did not attend a briefing with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and US defence secretary Jim Mattis last week.

Mr Pompeo and Mr Mattis tried to dissuade senators from punishing Saudi Arabia with the resolution, saying US involvement in the Yemen conflict is central to the Trump administration’s broader goal of containing Iranian influence in the Middle East.

Human rights groups say the war is wreaking havoc on the country and subjecting civilians to indiscriminate bombing.

The two men also echoed Mr Trump’s reluctance to blame the crown prince.

Saudi Arabia’s Consulate in Istanbul (Petros Giannakouris/AP)

Mr Pompeo said there was “no direct reporting” connecting the crown prince to the murder, and Mr Mattis said there was “no smoking gun” making the connection.

After that briefing, Mr Graham threatened to withhold his vote on key legislation until he heard from Haspel.

“I’m not going to blow past this,” he said.

That afternoon, senators frustrated with the briefing and the lack of response to Mr Khashoggi’s killing overwhelmingly voted to move forward with consideration of the Yemen resolution, 63-37.

Mr Khashoggi was killed two months ago.

The journalist, who had lived for a time in the US and wrote for The Washington Post, had been critical of the Saudi regime.

He was killed in what US officials have described as an elaborate plot as he visited the consulate for marriage paperwork.

Murdered writer Jamal Khashoggi (Johnny Green/PA)

US intelligence officials have concluded that the crown prince must have at least known of the plot, but Mr Trump has been reluctant to pin the blame.

He has touted Saudi arms deals worth billions of dollars to the US and recently thanked Saudi Arabia for plunging oil prices.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, Mr Graham wrote that the killing and other moves by the Saudi regime showed “astounding arrogance entitlement” and disregard for international norms.

“We are a coequal branch of government exercising leadership to safeguard the country’s long-term interests, values and reputation,” wrote Mr Graham, a frequent ally of the president.

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