On Oct. 2, Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Khashoggi was there to finalize divorce papers so that he could legally marry his Turkish fiancée. Ten hours after he entered the consulate, Khashoggi never returned home.
After days of speculation, it finally became clear what had happened: Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Reports show that 15 Saudi nationals with ties to the monarchy came and left Istanbul in the same day, all of which were recorded entering and leaving the consulate. Security and surveillance footage was removed the day of the disappearance. One of the Saudi operatives were seen leaving the consulate in Khashoggi’s clothes.
The Turkish government is certain Khashoggi was gruesomely tortured and murdered in the consulate. Unnamed officials conferred that he was ultimately dismembered and removed from the consulate within two hours of arriving. Other officials reportedly heard Saudi nationals threatening to kill Khashoggi if he wasn’t cooperative.
The Saudi government has flip-flopped back and forth on their side of the story, but the evidence is clear: Saudi Arabia premeditated the murder of a prominent journalist and critic of the government.
President Trump has had a hard time deciding how hard a stance the US will take on Khashoggi’s death. That’s not surprising given Trump’s affinity for the Saudi government — his business ordeals are tied up in Riyadh, and the monarchy accepts billions of dollars in arms deals from the U.S.
But indifference to the persecution of journalism is not an acceptable stance for a Western president to take. Trump needs to change his tune and buckle down on Saudi Arabia, particularly by demanding sanctions on the government for their belligerence.
If the United States lets this one slide, it will send a message to Saudi Arabia that they can act with impunity so long as they continue buying weapons and influence from us. As if a devastating war in Yemen and the dangerous persecution of dissidents within the country aren’t concerning enough to the president, Saudi Arabia’s 007 spy mission inside Turkey demonstrates that they’re willing to break international norms and laws to get what they want.
Remember, Khashoggi was not just a political rival of the House of Saud. He was a journalist who wrote for the Washington Post, a U.S.-based outlet, and a fierce critic of a government that has become increasingly authoritarian in nature. The international community sees journalists like Khashoggi as the only way to discover human and civil rights abuses in countries, like Saudi Arabia. Without them, we have no way of knowing if our allies are violating the sanctity of international law.
That’s why it’s so important to take murders like this seriously. If Trump is unwilling to do anything about Khashoggi’s death, what’s stopping the Saudi government from going after Western journalists who write disfavorably of the Crown Prince inside Saudi Arabia? Should they kidnap, torture or even kill a member of the United States press?
Sanctions would offer up a perfect way to punish the royal government in Saudi Arabia. Short of cutting the alliance or pursuing some form of international criminal prosecution, sanctions place financial constraints on high level officials in government. Making it harder for the Crown Prince and his cronies to move money around and tightening restrictions on investment by Western firms may pressure the Saudis to reconsider murdering critics of their government.
Above all, the United States needs to draw a line in the sand. The Crown Prince may be in line to be the Saudi king, but he is not king of the world. The United States cannot let other world leaders act as such.