Category Archives: Murder

Saudi Arabia has to be stopped and this time it may get stopped

It appears that the KSA has crossed all lines of decency, if there were ever any.

In the eyes of many in the West, it crossed them not because it has been brutally killing tens of thousands of innocent people in Yemen, not even because it keeps sponsoring terrorists in Syria, (and, in fact, all over the world), often on behalf of the West. And not even because it is trying to turn its neighboring country, Qatar, from a peninsula into an island.

The crimes against humanity committed by Saudi Arabia are piling up, but the hermit kingdom (it is so hermit that it does not even issue tourist visas, in order to avoid scrutiny) is not facing any sanctions or embargos, with some exceptions like Germany. These are some of the most barbaric crimes committed in modern history, anywhere and by anyone. Executing and then quartering people, amputating their limbs, torturing, bombing civilians.

But for years and decades, all this mattered nothing. Saudi Arabia served faithfully both big business and the political interests of the United Kingdom first, and of the West in general later. That, of course, includes Israel, with which the House of Saud shares almost a grotesque hatred towards Shi’a Islam.

And so, no atrocities have been publicly discussed, at least not in the Western mass media or by the European and the US governments, while weapons, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, have been arriving into the KSA, and the oil, that dark sticky curse, kept flowing out.

Was Riyadh enjoying total impunity? Definitely!

But all this may soon stop, because of a one single man, Mr. Jamal Khashoggi or more precisely, because of his alleged tragic, terrifying death behind the walls of the Saudi Consulate in the city of Istanbul.

According to the Turkish authorities, quoted by The New York Times on October 11, 2018:

Fifteen Saudi agents arrived on two charter flights on Oct. 2, the day Mr. Khashoggi disappeared.

Supposedly, they brutally murdered Mr. Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, and then they used sawmills to severe his legs and arms from the body.

All this, while Mr. Khashoggi’s Turkish fiancé, Hatice Cengiz, was waiting for him on a bench, in front of the consulate. He went in, in order to take care of the paperwork required to marry her. But he never came back.

Now the Turkish nation is indignant.

Ten years ago, even one year ago, everything would have been, most likely, hushed up. As all mass murders committed by the Saudis all over the world were always hushed up. As was hushed up the information about the Saudi royal family smuggling drugs from Lebanon, using their private jets – narcotics that are clouding senses and are therefore used in combat zones and during terrorist attacks.

But now, this is the end of 2018. And Turkey is not ready to tolerate an atrocity by an increasingly hostile country; an atrocity committed in the middle of its largest city. For quite some time, Turkey and the KSA are not chums anymore. Turkish military forces were already deployed to Qatar several months ago, in order to face the Saudi army and to protect the small (although also not benign) Gulf State from possible attack and imminent destruction. In the meantime, Turkey is getting closer and closer to Iran, an archenemy of Saudi Arabia, Israel and US.

It has to be pointed out that Mr. Khashoggi is not just some common Saudi citizen – he is a prominent critic of the Saudi regime, but most importantly, in the eyes of the empire, a correspondent for The Washington Post. Critic but not an ‘outsider’. And some say, he was perhaps too close to some Western intelligence agencies.

Therefore, his death, if it is, after all, death, could not be ignored, no matter how much the West would like the story to disappear from the headlines.

President Trump remained silent for some time, then he became “concerned”, and finally Washington began indicating that it could even take some actions against its second closest ally in the Middle East. The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been ‘cultivated’ both by Washington and other Western powers, but now he may actually fall from grace. Is he going to end up as Shah Pahlavi of Iran? Not now, but soon, or at least ‘at some point’? Are the days of the House of Saud numbered? Perhaps not yet. But Washington has a track record of getting rid of its ‘uncomfortable allies.

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The Washington Post, in its editorial “Trump’s embrace emboldened Saudi Crown Prince’, snapped at both the ‘Saudi regime’ (finally that derogatory word, ‘regime’ has been used against the House of Saud) and the US administration:

Two years ago it would have been inconceivable that the rulers of Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, would be suspected of abducting or killing a critic who lived in Washington and regularly wrote for the Post – or that they would dare to stage such operation in Turkey, another US ally and a NATO member. That the regime now stands accused by Turkish government sources of murdering Jamal Khashoggi, one of the foremost Saudi journalists, in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate could be attributed in part to the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s 33-year-old de facto ruler, who has proved as ruthless as he is ambitious. But it also may reflect the influence President Donald Trump, who has encouraged the Crown Prince to believe – wrongly, we trust – that even his most lawless ventures will have the support of the United States.

“Wrongly, we trust?” But Saudi Arabia and its might are almost exclusively based on its collaboration with the global Western ‘regime’ imposed on the Middle East and on the entire world, first by Europe and the UK in particular, and lately by the United States.

All terror that the KSA has been spreading all over the region, but also Central Asia, Asia Pacific, and parts of Africa, has been encouraged, sponsored or at least approved in Washington, London, even Tel Aviv.

The Saudis helped to destroy the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, and then the socialist and progressive Afghanistan itself. They fought Communism and all left-wing governments in the Muslim world, on behalf of the West. They still do.

Now both the West and the KSA are inter-dependent. The Saudis are selling oil and buying weapons, signing ‘monumental’ defense contracts with the US companies, such as Lockheed Martin. They are also ‘investing’ into various political figures in Washington.

The current alleged murder of a journalist triggered an unusual wave of soul-searching in the Western media. It is half-hearted soul searching, but it is there, nevertheless. On October 2018, the Huffington Post wrote:

By directing billions of dollars of Saudi money into the U.S. for decades, Riyadh’s ruling family has won the support of small but powerful circles of influential Americans and courted wider public acceptance through corporate ties and philanthropy. It’s been a solid investment for a regime that relies heavily on Washington for its security but can’t make the same claims to shared values or history as other American allies like Britain. For years, spending in ways beneficial to the U.S. ― both stateside and abroad, such as its funding Islamist fighters in Afghanistan to combat the Soviet Union ― has effectively been an insurance policy for Saudi Arabia.

It means that the White House will most likely do its best not to sever relationships with Riyadh. There may be, and most likely will be, some heated exchange of words, but hardly some robust reaction, unless all this tense situation ‘provokes’ yet another ‘irrational’ move on the part of the Saudis.

The report by Huffington Post pointed out that:

One of the few traditions in American diplomacy that Trump has embraced wholeheartedly is describing weapons sales as jobs programs. The president has repeatedly said Khashoggi’s fate should not disturb the $110 billion package of arms that Trump says he got the Saudis to buy to support American industry. (Many of the deals were actually struck under Obama, and a large part of the total he’s describing is still in the form of vague statements of intent.)

Keen to keep things on track with the Saudis, arms producers often work in concert with Saudi Arabia’s army of Washington lobbyists, congressional sources say.

This is where the Western reporting stops short of telling the whole truth, and from putting things into perspective. Nobody from the mainstream media shouts: ‘There is basically no independent foreign policy of Riyadh!’

Yes, oil buys weapons that are ‘giving jobs to men and women working in the US and UK factories’, and then these weapons are used to murder men, women and children in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere; they threaten Iran, Qatar and several other countries. Oil and Western support also help to recruit terrorists for the perpetual wars desired by the West, and they also help to build thousands of lavish mosques and to convert tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia, Africa and elsewhere to Wahhabism, which is an extreme, Saudi-UK religious dogma. (My book Exposing Lies of the Empire. contains important chapter on this topic – “The West Manufacturing Muslim Monsters: Who Should Be Blamed for Muslim Terrorism”).

*****

Despite what many in the West think, there is hardly any love for Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. The KSA is sometimes supported, out of ignorance, commercial interests, or religious zeal, by such far-away Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, but as a rule, not by those who live ‘in the region’.

Many, if not most, in the Arab countries have already had enough of Saudi arrogance and bullying, by such monstrous acts like the war against Yemen, or implanting/supporting terrorists in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, or by recent the de facto kidnapping of the Lebanese Head of State, by moral hypocrisy and by turning holy Muslim sites into business ventures with vulgar commercialism all around them, and the clear segregation of the rich and poor.

Many Arabs hold Saudi Arabia responsible for turning an essentially socialist and egalitarian religion into what it has become now, of course, with the determined support from the West, which desires to have an obedient and rituals-oriented population all over the Muslim world, in order to control it better, while plundering, without any opposition, its natural resources. Saudi Arabia is a country with some of the greatest disparities on earth: with some of the richest elites on one hand, and widespread misery all around the entire territory. It is an ‘unloved country’, but until now, it has been ‘respected’. Mainly out of fear.

Now, the entire world is watching. Those who were indignant in silence are beginning to speak out.

Few days ago, an Indonesian maid was mercilessly executed in the KSA. Years ago, she killed her tormentor, her old ‘a patron’ who was attempting to rape her, on many occasions. But that was not reported on the front pages. After all, she was ‘just a maid’; a poor woman from a poor country.

All of us, writers and journalists all over the world, are hoping that Mr. Khashoggi (no matter what his track record was so far) is alive, somewhere, and that one day soon he will be freed. However, with each new day, the chances that it will happen are slimmer and slimmer. Now even Saudi officials admit that he was murdered.

If he was killed by Saudi agents, Mr. Khashoggi’s death may soon fully change both his country and the rest of the Middle East. He always hoped for at least some changes in his country. But most likely, he never imagined that he would have to pay the ultimate price for them.

This time, the Saudi rulers hoped for a breeze, which would disperse the smell of blood. They may now inherit the tempest.

Embassy Disappearances: Jamal Khashoggi and the Foreign Policy Web

Do this outside. You will put me into trouble.

— Mohammad al-Otaibi, Saudi consul, to Saudi agents, Istanbul, October 2, 2018

It smells, but anything wedged between the putrefaction of Saudi foreign policy, the ambition of Turkish bellicosity, and the US muddling middleman is bound to.  Three powers tussling over image and appearance; all engaged in a wrestle over how best to seem the least hypocritical.  US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi already seems to have found his name into the books of martyred dissidents, but we have no body, merely an inflicted disappearance suggesting a gruesome murder.

The journalist, a notable critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was last seen on October 2 entering the residence of the Saudi consul-general in Istanbul, ostensibly to obtain a document necessary for his upcoming nuptials.  A senior Turkish official put forth a brutal scenario on Wednesday based on obtained audio recordings.  Saudi operatives, probably numbering 15 from the intelligence services and the Royal Guards, were waiting for Khashoggi’s arrival at 1.15 pm.  Within a matter of minutes, Khashoggi was dead, decapitated, dismembered, his fingers removed.  The entire operation took two hours.

The New York Times pondered how the brutality was inflicted.  “Whether Mr. Khashoggi was killed before his fingers were removed and his body dismembered could not be determined.”  The Saudi consul Mohammad al-Otaibi was revealed to be squeamish and worried, suggesting the agents ply their craft elsewhere.  The reply from one of the company was curt and unequivocal: “If you want to live when you come back to Arabia, shut up.”  A Saudi doctor of forensics, Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy, a worthy addition to the crew, got to work disposing of the body.  His advice to any companions feeling wobbly: listen to music, soothe the savage breast.

A danse macabre has developed between the various power players.  US president Donald Trump has asked his Turkish counterparts for any audio or video evidence that might shed light on the journalist’s fate.  To date, these have been drip fed with tantalising timing, disturbing the White House’s neat and comfortable acceptance of the account put forth by Riyadh.  But Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, an individual never shy to exploit a jingoistic moment, has remained cautiously reticent.

This is where the world of image, supposition, and make-believe, comes into play.  The procuring of evidence is being resisted.  Trump asks, but does not expect any. The Turkish side, thus far, supplies crumbs, finding their way into selected news outlets such as the Daily Yeni Şafak.  Trump, for his part, remains non-committal, even indifferent to what might emerge.  “I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, probably does.”

The picture is patchy, gathered from audio surveillance, intercepted communications and a miscellany of sources, but on this point, Ankara remains ginger.  US intelligence officials have so far suggested that circumstantial evidence on the involvement of Crown Prince Mohammed is growing.

Trump’s game with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of hedging and hoping: hedging on the issue of blood-linked complicity, and hoping that the sordid matter will simply evaporate in the ether of the next event.  “I just want to find out what’s happening,” he deflected. “I’m not giving cover at all.” But he has again fallen victim to the characteristic, off colour corker: allegations against the Saudis might be analogously seen with those of sexual assault against now confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent.  I don’t like that.  We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”  US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also shown a marked reluctance to go near any details, telling the press that any facts on Khashoggi will not be discussed.

Politicians in the United States have been attempting to add tears and remorse to the equation, though these dry quickly.  Rep. Eric Swalwell Jr. from California suggested that the explanations were needless. “If someone was killed in your home, while you were in it, and 15 days later you’re still coming up with an explanation… forget it.  We already know.”  US Rep. Paul Ryan and Senator Orrin Hatch are chewing over the prospect that Khashoggi’s fate might have been occasioned by an “interrogation gone wrong”.

The one person to again blow the cover off any niceties, to destroy the façade of propriety in what is otherwise a grizzly affair is the US president. He has avoided funereal respects and regrets. He has avoided referencing any idyllic notions of a free press.  The all-powerful dollar and arms sales remain paramount.  “You’ve got $100 billion worth of arms sales… we cannot alienate our biggest player in the Middle East.”  And just to show that a love of God and the foetus won’t deter evangelicals from embracing a ghoulish Arab theocracy, Pat Robertson has added his hearty support. “For those who are screaming blood for the Saudis – look, these people are our allies.”

Whatever happens regarding Khashoggi, the relationship between Washington and Riyadh is assured.  Turkey, from first signs, is avoiding open confrontation.  Murder, alleged or otherwise, can take place in certain circumstances, however brazenly executed. The brutality against Khashoggi, should it ever come to be properly aired, is but another footnote in the program of a kingdom indifferent to suffering, from the saw doctor to the jet.  And business remains business.

How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?

Jamal Khashoggi offers remarks during POMED’s “Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia: A Deeper Look.” (Photo: POMED)

Saudi Arabia has dominated the news cycle after Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was disappeared in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and, according to Turkish sources, murdered by a 15-strong team of Saudi agents. The public relations backlash might spell trouble for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), while Western governments have scrambled to express “concern” about the case, in what is more about protecting their interests and Western corporate dealings in Saudi Arabia than any genuine concern for human rights.

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It seems that having Khashoggi, a former insider, dish out criticism from the Beltway was too much embarrassment for MBS, who is the most powerful man in the country, to tolerate. The West had let MBS get away with everything until now, as he was their man, the one who would deliver some window dressing reforms to appease Western public opinion while facilitating billionaire dealings for corporations, especially weapons manufacturers. However, this final stunt seems to have backfired, at least for MBS.

Human Rights Concerns?

It is impossible not to compare the reaction to this episode to the corresponding ones to Saudi war crimes in Yemen. When the Saudis bombed a market, when they launched a double-tap strike1 on a funeral, when they hit a Yemeni school bus, it barely registered. All those episodes made headlines, as does the humanitarian crisis now and then, but there was no outrage to follow in Western ruling circles, almost as if this were a natural disaster with no one to blame.

More than that, Saudi officials were always given ample space in the mainstream media to deny the strikes (even though nobody else flies planes over Yemen), or to defend that the targets hit were “legitimate.” Additionally, there were always trusted figures ready to come out, wave the Iran bogeyman, and shield the Saudis from scrutiny. The Saudi lobby in DC is definitely getting its money’s worth.

So what is the difference now? For one, Khashoggi had friends in DC. These are people who are happy to let these sort of atrocities happen, and go on defending Saudi interests, but they do not expect the proverbial hammer to be dropped on one of them.

Plus, there was the fact that this was done so blatantly in a foreign capital, and that it was not done quietly. MBS had gotten away with everything, but this time he clearly overplayed his hand. Turkish sources have been leaking information to the media, making it impossible for Saudi authorities to spin or deny the accusations. The media frenzy has forced Western leaders to demand an investigation and express (or feign) concern for human rights.

An immediate consequence has been the pulling out of several participants from the high profile investor conference scheduled for later this month, nicknamed “Davos in the Desert.” But one thing should be painfully clear. The killing of market dwellers, mourners, first responders, and even schoolchildren, not to mention the widespread famine caused by the Saudi war, were not an obstacle for the World Bank to take part in the conference, or for the New York Times to cover it, or for Richard Branson to engage in joint ventures with the Saudis, etc.

Even if by some magic trick, or tremendous cynicism, one gave the Saudis a pass for the death and misery unleashed on their southern neighbour, there is still quite a laundry list of human rights abuses in recent times. Activists and regime opponents are still routinely arrested and killed, military operations take place in the restive (and majority Shia) region of Qatif, and even Saad Hariri, former Lebanese PM and pliant ally, was kidnapped from Beirut, held against his will and forced to resign. These are just a few examples.

Somehow none of this seemed a cause for “concern” over Saudi Arabia’s, and MBS’ in particular, regard for human rights. And despite all the publicity, leaders such as Trump and Canada PM Trudeau have made a point of reassuring weapons manufacturers that no billionaire deals are being suspended. It might seem strange at first to be concerned about a regime’s regard for human rights and still sell them precision-guided missiles. Until we remember that these missiles are destined for unworthy victims.

Cartoon by Carlos Latuff

Human Rights and (the highest stage of) capitalism

As to what happens now, there are many possibilities. For the Crown Prince, he who was the subject of the most embarrassingly fawning pieces in western media, the honeymoon seems to have ended. He might retreat to a lower profile for a while or be pushed aside by more senior royals. In the meantime we get to watch Thomas Friedman try and walk back from his sycophantic efforts to praise MBS for single-handedly bringing the Arab Spring to Saudi Arabia.

The outcome of the PR crisis is less certain. Turkey might try to leverage the episode to improve relations with the US or to ease the Saudi-led hostility against its main gulf ally, Qatar. This will influence their handling of the upcoming investigation. The Saudis, unable to deny the undeniable, might try to look for a scapegoat to cast as a rogue agent, jail some people, appear penitent, and pray that their millionaire investments in DC think tanks will be enough to gain control of the narrative.

For Western governments and multinational corporations, make no mistake, this is hitting the lottery, provided everyone can steer clear of bad publicity for now. The “modernising” and pompous Vision 2030 plan, cooked up with consulting giants, will open sectors of the Saudi economy to private capital, because there is nothing more “modern” than privatisations. The crown jewel in this opening is, of course, oil behemoth Aramco, with an IPO that has investors salivating already pushed back to 2019.

The Khashoggi affair means more leverage for Western governments and multinational corporations, deals in more favourable conditions and perhaps, once the dust settles, even more billionaire weapons deals. The Trump administration might also try to use the current crisis to push the Saudis into increasing their oil output (to lower prices), with Secretary of State Pompeo being sent to handle the crisis.

The West’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia is predicated on oil, safeguarding Israel’s interests, projecting imperialist interests in the region, and securing business for corporations. The brazen murder of a journalist is just bad publicity, nothing more. Democracy and human rights have never been a factor in Western dealings in this part of the world, or any part of the world for that matter.

Therefore, expect a hefty dose of grandiloquent human rights discourses in the coming weeks, lest people start wondering if corporations have no concerns but profit, some sabre rattling in return, and then a publicity campaign to restore Saudi image, so that everything can go back to business as usual. In Yemen, unfortunately, the business of death and humanitarian disaster will go on unimpeded. So how many Yemenis is a DC pundit worth? We are at tens of thousands, with millions on the brink of starvation, and still counting.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. A double-tap strike is the technique of following a missile or air strike with another strike shortly afterwards, to target first responders.

Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos

In the early seventies, Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were torn to distraction by a Greek refugee journalist living in the U.S. named Elias Demetracopoulos. He had been definitively documenting — on an ongoing basis — the ties they had with the corrupt junta ruling the cradle of democracy in unprecedented authoritarian fashion.

No matter what one thinks of Christopher Hitchens in general, prior to his apostasy he wrote a really convincing account (in his The Trial of Henry Kissinger) of how U.S. federal agencies (with the encouragement of Nixon and Kissinger) conspired with the extreme right-wing dictatorship of generals (under psychopath Brigadier Ioannidis) to kidnap and kill Demetracopoulos by luring him to their embassy.

Wow, the more things move along the more they remain the same, yes?

One of the things that has gotten lost in the shuffle with regard to Khashoggi’s “disappearance” is the legal responsibility the CIA has for warning residents of the U.S. when they know that such dynamics have been set in motion; early reports indicated that there was definitely some serious question about whether or not federal agencies knew what was about to come down. Regardless, the fact that none of what was attempted with Demetracopoulos many decades ago would have been considered without “approval” from the highest levels of our government should give everyone pause in responding to the abomination of Khashoggi’s disappearance. For the same is true today, and has always been true… whether it involved the murders of Rene SchneiderSheik Mujibur Rahman or Archbishop Makarios.

Murder is murder, and no amount of arms sales should preclude the prosecution of criminality, especially when war criminality is intimately associated with the kind of horrific act inflicted on an individual; I’m thinking of Yemen’s current crisis, for one.

Trump was lying when he claimed that the Saudis could simply buy weapons elsewhere if we rubbed them the wrong way over Khashoggi’s disappearance; arms supplied by the West for decades have components which make it impossible to turn easily to Russia or China as a supplier. Dealing with all that would take decades. And the impact of losing $100 billion plus for our economy was enormously exaggerated. No matter what, though, we cannot afford to use jobs or anything like that as the bottom line for our moral compass.