Category Archives: Murder

The Last Man Burned at the Stake in Texas

On Saturday, December 2, 1933, a 30-year-old white woman named Nellie Williams Brockman was murdered near Kountze, Texas. Brockman had headed to town to visit a department store and run into trouble along the way. She was shot to death and her body and vehicle were found partially burned. Some locals claimed they had seen a shotgun-wielding black man in the vicinity and law enforcement officials mounted an intense search for the culprit. But they turned up nothing.

A few days into the manhunt, the Kountze Police Department received a “secret” tip incriminating a young, African American ex-con named David Gregory. When Gregory, a preacher’s son, became aware of the police department’s suspicions, he fled to a nearby church. On December 7, Hardin County Sheriff Miles D. Jordan, and various other law enforcement personnel discovered Gregory hiding in the church’s belfry. When they ordered him to come down he refused and allegedly “flourished” a pistol (not a shotgun, the weapon the black suspect was reported carrying near the crime scene). Gregory was subsequently felled by a buckshot blast that rendered him unconscious.

Sheriff Jordan and his fellow officers transported Gregory to a Beaumont Hospital, but a portion of his neck and face were blown away. He was in critical condition and received emergency treatment, but the doctors indicated that he wouldn’t survive the night.

Sheriff Jordan hoped that Gregory would regain consciousness so testimony would confirm the secret tip, but less than two hours after their arrival at the hospital, word was received that a mob had formed in Kountze and was headed towards Beaumont. Hospital authorities expressed their discomfort with harboring a suspect that could put the facility at risk and Sheriff Jordan calculated that their chances at keeping Gregory from the mob were slim, in or outside the facility.

Sheriff Jordan snuck Gregory down a back elevator, placed him in his vehicle and drove towards Vidor (seven miles east of Beaumont), planning to double-back and take Gregory to a hospital in Port Arthur (thirty miles farther south). Gregory never regained consciousness and died not long after the sheriff’s car crossed into Orange County.

As the mob was still active, Sheriff Jordan was unsure of what he should do with Gregory’s body. He considered a return to Beaumont unwise, so he drove to Silsbee (twenty-three miles north/northwest). At Silsbee another mob assembled and the local undertaker, fearing trouble, refused to accept Gregory’s remains. With limited options and operating under the assumption that the Kountze mob was still in Beaumont, Sheriff Jordan headed back west. When he entered the Kountze community, hundreds of white men crowded in front of his vehicle. The mob seized Gregory’s corpse and tied it to the back of an automobile. A fifty-car parade then dragged the body around Kountze for close to an hour, so long that a large bonfire that had been built to incinerate Gregory had burned out.

Denied a fire, the mob mutilated Gregory’s body, cut out his heart and re-fastened his corpse to a car and “bounced” it through the African American section of Kountze, reportedly screaming “Nigger for breakfast!” Members of the throng then delivered the mangled corpse to the front doorstep of Gregory’s mother, whom they belligerently summoned. When Mrs. Gregory appeared, however, she succinctly denied them her anticipated hysterics. She glanced over what was left of her dead son and said “You’ve done it right, white folks,” and went back inside.

The stupefied white mob retrieved David Gregory’s hide-less remains and dragged them to a new bonfire that had been built in a vacant lot not far from his home. As Gregory’s body cooked, members of the mob drank coffee and ate sandwiches.

The next morning, African Americans who passed by the smoking embers were called over to “see what happened to David Gregory.” Newspapers later included a photo of Gregory and his smoldering remains in their reporting.

Several years after the Gregory burning, a local white man confessed to the murder of Nellie Williams Brockman on his deathbed.

Unpleasant as it is to admit, Texas has a history of this type of monstrosity. David Gregory—like so many persons of color in America today—was denied due process, found guilty in the eyes of the mob and gunned down in a shoot-first-ask-questions-later manner that we’re not unfamiliar with. He was the last known African American burned at the stake in the Lone Star state, but dozens preceded him. One in Belton, one in Temple, one in Rockwall, one in Hillsboro, one in Corsicana, one in Sherman, one in Greensville, two in Waco, two in Tyler, three in Sulphur Springs, three in Kirvin, four in the Paris, Texas area, etc. Gregory’s cruel, forgotten fate reminds us that denial and forgetfulness are staples of white primacy and elucidates why we bristle so at threats to our historical amnesia. We white folk like to think well of ourselves, but we haven’t behaved particularly well. And our shortcomings continue to prevail today.

Capitalist Society Under the One Party of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

The delay of the socialist revolution engenders the indubitable phenomena of barbarism — chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.

— Leon Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism

While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives…. We are drifting into a world of ‘adaptation apartheid.

— South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, United Nations Human Development Report 2007-2008

That puking up barbarism phenomena in this enclave of genocide and perpetual war, resource theft and global toxification come in a coat of many colors. In the simplest terms I see it daily in my job as underpaid and spat upon social worker jiggering with the penury, punishment and putrefying systems of bureaucratic hell and legal rape exemplified in the schizophrenic American version of capitalism.

In no way am I ever NOT entertained by the magical thinking and retrograde beliefs of those I serve – homeless veterans who in some cases decry welfare for the masses while picking up their welfare checks and benefits from the Veterans Administration. On top of that, they feel entitled because they ended up in the economic draft of the US Military Industrial Complex. These are not the ones who saw “battle” overseas, but the ones who were snookered into thinking a tour here or there, in a non-combatant role would get them somewhere in life.

Broken people come to the military, and the military breaks them again, and, the gift that keeps on giving are the systems of oppression and criminalization of living life in Trump’s “MAGA, MAGA über alles, über alles in der Welt.”

Reality is that this thing called America, united snakes one in all, was running on that manifest destruction at the moment those Puritanical misanthropes ended up on the east coast with their fears, dark perversions, warped criminal religiosity and white DNA primed for a taking, eminent domain and killings far and wide.

On the one hand, my clients with mental strains beyond repair and hobbled with a truck-load of PTSD, and another container ship full of physical ailments believe their “service” was honorable, somehow divorced from the huge welfare trough that is the military-private contractor complex, and more so, suspended from the reality that their own kind — fellow soldiers ranging from the likes of a Private Gomer Pyle to Gen Schwarzkopf — screwed them in every which way possible inside the human frame of exploitation and downright pathological assault on every front.

Screwed them with shitty equipment, shittier intel, rampant rotten orders, and a million environmental assaults that have rendered millions of men and women who individually barely served a few years into the walking-wheelchaired-vegetative state wounded.

There have been a million battles and skirmishes that were set up as suicide assaults.

Then on the other hand, some of the clients who are self-declared  deplorables — who believe in Trump as something more than a rotten, lying, wimp of a man with his self-anointed Six Star General’s Bully Epaulets and Bone Spurs Yellow Streak Academy Jumpsuit — are not limited to a bunch of uneducated cretins, but also those who thought time served would be a touchstone in their lives.

Constantly, I have to wrestle with my clients’ reprobate ideas that anything about the government sucks and everything about private capital shines. It’s a reverse ideology of anti-Americanism: against teachers, against librarians, against the postman, against scientists and doctors and others from the so-called Great American Democracy as products of state schools, state governments, municipalities, and the like. They’ll root for these pathetic sports teams, both college and the pros, rendering stupid their concept of where those facilities are and where the billionaire owners get their sports gladiators.

Delusional, really, as my clients shudder with spiritual epiphany at those millionaire preachers like the Billy-Frank Graham Klan and hyper-millionaires running the retail show and all those attendant systems of destruction in the Big Pharma-Big Prison-Big Energy-Big Mining-Big Ag-Big Construction Complex they so often defend as the Defenders of Democracy in Private enterprise.

Here’s a common link to the duality of systems of oppression, that structural violence that leads communities and entire classes and races of people into more and more dungeons of despair and destruction:

One fellow, 62, homeless because the apartment management tossed him out as the maintenance man, with the free apartment in the mix. Out of a job and no longer making the dough to pay rent, he was forced to squat for a while before the iron jaws of the sheriff department came in and served him eviction papers.

Lapsed car insurance, lapsed driver’s license, and, alas, a speeding ticket in a school zone. And, now, 8 years later after eight years on the road and homeless, this little shithole town of King City has him in their vise for $1700. The original ticket was $700 with the add on’s of court fees, administrative costs and other highway robbery checks and balances. So, this fellow is in need of a driver’s license, but these cities have been colonized by those PRIVATIZERS – in this case some multi-millionaire outfit out of Gig Harbor, Washington, which takes on the collections. Imagine, we want to set up a payment plan, even though this fine has passed the statute of limitations. But the City of King City, OR, puts a hold on releasing licenses until every red-blooded Yankee cent is paid off.

We can only imagine what the cut is for this Little Eichmann outfit collecting fines from hundreds of cities, maybe thousands. The interest of a thousand bucks might be waived, but still, the $700 is probably only pennies on the dollar for the city as the Collection Agency (AKA mob in MBA clothing) racks up the largess of the original out of wack fine as profit running their boiler rooms of collection workers.

Punishment, boomerang retribution. Name one place and one job where a personal vehicle can easily be pushed aside as part of the work routine, discounted as a necessity of getting to and from work, or the fact that blue collar work never requires a driver’s license for using company vehicles. Right! A driver’s license is a right, not a privilege, in this bunkered society!

The great American rah-rah, fighting for one’s country, fighting for these evil punks like a Trump, just doesn’t cut it when the ex-soldiers start adding up the contradictions and outright lies of the elite class, which a Trump and his cronies signify and exemplify.

The core of these systems of pain and recurring punishment generates hate, fear, resentment, anger and violence – of the mind, violence of the soul and possible violence exacted on the innocents and not so innocents around them.

These characters I work with mostly never look at the concurrency of pathological serial shooters and these racist, homophobic anti-tolerance military experience, or how these synagogue attackers were subliminally and overtly recruited into the Armed Services with the true blue Yankee Doodle Dandy and Johnny Comes Marching Home Again glee perpetrated again by the neo-fascist army of Republicans and Trump Lagoon Monsters, all of which the Democrats simultaneously hide from and deal with.

Colonized With Hive and Mob Mentalities Simultaneously

I’ve signed permission passes (we force adults to sign and ask for permission to leave a homeless facility!) for overnight stays away from the shelter where I work for people who have brokered this idea of “anomie” into their very existence, a lack of meaningful and structuralized social life in return for Black Friday, the height of meaningless self-gratification at the expense of not only the planet but the faceless and nameless people charged with running this engine of Retailapithecus restlessness. As Émile Durkheim the sociologist stated, we are a modern culture where the individual follows an increasingly “restless movement, a planless self-development, an aim of living which has no criterion of value and in which happiness lies always in the future, and never in the present achievement.”

More and more of the clients I work with have as their end goal individualized happiness, their 40 acres and a mule dream, for me myself and I. They come from a hive of military brainwashing and propaganda, one where leaders are followed and hated at the same time, one where the broken system of war, empire, manifest destiny, nation invasions and nation building (sic) is their ultimate plan of self-gratification – I joined to protect the flag, our way of life and to protect our borders from savages and invaders. Except the borders, as anyone knowing the history of these here United Snakes of America, is all about Norte Americanos encroaching and breaking the borders of others.

As Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz states in the Boston Review:

Even during the Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies continued to war against the nations of the Diné and Apache, the Cheyenne and the Dakota, inflicting hideous massacres upon civilians and forcing their relocations. Yet when considering the history of U.S. imperialism and militarism, few historians trace their genesis to this period of internal empire-building. They should. The origin of the United States in settler colonialism—as an empire born from the violent acquisition of indigenous lands and the ruthless devaluation of indigenous lives—lends the country unique characteristics that matter when considering questions of how to unhitch its future from its violent DNA.

So, when I speak to the veterans and their families I work with on this matter of America’s soul wrapped in the banner of decimating other peoples who were here first, there is bloviating, knee-jerk proclamations that the victors enjoy the spoils, and that there is a god-given right to the American (white) ideal of moving the world toward His image.

This calculus I deploy for the homeless, those who have been screwed-blued-and-tattooed by the systems of oppression, by those debt collectors, those police and sheriff departments, by the judges and lawyers, top and bottom feeders all: I remind them that the so-called victors in their America are the One percent, including cretins from Hollywood, all the way to former generals/lobbyists/ contractors, and to include their sacred religious snake oil men like Graham. I remind them the wars they maybe have participated in were wars of oppression and wars of profits, completely tied to the ideals of screwing and stealing from your neighbor. That karmic doozy comes boomeranging back in the form of the victors on Wall Street, in the Boardrooms, and at the corporate tables of the Military-Pharma-Med-Prison-Education-Real Estate-Chemical-IT-Retail Complex. These too are the American ideals they supposedly signed up to protect with their lives in someone else’s country.

Again, what are we fighting for, sir?

This country’s leaders have always been Bill-Barak-Donald; Bezos-Adelson-Walton; CNN-FOX-Breitbart. “Money talks and money rules” is not some new Mar-a-Lago printed saying on Trump Condoms! As I continually told my 32-year military veteran father, his “work” in Korea, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Japan, et al was work for-by-and-because of the elites, the ones making two-bit Tin Soldiers jump through burning buildings and forced marches up another Pork Chop-Hamburger-Gizzard Hill. Marching orders by these bastions of money power and debt dread have been the history of these Un-united States.

Of course, the soldiers who are of color rarely jump on this Sherman Tank towed “bandwagon,” but to be sure, we talk about their own dire circumstances enveloped in the same sort of so-called “The Victors Enjoying the Spoils” mentality. The spoils include a complete but suppressed history of theft, lynchings, treaty breaking, incarcerations, land despoilments, eminent domain.

Black men and women fighting against black men and women from their mothership — Africa. AFRICOM. Imagine, a Black Alliance for Peace, and a movement to stop US military involvement in Africa, and again these disruptions of the narrative of white supremacy get flummoxed, and the irony of brown and black and red soldiers fighting for what, who knows, but definitely part of the system of oppression of their own people.

So, again, I go for the jugular, the fact that my old man and I argued much about the military’s legitimacy while on the same hand he agreed in my pursuit of journalism, writing, teaching, and education:

Not only does there need to be a mass movement in the U.S. to shut down AFRICOM, this mass movement needs to become inseparably bound with the movement that has swept this country to end murderous police brutality against Black and Brown people. The whole world must begin to see AFRICOM and the militarization of police departments as counterparts.

 Netfa Freeman, of Pan-African Community Action (PACA) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). Freeman represents PACA, a BAP member organization, on BAP’s Coordinating Committee.

It cost $267 million to fund AFRICOM in 2018. Probably a lot more in dark money and secret budgets; let alone the billions coming from the Economic Hit Men:

That money is stolen from Africans/Black people in the U.S. to terrorize and steal resources from our sisters and brothers on the African continent. Instead, that money should be put toward meeting our human needs in the U.S. and toward reparations for people in every African nation affected by U.S. imperialism.

—  Vanessa Beck, BAP research team lead and Coordinating Committee member.

So, them’s fighting words, as the white damaged veterans reach for words, epithets, rejoinders, and false dichotomies in the form of, Might Makes Right. There is a greater good in what us mere mortals see. Money Talks, of course, as many of them believe this irreligious, woman thumper, chubby bully, inconceivably smut-riddled man is THEIR commander in chief.

This ground truthing isn’t a hot commodity on the lefty or progressive or socialist web sites, for sure, where their own respective tidy thinking is vaunted over messy shit coming from the mouths of people scratching for a living doing this dirty work of counseling assuredly lost, wounded, broken and in many cases, mean as cuss souls.

That 35,000-foot Noam Chomsky view is heralded over the gutter view, and it’s no deep search for meaning to understand the hive and the mob mentality colonizing those Democratic Socialists of America folk, those pro-Israel-at-any-cost Bernie folk, those Pried from My Cold Dead Hand NRA folk. You got the Godfather Cuomo in Albany getting some robed lion of repression judge to legally change his name to Mario Amazon Direct Cuomo, with all the dildos and vibrators free for life!

Trump or Biden, Adelson or Soros, Chris Wallace or Rachel Maddow, Daryl Hannah or Caitlyn Jenner. Charmin or Cottenelle. Coke or Pepsi. Prozac or Zoloft. Raytheon or Northrup Grumman. Mad dog Mattis or Old Blood and Guts Patton. Steelers or Florida State. A Star is Born or Bohemian Rhapsody.

The trenches are rarely delineated or written about, just these huge “investigative research white papers” on the power of the elite to powerfully corrupt all systems that were supposed to be set up to help-aid-assist-protect-empower-develop we the people’s communities. However, there are no more communities, just chaos (controlled chaos), disruptive technologies-economies-structural systems of repressions. Just Madison Avenue, Just Manufactured Narratives, Just Fallen Anti-Heroes, Just Entertainment.

Feeding the dopamine hits as the marketers of disaster-demented-demolition capitalism control all markets, all psychologies, all media, all armies.

The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.

— Eric Fromm, The Sane Society

Whitewashing Murder is Simply Wrong

Last Tuesday, within about an hour of his announcement on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, in the heat of the moment, I commented on the president’s acceptance of the Riyadh royals’ explanation of the Istanbul consulate incident. I called his statement “crude” and “buttheadedly amoral.”  I should have stated the obvious broader point: It was wrong.

Marxists have historically inveighed (appropriately) against capitalism, imperialism, semi-feudalism etc.—neutral moral categories—using such terms as “reactionary” and “opportunist” when desiring to add a moral edge. And certainly capitalist profit and imperialist hegemony factor into Trump’s response to the cold-blooded crime. But sometimes it’s best to go back to the basics, and draw upon primordial human vocabulary. The murder of the dissident Saudi journalist was pure evil.

The prohibition on killing occurs in the earliest law codes and taboo lists. It’s understood to have limited application; rulers can use military force to maintain power and “preserve order.” But generally speaking humans concur that it’s wrong to kill someone. It’s wrong. This is basic. For those arriving from outer space it is Humanity 101. It is, of course the Sixth Commandment in the Bible. It is fundamental to the contrat social of Rousseau.

Killing means something different to those who believe in an afterlife and those who believe we die and disappear. Those of us who believe the latter perhaps value life more since it’s all we expect. The taking of another’s life seems especially presumptuous when you cannot, for example, pray for the soul of the person you’ve slain encouraging its rebirth somewhere, like in the Pure Land of Amida. The warrior Kumagae supposedly prayed for Atsumori after killing him during the Genpei War in Japan in the 1180s, to alleviate his sorrow and guilt.

But I don’t believe in afterlives. I don’t believe in Amida’s Paradise, or the Christian one, or the Paradise (Garden of Eden) described in the Quran as one of “gardens under which rivers flow…and beautiful mansions in gardens of everlasting bliss” (9:72). Here there  “will be thrones raised high, and cups set at hand. And cushions set in rows, and rich carpets (all) spread out” (88:10-16). I wonder in Muhammad bin Salman believes this, or whether he thinks it important to observe Muslim burial practices that include washing the body as soon as possible after death, enshrouding it in white linen, praying over it, and burying it without a coffin. (The Turkish police speculate that the Saudis dissolved Khashoggi’s body parts, which would be a terrible violation of Muslim law, but they might have been transported to Saudi Arabia.)

What they did in that consulate was final. I think again of Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s poem “People,” a wistful appeal for people’s right to exist.

In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight.
It goes with him.

There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery.
Whose fate is to survive.

But what has gone is also not nothing:
by the rule of the game something has gone.
Not people die but worlds die in them.

Such savages, those who kill thus crushing worlds. Worse savages, those who empower them.

Killing in wars has historically been tolerated so long as the war can be justified in order to preserve the above mentioned “order.” So, for example, the Saudis and their U.S. backers depict the ongoing war in Yemen as an effort to thwart Iranian proxies, the Houthis, from imposing a Shiite dictatorship over the country. (This depiction of the situation would be laughable were it not so accepted by the gullible talking heads on cable news.) There has been little popular outrage in the U.S. at the war crimes of Saudi Crime Prince Muhammad bin Salman.

No, the focus is on his responsibility for Jamal Khashoggi’s death. It feels more wrong than the mega-death theater raging on the Saudi border—because there’s a face on it and the relentless reminders from the writer’s Washington Post peers that their colleague was brutally murdered by the Saudi state.

The drama of it, if we can believe the Turkish press reports! The Crown Prince and his brother, the ambassador to the U.S., discussed luring Khashoggi to the Istanbul consulate. Indeed, the brother, Saudi ambassador to the U.S. Prince Khalid called Khashoggi telling him to report to the consulate to get his documents to marry his Turkish fiance. Someone in the court in Riyadh ordered the dispatch of a team (“hit-squad,” the Turkish police call it) of 15 identified Saudis, including several members of the prince’s security detail and the kingdom’s top forensic doctor armed with a bone saw, to apprehend his body and smuggle out his parts while a doppelgänger dressed in his stolen clothes walked to a nearby mosque to discard the clothing. All that’s just basically wrong.

It’s wrong in such detail you’d think anyone would recoil in horror at those responsible. Anyone with a modicum of morality.

And think about this. As in the days after Khashoggi’s disappearance October 5, the Saudi ambassador in Washington (again, a brother of the Crown Prince, who had been on the phone to Khashoggi) told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Khashoggi had left the consulate but the surveillance cameras had been turned off. We know the Saudis spent a special team to sanitize the consulate and consul-general’s home before Turkish police were allowed to investigate. The Saudi explanation has repeatedly changed and the Europeans have so far rejected it. The Saudis have given no explanation for the missing body.

This is wrong at so many levels, not the least in its very obviousness. The Saudis are lying. And yet Trump said Thanksgiving Day at his golf course in Florida: “I hate the crime, I hate what’s done, I hate the cover-up. I will tell you this: the crown prince hates it more than I do.”

What? Trump wants the people of the world to think the Crown Prince hates the murder and dismemberment of Khashoggi more than he himself does? What is the point of saying that, while continuing to admit that maybe the prince did it? That’s both wrong and stupid. The worst possible combination. “Who should be held accountable?” he was asked at Key Largo.  “Well,” he replied, as though addressing small children, “maybe the world should be held accountable, because the world is a vicious place. The world is a very, very vicious place.” he added, raising his eyebrows and rolling his eyes as if to suggest this viciousness is beyond mortal ken.

Yes, Trump said that Thursday. This too is just wrong. Feigning ignorance is morally wrong. Any small child knows this is wrong. It’s wrong to whitewash murder, especially when it’s designed to protect billions in arms contracts that spell death to tens of thousands of civilians. If Trump can get away with this, and the Saudis emerge unscathed, then morals mean nothing in this world, anything goes, brute force guided by hate and resentment should prevail. Sheer lies should compete with empirical reality, on an equal basis; reportage of fascism should recognize good on both sides.

More Trump: “…and we have 100s of 1000s of of [sic] jobs [from Saudi Arabia] and frankly if we went by this standard [of punishing calculated state-sponsored murder] we would not have any allies because look at what happens all over the world.” In his inarticulate, semi-comprehensible comments he pronounces the truth unknowable, acknowledges that his interest in the case is low, notes matter-of-factly that Saudi Arabia is not unusual as a brutal, murderous U.S. ally and that continued arms sales to the murderous kingdom is this nation’s (“nationalist”) primary aim.

America first! Standing boldly at the head of the world, or trying to, it embraces Saudi Arabia and Israel, covering up their many crimes, while vilifying Iran and openly planning for its destruction.

One CNN consultant (Joel Rubin) refers to the “anti-intelligence mentality of this administration.” Why beat around the bush? It’s an anti-truth mentality. It’s a cover up truth mentality. The administration is wrong in virtually all it does. It lies as matter of course. It is fundamentally evil. And now it has come as close one can imagine to celebrating a Black Mass on the White House lawn: it is lavishing praise on murderers for cutting the price of oil.

On Wednesday, as if to trumpet his success in placating Saudis upset about the fuss about Khashoggi,  Trump tweeted gleefully: “Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” Let’s put all that unpleasantness behind us, while America tries to regain its greatness—like the Wizard of Oz team, without a brain, heart or courage—while the whole world recoils at its increasingly naked amorality.

Far from the moral compass it has postered as for two hundred years, the U.S. has become a pariah. In particular, the U.S. rejection of the “Iran Deal” and effort to proactively sabotage it to provoke a war, based on lies (like the Iraq War, the destruction of Libya, the ongoing Syrian intervention) in order to establish hegemony over all of Southwest Asia ) is unqualified evil. The nice thing about Washington’s virtual nod to the Crown Prince to continue at his post is that it bares the evil so plainly.

The U.S. is a rogue state supporting a myriad of rogue states “all over the world” as Trump frankly notes. What’s right has nothing to do with it. Trump is proudly mired in moral wrong, so as to actually boast about it. He seeks to pull his fan base into that wrong, whipping up the inner fascism there just under the surface. May visceral disgust mount all over the world, among those of differing values and ideologies. Because if this can pass, and the Yemeni carnage can pass, then concentration camps and World War Three. Idiocy and evil are in power, the worst possible combination, but maybe the best possible to prompt the revolution that must come.

Forgetting Jamal Khashoggi: Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia and Brute Realism

I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

— Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), Twitter, November 20, 2018

Accused of being mendacious, incapable of holding to a foundation of facts and indifferent to the world of evidence, President Donald J. Trump has stumped international relations watchers with metronomic regularity. He has also torn away the façade of decent, tolerable hypocrisy that is the “value system” of US foreign policy.  In its place is violent and ugly calculation, the allure of unmitigated self-interest.

Students of such policy have traditionally seen the American imperium as a swaying creature: the realist view shuns sentimentality and sees the international environment as a jungle writ large, teeming with power plays; the idealist, who shades into a liberal internationalist, accepts a moral coating, and a certain degree of sanctimony, regarding international institutions, protocols and the like. From the latter came the at times emetic pronouncements of President Woodrow Wilson, who insisted that the United States shoulder the burdens of making the world safe for democracy. (It was often making it safe for business, but the confusion is an accepted one.)

One foreign policy tradition, identified by Walter Russell Mead, is the Jeffersonian strand.  The eye here is turned inward, and promoting democracy overseas is a matter best left to others.  Within Jefferson, two versions stood out like schizophrenic impulses: the first, keen on seeing the republic remain one of glorious yeomanry freed of imperial obligation; the second, interested to see the Republic embark on its imperial, manifestly deigned mission.

Mead does not stop there.  If Trump’s policy can ever find some classification – and here, the schemes are only illustrative, not dogmatic – he might well be part Jacksonian, that tradition Mead claims is hostile to Wilson’s view of international institutions and Alexander Hamilton’s insistence on pure open markets, freedom of the seas, and international financial and legal stability.  The followers of Andrew Jackson’s view embrace the military establishment, will use it sparingly, but, when provoked, will be satisfyingly violent.

The disturbing fascination of Trump’s contribution to this babble on foreign policy is his instinctive revulsion of any position that might prevent a worthy transaction.  Murdering journalists might be “bad”, but worse is to hold a cashed-up medieval theocracy to account for it.  There is no room for the grieving sentimentalist here: Jamal Khashoggi was dismembered, but why let his corpse dictate a change in approach to Riyadh?

Trump has his own bogey states to worry about, and he sees Iran as, in the words of his November 20 statement, “responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen”, behind the deaths of “many Americans and other innocent people”, a destabiliser of Iraq and a state sponsor of terrorism.  Then there is the filthy lucre, the “record” amount of $450 billion promised by Saudi Arabia as part of investments in the US.

Trump turns to dreamy fiction on this, imagining that “hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth to the United States” will arise from Kingdom’s deep pockets. The Make America Great Again quotient is satisfied with some $110 billion to “be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and other great US defence contractors.”  Besides, Saudi Arabia had been “very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world.”

True, the death of a man deemed an “enemy of the state” by Saudi Arabia (“my decision is in no way based on that”) was a “an unacceptable and horrible crime” but “great independent research” suggested that 17 were directly connected with his death, deserving sanction.  “It could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

This turn of brutal honesty does not sit well with the hucksters in the GOP who prefer to hawk the wares of the Republic with counterfeit concerns for human rights and free expression.  “When we lose our moral voice, we lose our strongest asset,” argues Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who also claims that the crown prince “has shown disrespect for the relationship”.  This is the sort of fabled nonsense that has shielded US power from proper analysis, ignoring the giant’s cool, if often bungling calculations, while hiding in the comforting duvet of an exacting morality.  One such stonking bungle featured the Saudi-dominated terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on US soil. To the US, both oil and apocalyptic terrorism.

Others speak of a complex situation, one that requires a ginger approach.  This leaves room for much crawling cant.  Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Chattanooga TV station WTVC that, “It is a delicate situation when we have a long-term ally that we’ve had for decades, but we have a crown prince that I believe ordered the killing of a journalist.”

Corker’s focus is wearingly slanted, finding specific fault in a regime for one savage incident, and clearly ignoring its otherwise extensive butcher’s bill.  The brutalities of the Saudi security services, the kingdom’s famine inflicting war in Yemen, are chickenfeed matters relative to the sanguinary fate of Khashoggi.  “Everything points to the fact that [the crown prince] knew about it and directed it.”  Doing so enables Corker and his like-minded colleagues to ignore the security and economic dimension of the Saudi-US relationship, one that excuses casual atrocity while affecting a broader concern for the human subject, a sentiment otherwise absent in broader strategic discussions.

Such a view is replicated in the Tuesday Global Magnitsky letter to Trump from Corker and ranking member, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), requesting “that your determination specifically address whether Crown Prince Mohamed [sic] bin Salman is responsible for Mr Khashoggi’s murder.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is more businesslike in tone, suggesting that enough house cleaning has already taken place.  The governing Saudi royal family is never mentioned; specific individuals are, a point that keeps the House of Saud distant from the bloody matter.  “We’ve sanctioned 17 people – some of them very senior in the Saudi government,” he told KCMO in Kansas City, Missouri.

Rounding off such an approach is the extravagant claim by Trump that he controls the levers, holds the strings, and is captain of the ship.  The world is his market, his veritable playground.  He can influence interest rates; he can control oil prices.  “Oil prices getting lower,” he tweeted. “Great!  Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World.  Enjoy!”

Khashoggi should be remembered as much as the victim of state-sanctioned murder as one of unjust ennoblement at the hands of his morally infatuated exploiters.  Trump’s diminution of his fate is crude but violently frank: the US has preferred a different approach to other states whose governments have seemed fit to suspend arms sales.  All will quietly normalise matters in due course, keen to avoid losing market share to competitors.  “Enjoy!” as Trump might well toot, followed by triumphant tones of “Told you so!”

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.

*****

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.

*****

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.