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Rep. Ro Khanna Condemns Saudi Barbarity from Disappearance of Saudi Journalist to War in Yemen

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President Donald Trump is rejecting calls to cut off arms sales to Saudi Arabia following the disappearance and probable murder of the Saudi-born Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post is reporting the Turkish government told U.S. officials it has audio and video evidence that Khashoggi was killed last week inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Officials say the recordings confirm that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi after he walked into the consulate on October 2, before killing him and dismembering his body. We speak with Ro Khanna, Democratic congressmember from California. He is calling for congressional hearings into Khashoggi’s disappearance. Khanna has been a leading critic of U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the shocking disappearance and probable murder of the Saudi-born Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Washington Post is reporting the Turkish government told U.S. officials it has audio and video evidence that Khashoggi—in English, Jamal Khashoggi–was killed last week inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Officials say the recordings confirm that a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi as he walked into the consulate on October 2nd, before killing him and dismembering his body. The full audio and video recordings have not yet been released. One person with knowledge of the audio recording told The Washington Post, quote, “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic. You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered,” unquote.

Khashoggi had written critically about the Saudi government and the Saudi crown prince, MBS—Mohammed bin Salman. He fled Saudi Arabia last year and had been living in Virginia.

The Washington Post has also reported that based on U.S. intelligence intercepts, the crown prince had directly ordered an operation to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. The Turkish government has accused Saudi Arabia of flying two planes into Turkey, carrying a 15-man assassination squad to carry out the murder. One of the Saudi men was reportedly a forensic expert known for pioneering rapid and mobile autopsies. Turkish officials say the men used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body before smuggling body parts out of the consulate. According to The Washington Post, at least seven of the other 15 Saudi men have ties to the Saudi military. The planes then left Istanbul within eight hours of Khashoggi entering the consulate.

Khashoggi had entered the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul seeking a document he needed to get married. His fiancée waited for him outside the building, but he never came back out. They were supposed to get married the next day.

In Washington, a growing number of lawmakers are demanding the United States halt weapons sales to Saudi Arabia over the incident, but on Thursday, Trump rejected the idea.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion—which is an all-time record—and letting Russia have that money and letting China have that money, because all they’re going to do is say, “That’s OK. We don’t have to buy it from Boeing. We don’t have to buy it from Lockheed. We don’t have to buy it from Raytheon and all these great companies. We’ll buy it from Russia. We’ll buy it from China.” So what good does that do us? There are other things we can do.

REPORTER: But do you think they should pay a price, if it turns out that the Saudis—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Yeah. There will be something that has to take place. First I want to find out what happened. And we’re looking. Again, this took place in Turkey, and, to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen. Is that right, or is that not?

REPORTER: Permanent resident.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He’s a permanent resident, OK. We don’t like it, Jon. We don’t like it. And we don’t like it even a little bit. But as to whether or not we should stop $110 billion from being spent in this country, knowing they have four or five alternatives, two very good alternatives, that would not be acceptable to me.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California, calling for congressional hearings into possible Saudi complicity in the disappearance and the possible murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi—or Khashoggi, in Arabic. Congressmember Khanna has been one of the most vocal critics on Capitol Hill of the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Congressmember Khanna, welcome back to Democracy Now! What is the latest you understand has happened to The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it’s appalling. I don’t think there has been any precedent for someone, a journalist, being taken to a consulate, going to a consulate and being murdered. And we don’t know all the facts. We need to find out all the facts. But this is a pattern with Saudi Arabia of barbarity. And they’ve been doing this in Yemen, where almost 16,000 civilians have been killed. Many of those civilians have been killed with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon bombs. And this is why many of us on Capitol Hill want to stop any arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, I want to talk about the Yemen war in a minute, the U.S.-backed Yemen war. But on this issue of Khashoggi, Jim Mattis, the defense secretary, when pushed on is the Pentagon investigating this, he said something like, “Intellectually.” Donald Trump, obviously, the famous tweeter, had not tweeted almost anything on this in the days after Khashoggi’s disappearance. Can you talk about exactly what the U.S. relationship is with Saudi Arabia? Also, of course, it implicates Jared Kushner, the senior adviser, President Trump’s son-in-law, very close to Mohammed bin Salman.

And this information The Washington Post put out about they already had wanted to get Khashoggi, to lure him back to Saudi Arabia for—well, who knows what they wanted to do with him?—you know, to lure him from Saudi Arabia. Also this information that he had gone to the Saudi Consulate, the embassy in Washington, but they told him he had to go to Istanbul. He goes to Istanbul, to the consulate there, and they tell him, fine, they’re going to give him that marriage document he needed, but he had to come back in a week.

So he goes to London, participates in a meeting last week and goes back, which presumably is for them to prepare and to bring these two planes in with the forensic expert and the military intelligence people. And at least according to these latest reports, if this is true, with the video and audio evidence, he was murdered and dismembered within a few hours, and then the planes flew out.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, it’s brutal. And what we also know are reports that U.S. intelligence agencies may have been aware that Khashoggi’s life was going to be at risk. And Mark Pocan and I have written calling for the declassification of information that our intelligence agencies had about any threats to Khashoggi’s life, because, as you know, it’s against the law for us not to have warned a resident, a permanent resident of the United States, about a possible threat to his life. And there are many unanswered questions about what the United States government knew, why we didn’t give advanced warning if we did have any information.

And, of course, as you alluded to, Kushner has been pushing, since he’s been in the administration, for a closer tie to the Saudis, largely because he sees the Saudis as facilitating a peace deal, from his perspective, with Israel. And they’ve really had carte blanche under the Trump administration to do what they want in Yemen. And now I think the administration is embarrassed when they see the brutality that the Saudis are capable of in this case.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to President Trump speaking Thursday about calls to cut off Saudi arms sales.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country on—I—I—I know they’re talking about different kinds of sanctions, but they’re spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs. … I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States, because you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else. So, I think there are other ways. If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling the situation.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Ro Khanna, you’re a Democratic member of the House of Representatives. Trump says they’re not cutting off military weapons sales. Of course, the military weapons contractors in the United States benefit enormously—and if you could maybe name some of those that do? But what does the House of Representatives have the power to do?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, we and the Senate can cut off these arms sales. And it’s very important that the president is peddling falsehoods and to correct the record. It’s not as if Saudi Arabia can go and suddenly buy aircrafts or tanks from Russia; it would take decades for them to switch. They’re so dependent on U.S. technology. It would be as if you had an iPhone and an Apple computer; suddenly you couldn’t go switch to Windows. These things aren’t transferable. And the president knows this. He knows that if we were to cut off the arms sales, the Saudis wouldn’t be able to quickly switch to Russia or China, and it would really hurt their efforts in Yemen. And the reality is, it’s Lockheed Martin, Raytheon’s bombs that are being found in Yemen, responsible for the deaths of children and women. So, first, the president is wrong that the Saudis could switch.

Secondly, $100 billion in the context of a $20 trillion economy is not a significant detriment to the United States. I don’t think there’s a single American citizen who would say that we should be aiding the Saudis in killing women and children for $100 billion, that that’s a price worth paying.

AMY GOODMAN: In August, the Twitter account for Canada’s Foreign Ministry tweeted, “Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.” That was a tweet.

Within six hours of the tweet, Canada’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia was barred from returning to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi ambassador to Canada was recalled, new trade with Canada was halted, it was ordered to withdraw Saudi investment in Canada, more than 8,300 Saudi post-secondary students were told to pull out of Canada, flights to Canada by the Saudi-owned airline were canceled. This is for one tweet urging the Saudi Arabian government to release some of the women driver activists.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, this is a pattern of brutality. It’s a pattern of no concern for human rights. And my concern, representing Silicon Valley, is that the Saudis have had, as you know, a huge influence in Silicon Valley. They’re trying to put a foothold. They’re invested in Uber. They have this Davos in the Desert concert, where—conference, where they invite tech leaders. The tech community needs to be very clear that they’re not going to take Saudi money and Saudi investment. And this has to be not just Congress stopping arms sales, but the United States technology and investment community cutting off ties with the Saudis. I’m pleased that Uber has said they’re not going to participate in the conference, and Sam Altman from Y Combinator recently said that. And I hope others will follow their lead.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to talk about that. If people haven’t heard of it—maybe people hadn’t until now—many journalists and media organizations are beginning to pull out of this high-profile conference in Saudi Arabia that’s scheduled for next week, following the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. But the Future Investment Initiative conference, which is scheduled for the 23rd to the 25th of October, still has a long roster of high-level attendees, including executive chair of Colony Capital, Thomas Barrack; global markets editor for Fox Business, Maria Bartiromo; United States General David Petraeus; president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim; U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin; Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman; BlackRock CEO Larry Fink; Raytheon Company CEO Thomas Kennedy. I think The New York Times has pulled out. There are other top journalists or TV personalities who are also going. Well, what about even the government officials? Can Congress say no to government officials going, like Mnuchin?

REP. RO KHANNA: I don’t know if Congress has the authority to prevent the secretary of treasury from going. We can certainly write to him and urge him not to go, and I think common sense on his part should lead him to cancel the trip.

Look, it’s not a controversial statement for the United States to stand up for an American resident who is engaged in the freedom of press, the freedom of expression, and is being brutally murdered at a consulate, a place that’s supposed to be safe. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. And I was encouraged that even Senator Bob Corker raised the question that are on so many minds: Why do we need Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia is overestimating their strategic importance to the United States, and I think this incident has forced a re-examination. And when we look deeper, we’re going to see the extraordinary barbarity and the killing of civilians that the Saudi government has been engaged in, in Yemen.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump just said, “The king needs us.” But you have this growing number of Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, who said, if this is proven, what happened to Khashoggi, there would be hell to pay. As you mentioned, there’s Corker. Rand Paul has said some things. I think even Marco Rubio. So, what would this take to get a vote in Congress in both houses?

REP. RO KHANNA: I think we’re building towards that. I think you’ve seen bipartisan support growing and several things. One, we need to get more of the facts. I think it’s an encouraging development that Turkey has video and audio evidence of what took place, and I think that will be very compelling, if there is evidence that clearly links the killing to the Saudi government.

Second, we need to look at what the U.S. government knew, as I raised earlier, because if there is evidence that we were somehow sitting on information and didn’t share it, that is a bombshell, and that will influence people’s opinion. But you see a growing sense among my colleagues that the relationship with the Saudis is not consistent with our values and isn’t in our national interest, that a few hundred billion dollars is not worth an entanglement in further wars, in complicity in human rights abuses.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go very quickly to Yemen. Last month you introduced a resolution invoking the 1973 War Powers Act, declaring Congress never authorized U.S. support for the coalition in Yemen. Even during the Obama years, the U.S. was providing weapons support for the Saudi-UAE attack on Yemen that’s caused the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world. But President Trump went a step further, pulled back any restrictions on these weapons and refueling. What happened to your resolution? And will you be reintroducing it?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, we had introduced this resolution, Amy, as you know, about a year and a half ago, and very few people had gotten on board. You were, of course, ahead of the curve and really have been sounding the alarm in Yemen, one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes. I’m encouraged that we reintroduced this about four weeks ago, and we now have Steny Hoyer, who is the number two person in the House, and the chair of the—the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the ranking member of the Rules Committee, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, all on board with the resolution to stop any aid in the Saudi bombing of Yemen.

And the reason is, they have seen the same reports—the bus bombings killing children and women, the fact that Lockheed Martin and Raytheon’s bombs have been found in Yemen, responsible for the deaths of children. This is something that has stirred the conscience of the United States Congress. And I am actually quite optimistic that certainly if we take back the House of Representatives, we will be able to pass this. And we may even be able to pass this in the lame duck, given the Khashoggi case and given the changing opinion among Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: Ro Khanna, I want to ask you to stay with us. I want to ask you about Amazon, Facebook and your Internet Bill of Rights. Ro Khanna is a Democratic congressman from California, has called for congressional hearings into possible Saudi complicity with the disappearance and probable murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He has been a leading critic of U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. We’ll be back with him in 30 seconds.

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