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Former Saudi Political Prisoner: Khashoggi’s Disappearance Is Sending a Gruesome Message to Critics

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Saudi Arabia will allow Turkey to search its consulate in Istanbul Monday afternoon, nearly two weeks after prominent journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi disappeared after entering the consulate on October 2. He has not been seen since. This news comes amid mounting international outcry that Saudi Arabia explain Khashoggi’s shocking disappearance, after Turkish officials accused the Saudis of assassinating Khashoggi, dismembering him and smuggling body parts out of the consulate. In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” President Trump said Saudi Arabia would suffer “severe consequences” if it was found responsible. But Trump has repeatedly said he opposes ending U.S. weapons sales to the kingdom, which he claims are worth $110 billion to U.S. companies. The Saudi Foreign Ministry has responded to Trump’s threats, saying if it “receives any action, it will respond with greater action.” The Saudis deny Khashoggi was killed in their consulate. We speak with Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident and founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. He was a political prisoner in Saudi Arabia when he was 14 years old—the youngest political prisoner at that time.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Saudi Arabia will allow Turkey, they say, to search its consulate in Istanbul Monday afternoon, nearly two weeks after prominent journalist, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, disappeared after entering the consulate October 2nd. He has not been seen since. This news comes amidst mounting international outcry that Saudi Arabia explain Khashoggi’s shocking disappearance after Turkish officials accused the Saudis of assassinating Khashoggi, dismembering him and smuggling his body parts out of the consulate.

In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes, Trump said Saudi Arabia would suffer severe consequences if it was found responsible, but he has repeatedly said he opposes ending U.S. weapons sales to the kingdom, which he claims are worth $110 billion to U.S. weapons manufacturers.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMIP: There is a lot at stake, and maybe especially so because this man was a reporter. There’s something—you’ll be surprised to hear me say that. There’s something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that were the case. So we’re going to have to see. We’re going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment.

AMY GOODMAN: The Saudi Foreign Ministry has responded to Trump’s threats, saying if it, quote, “receives any action, it will respond with greater action.” The Saudis deny Khashoggi was killed in their consulate. Over the weekend, Dick Durbin, the Senate’s number-two ranking Democrat, called on Trump to cancel the U.S. arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Some Republicans appear open to the idea. This is Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: What I do think is shocking is if in fact he was lured into a diplomatic facility, murdered, his body chopped up, and that they sent a group of people down there to carry this out, that would be an outrage. It would be an atrocity, and there would be a swift response, certainly from Congress.

AMY GOODMAN: Top executives at JPMorgan Chase, Ford, Uber, Viacom, The New York Times and other major companies have pulled out of a planned investors’ conference in Saudi Arabia next week nicknamed “Davos in the Desert.” But U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, whose department enforces U.S. sanctions, has not announced plans to pull out.

This comes as the United Nations reports Yemen could face the worst famine in a hundred years if the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition does not halt airstrikes. Three-quarters of Yemenis, some 22 million people, are dependent on international aid, with an estimated 8.4 million people on the brink of starvation.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident. He’s the founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs, was a political prisoner himself in Saudi Arabia when he was just 14 years old—the youngest political prisoner at that time.

We welcome you back to Democracy Now! Can you start off by talking about what we know at this point? I mean, what is public knowledge? What Washington Post, New York Times, Al Jazeera, the Turkish government has talked about so far is that on October 2nd, Jamal Khashoggi goes into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. He had originally gone into the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. He was told to go to the one in Turkey. He was applying for marriage papers. His fiancée is Turkish. She waited outside for him in Istanbul. He went to the Turkish Consulate. They told him to come back a week later. He flew out, went to a meeting, a conference in London, flew back. And it was then, on October 2nd, as she waited outside, and would wait for many, many hours that day outside the consulate, he walked inside. That is the last time we have seen video, closed-circuit TV, of Jamal Khashoggi. Talk about what is known after that point, Ali al-Ahmed.

ALI AL-AHMED: Well, as we have known from the Turkish sources, and these are my sources close to the government and close to the investigation, is—and the person I spoke to is a person who actually heard the audio of the murder, and he said everything is clear. And the Turkish government was supposed to release it, but they may be negotiating with the Saudis. And it shows—the collection of videos, and the audio specifically, shows Mr. Khashoggi was killed just hours after he entered the consulate, and then dismembered. And the audio shows who actually did the work of this gruesome act, this ISIS-style murder. And then the body parts were distributed in different bags and then moved to the house of the consulate and other places, and maybe some were taken out of the country, as well.

So you are looking at very convincing evidence of this murder happening inside the Saudi Consulate, with the knowledge of the consular himself and those 15 Saudis who flew in on Saudi royal jets to carry out the work. And they did not cover their tracks very—you know, they didn’t try. They wanted this message to be known. They wanted the world, and their followers specifically, given that Mr. Khashoggi was a loyalist and continued to be a supporter of the monarchy—he was only critic of the crown prince—they wanted to send this gruesome message that if you oppose us, if you criticize us, we will do this to you in public.

Remember, in Saudi Arabia, every week the Saudi government carries out these public executions that they don’t need to do in the streets, but to cut people and behead them in the street is intended to spread fear among the population. And what happened to Mr. Khashoggi is just another example. It’s almost a public beheading of a loyalist-turned-critic to scare those loyalists in the palace from doing the same. And that message is intended—and premeditated murder of Khashoggi—is intended to do that effect. And the West and the international community in general has enabled this by supporting this dictatorship for 60 years. And this is the result, what you have.


ALI AL-AHMED: What you see—yes.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to the specifics of what you were saying, The Washington Post reporting the Turkish government told U.S. officials it has audio and video evidence that Khashoggi—in English, Jamal Khashoggi is how it’s pronounced here in the U.S.—was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, officials saying the recordings confirm a Saudi security team detained Khashoggi as he walked into the consulate 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 auto recordings told The Washington Post, “You can hear his voice and the voices of men speaking Arabic. You can hear how he was interrogated, tortured and then murdered.”

The Washington Post has also reported, 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, one of them going through Egypt, back to Saudi Arabia. The significance of this, Ali?

ALI AL-AHMED: Yeah. One flew through Egypt, and one flew through the UAE. Let’s remember in the region, UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are allies against Qatar and against Turkey. So there is already sort of two sides to the story here. So the Saudi-Egyptian-Emirati alliance has a problem with Turkey. Turkey hosts dissidents from these countries, especially from Egypt, where they even have TV stations and so on. This has happened after the coup in Egypt in 2013. There is an intention to have this split and increasing clash with Turkey with these countries. And I think that’s why they chose Turkey.

You’re absolutely right. My information so far indicates that Mr. Khashoggi, who lives in Washington, did try to get these papers done in Washington, and he could have in normal circumstances, but he was told to go to Turkey. And that indicates that the embassy here and the ambassador here is somewhat involved in this murder. And that’s why I don’t think the U.S. government should let him come back again. This was a plan that took a while. They thought about it. But the kill team here was connected to Mohammed bin Salman, because two of his bodyguards are part of that team that killed, and one of them actually is the person who cut up the body. There are two of them who did the cutting. One of them is MBS’s own bodyguard.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from an op-ed Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, wrote for The New York Times. In it, she writes, “If we have already lost Jamal, then condemnation is not enough. The people who took him from us, irrespective of their political positions, must be held accountable and punished to the full extent of the law.

“In recent days, I saw reports about President Trump wanting to invite me to the White House. If he makes a genuine contribution to the efforts to reveal what happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul that day, I will consider accepting his invitation.”

And you have Saudi Arabia, most recently, on Twitter congratulating the Trump administration for not jumping to any conclusions and awaiting their own investigation.

Then, Ali al-Ahmed, you have the very close relationship between the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman—many call MBS—and the senior adviser to President Trump, Jared Kushner, who some, I understand, in the region call “the crown prince—MBS—and the clown prince.” If you can talk about that and whether the United States had information that they should have released, because Khashoggi was a resident in the United States, to him about threats to him by the Saudi regime, their close ally?

ALI AL-AHMED: Yes. The U.S. definitely had that information and did not share it with him, and they bear part of the responsibility, because the man is dead, and in a horrific manner, and those people here sitting in Washington knew something was being planned. And I’m afraid that there is a desire sometimes in circles in Washington to have these things done, because they don’t want—and I was told that many times—”We don’t want to complicate our relationship with Saudi Arabia. Why are you issuing this report? Why are you saying these things? Because that makes it hard for us.” I mean, that’s the—you know, Mr. Khashoggi was not working for the U.S. government. And that’s my reaction to them. It’s like, “I don’t work for you. I can write whatever I want. If it bothers you, tough luck.”

And I think there should be an investigation in the fact that he was not told about these plans. And his working and trusting the Saudis was a big mistake—unfortunately, the last mistake of his life. And you cannot trust the Saudis. They have done this before, and they will do it again. And the international community, the American enablers of the House of Saud, must apologize and must do something to rectify their past decades of support. I know some people in Washington and around the United States who support the Saudi monarchy and pretend the Saudi monarchy is just pure nice people, have—are a part of this crime and other crimes that the Saudis are committing in Yemen, the worst humanitarian catastrophe, the starvation of the Yemeni people, the killing of tens of thousands of Yemeni children. That is more outrageous than the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and it should receive the attention.

I think the American people have an opportunity to show their true nature by making sure their government is not supporting the war in Yemen and not supporting this oppressive absolute monarchy. Americans, you removed an absolute monarchy to build the United States of America. Please, think about that when you talk about my people, who are being oppressed by an absolute monarchy that is even more aggressive than the British monarchy that took over this land hundreds of years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much for being with us. What do you think will be the next step, Ali al-Ahmed? I mean, if the Saudi government is conducting the investigation, what prevents them from saying anyone did it, that they want to blame it on? The Turkish government conducting the investigation—what do you think would be an independent investigation? And what do you think is the most important move for the U.S. government to make, not only the Trump administration, but right now Congress? We just interviewed Ro Khanna, who is a Silicon Valley congressmember, leading one of those—along with Bernie Sanders, leading the charge to stop funding the Saudi regime in its war against Yemen. We have our headline just today: In Yemen, at least 19 people killed, another 30 injured, in the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrike, this time a convoy of buses full of civilians fleeing an assault on Yemen’s port city of Hodeidah. What would be the most important move right now?

ALI AL-AHMED: I think the most important point now is to target the Saudi senior leadership with sanctions. We don’t want an Iraq-style sanction, that kills the Iraqi people, to kill our people. We want sanctions that targets—targeted sanctions against MBS, his brother—

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting you should raise that, because Steve Mnuchin, whose department is in charge of that, treasury secretary, has still not said that he will not go to the Davos in the Desert conference, which is very important for Saudi Arabia’s prestige, next week, despite many corporations, because enormous pressure was put on them, pulling out of this conference.

ALI AL-AHMED: We have to tell—American people can pressure those companies that are supporting—you know, when Mohammed bin Salman came to the United States, he met with whom? With Bloomberg and Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and those people who basically whitewashed a dictator, and they played into his hand, or they supported him to make these crimes in Yemen and killing Mr. Khashoggi and other crimes. So, it is important to pressure the private sectors to pull out from Saudi Arabia and supporting MBS as a dictator. It must be weakening. We must weaken the monarchy.

And America, really, honestly, should rethink the Saudi monarchy. Why do we have—some reporters said, “Oh, maybe MBS is bad; we get another prince.” That’s not progressive. It’s un-American, actually, to suggest a dictator in place of another dictator. It’s disgusting. So we must really throw everything at the Saudis, because they have caused you 9/11, and they will cause you greater problems if they stick around.

So, really, anything you can do, pressure the Saudi monarchy. They are the problem. It is the monarchy that is the problem, not our people. That’s why they should be targeted with sanctions, with freezing their assets, because the money that they have given to Americans, this is stolen money from the coffers of the people of my country. So, anybody in America who gets paid from Saudi princes and the Saudi government, that’s stolen money from the people of that country who suffer greatly under that monarchy.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali al-Ahmed, I want to thank you for being with us, Saudi dissident, founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. He was, at the time, the youngest political prisoner in Saudi Arabia, arrested and imprisoned when he was 14 years old.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, is President Trump planning to once again separate children from their parents when they come across the border? We’ll speak with the ACLU’s Lee Gelernt. Stay with us.

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