Dissident Saudi Academic Madawi Al-Rasheed on Khashoggi’s Disappearance, U.S.-Saudi Relations & More

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Evidence is mounting that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is directly implicated in the assassination of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Turkish officials say Khashoggi was tortured and murdered by a squad of 15 Saudi hit men shortly after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Four of the men implicated in Khashoggi’s death are reportedly linked to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s security detail. After weeks of defending Saudi Arabia, President Trump said Thursday that he believes Khashoggi is dead, and acknowledged allegations against the Saudis. We speak with Madawi Al-Rasheed, a Saudi dissident and visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. She was stripped of her Saudi citizenship in 2005 for criticizing Saudi authorities. Her new piece in The New York Times is titled “Why King Salman Must Replace M.B.S.”

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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 disappearance and probable murder of Saudi journalist, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as evidence mounts that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is directly implicated in his assassination. Turkish officials say Khashoggi was tortured and murdered by a squad of 15 Saudi hit men shortly after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd. Video and audio recordings from inside the consulate reportedly show Khashoggi was beaten, tortured and beheaded, with his fingers cut off and his body dismembered. Four of the men implicated in Khashoggi’s death are reportedly linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s security detail. Meanwhile, there are reports in the Turkish press that one of the 15 men involved in Khashoggi’s murder has died in a car accident in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

After weeks of defending Saudi Arabia, President Trump Thursday said he believes Khashoggi is dead, and acknowledged allegations against the Saudis.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It certainly looks that way to me. It’s very sad. It certainly looks that way. … And I think we’ll be making a statement, a very strong statement. But we’re waiting for the results of about three different investigations. And we should be able to get to the bottom fairly soon.

REPORTER: What are you considering for possible consequences for Saudi based on those—

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, it will have to be very severe. I mean, it’s bad, bad stuff. But we’ll see what happens.

AMY GOODMAN: The New York Times reports Trump’s son-in-law, senior adviser Jared Kushner, has advised Trump to defend the crown prince despite mounting evidence against Saudi Arabia. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Thursday he will not attend next week’s Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh.

The New York Times reports the Saudis are now considering blaming a top adviser to Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s killing by claiming General Ahmed al-Assiri killed Khashoggi after the crown prince ordered him to capture the journalist for an interrogation. Al-Assiri previously served as the spokesman for the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

This comes as the United States received a $100 million payment from Saudi Arabia Tuesday, the same day Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Mohammed bin Salman and his father King Salman in Saudi Arabia. One U.S. official said, quote, “The timing of this is no coincidence.” That meeting is remembered for Mike Pompeo smiling and laughing both with the crown prince and with his father, the king.

Well, for more, we go to London, where we’re joined by Madawi Al-Rasheed, a Saudi dissident, visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics. She was stripped of her Saudi citizenship in 2005 for criticizing Saudi authorities. Her new piece in The New York Times is headlined “Why King Salman Must Replace M.B.S.” Her edited collection, titled Salman’s Legacy: The Dilemmas of a New Era in Saudi Arabia, was published earlier this year.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Thank you so much for joining us. Professor Al-Rasheed, why don’t you begin by responding to this latest news that President Trump has acknowledged that Jamal Khashoggi is probably dead?

MADAWI AL-RASHEED: Yes. But this is in line with a series of tweets and statements made by Mr. Trump from the very beginning, on the 2nd of October. I think we are getting mixed messages, contradictory messages, from the American president over the Khashoggi affair. So, the latest is that he’s dead or probably dead, but the investigation will actually lead, hopefully, also to a clear resolution, because it’s been more than two weeks now, and we keep hearing leaks and news about videos that are not made public, about—most of the sources come from Turkish newspapers or from sources in the Turkish investigation team.

And therefore, I think we really need to concentrate on the context of all this and how the United States is still not wanting to make a break or maybe acknowledge that the Saudi regime, whether it’s Mohammed bin Salman or his so-called rogue elements within the regime, are responsible for this. But I can’t imagine how a journalist entering the Saudi state disappears, and this is—we have the video of that—without actually the fingers pointing to the involvement of the Saudi regime and possibly the top person in the Saudi regime, and that is Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Such a horrific crime, if it has happened inside the embassy or the consulate, nobody could just take the initiative and execute someone without orders from above.

AMY GOODMAN: I think many in this country and around the world are shocked that President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continue to say, “We simply await the Saudi investigation.” This is the Saudi investigation of themselves. When the FBI was asked, are they investigating, they said, no, there were no orders to investigate. So the U.S. government is waiting for those accused to come up with their own investigation. And when Secretary of State Pompeo, on the tarmac in Riyadh, after visiting with the crown prince and his father, the king, and with the video shown of them laughing and smiling together, was asked what he learned, he said it wasn’t a factual discussion.

MADAWI AL-RASHEED: Well, it is bizarre. It has never happened, as far as I know, that the accused are involved in the investigation. But this is how the inequality in this world works. It is an inequality between countries that are wealthy, that are capable of transferring $100 million to the U.S. on the day of the visit of its secretary of state, and it is that money that actually leads us to stagnate in the relationship with the Saudi regime, that continues to attack basic human rights inside its country.

But this act, if it actually happened inside the consulate in Istanbul, is a new phase that we are seeing in Saudi Arabia. But if the Saudi regime is allowed to find a scapegoat or a cover story that would absolve it from any responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, I would attribute that to the purchasing power of the Saudi regime, rather than its integrity and the integrity of its patrons, the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about that relationship. Talk about President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner’s relationship, clearly what is called a “bromance” between Jared Kushner and the crown prince. Some have talked about the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the clown prince, Jared Kushner. But why they are so close. Although it shouldn’t be confused with the U.S. not supporting Saudi Arabia before. You had President Obama visiting Saudi Arabia, I believe, something like four times. President Trump’s first foreign visit was to Saudi Arabia, where he did the famous orb event and did the sword dance, etc.

MADAWI AL-RASHEED: Yes. Well, the history of this relationship goes back to after the Second World War and the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia. The United States did not have any interest in Arabia at the time, as it was called, until oil was discovered by an American company. And it is the oil company that brought the U.S. government into Saudi Arabia rather than the other way around. So, we have the oil. We have the money, that needed to be protected after the signing of a contract for further exploration of the possibility of oil on the soil of Arabia. So the United States government was brought in to protect the interest of the corporation, the oil company that discovered the oil and started pumping it.

And the United States found in Saudi Arabia a strategic ally. It had initially a military base in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, where oil was found, and that military base was used by the United States as a place to stop on the way to the Far East during the 1940s and late 1950s. So the oil was extremely important. And at that time, Saudi oil was important for the United States and the rest of the world, because—at the moment, we find that the U.S. is less dependent on Saudi oil.

And the justification for this close partnership between Saudi Arabia and the United States, from the U.S. perspective, had always been that we need Saudi Arabia because Saudi Arabia is a force of stability in the Middle East. They used Saudi Arabia in the Cold War to launch the jihad in Afghanistan with the U.S. approval and support, and Saudi Arabia was actually conveying that and actively participating in that jihad in the 1980s.

But also, there is the—in addition to the economic importance of Saudi Arabia, the strategic location of Saudi Arabia, the importance of Saudi Arabia to the rest of the Muslim world in the Cold War, Saudi Arabia, and specifically its religious tradition, that is known to everybody as the Wahhabi tradition, was a very convenient ideology to counter, for example, anti-imperialist ideologies in the 1960s, Arab nationalism and also socialism. So, Islamic fundamentalism was promoted by Saudi Arabia in cooperation with the United States as a counterstrategy to all those threatening forces in the world at the time, from the perspective of both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

However, when we come to the present and we come to the election of Mr. Donald Trump—Saudi Arabia, as you said, of course, it did receive President Obama in Saudi Arabia, and, frankly, President Obama sold more weapons to Saudi Arabia than any other president. But there was one issue that they did not agree on, and that is the Iran nuclear agreement, which allowed Iran to be rehabilitated into the international community and accept the conditions of the agreement to stop its nuclear program. And Saudi Arabia felt threatened by that, because it felt that President Obama went behind it, and behind closed door, and did not involve them in the agreement or the negotiation. In fact, Saudi Arabia at the time wanted the United States to bomb Iran, together with Israel, and wanted to keep the momentum of the rivalry and the antagonism between the U.S. and Iran to make sure that it is the only regional power that the U.S. could rely on in its relation with the rest of the Arab world.

But this agreement went ahead, and the relationship went into some kind of tension at the time, until the election of Mr. Trump, who wanted to turn the page and reverse all these agreements. And he felt that there is an opportunity—money—in Saudi Arabia, and Mohammed bin Salman was the right person to negotiate, because I think they both share some common characteristics, in the sense that they are both eclectic, after money, use a lot of media and PR, and also do not actually look at the facts.

So, what happened is that there is a project at the moment that Mohammed bin Salman is critical for it to happen, and that is, first of all, opening the Saudi economy to international capital and also involving American corporations even more in the development of a kind of neoliberal economy in Saudi Arabia. But at the same time, there are the political issues. Saudi Arabia is enlisted in a new project, in a new project to actually reach some kind of agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. And from the perspective of Mr. Trump, the Saudi role is extremely important. So, for example, when the U.S. Embassy moved to Jerusalem, that was an agreement that Saudi Arabia would not make a big fuss. And, in fact, it didn’t make a big fuss.

So there are economic issues in this relationship, strategic, and also the political aspects of that relation should not be ignored. However, I think, at the moment, Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi regime are increasingly becoming an embarrassment and a burden on their partners, especially the U.S., because the world and the civil society, human rights organizations are very vocal in condemning the abuses that take place inside Saudi Arabia, and therefore, public opinion is shifting.

And Americans should ask themselves this question: Is America just an arms dealer, a manufacturer of heavy armament to be sold to dictatorships around the world, or is there something else that America stands for? Does it stand for democracy? Does it stand for human rights? Does it stand for a global order where individuals are respected and are secure?

If there are journalists like Jamal Khashoggi, are the Saudis going to get away with this murder if it’s proven that they are responsible for it? So, in fact, the Khashoggi affair is not only about Saudi Arabia. And it is unfortunate if the man has disappeared and would never come back, but it is also about the so-called free world, and it’s a test of its ability to actually stand to its name as a free world. So the undermining of the values of human rights and people shrugging them off—they are not even on the agenda. It is a very worrying world, I think.

AMY GOODMAN: Madawi Al-Rasheed, please stay with us. We’re going to break for 30 seconds. Professor Al-Rasheed is a Saudi dissident, visiting professor at the Middle East Centre at the London School of Economics, she herself stripped of her Saudi citizenship over a decade ago for criticizing Saudi authorities. When we come back, President Trump himself, well, when he was campaigning, talked about his financial links to Saudi Arabia. Stay with us.

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Dr. Madawi Al-Rasheed: In Khashoggi Murder, Saudi Arabia Must Not Be Allowed to Investigate Itself

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