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Rula Jebreal: My “Secret Interview” with Jamal Khashoggi Before His Brutal Murder by the Saudis

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has directly accused Saudi Arabia of the premeditated murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen alive entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in Turkey on October 2. Erdogan said a team of Saudi officials had planned Khashoggi’s murder days in advance, directly contradicting Saudi Arabia’s claim that Khashoggi died after a fight in the consulate. Turkish officials have claimed that audio and video recordings show Saudi officials used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi’s body, but Erdogan made no mention of the audio and video recordings of the killing. Fallout from Khashoggi’s murder is being felt across the globe. We speak with Rula Jebreal, a journalist, author and foreign policy analyst who conducted one of the last known interviews with Khashoggi. She says calling Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman a reformer is “like calling David Duke a civil rights activist.” Her new cover story for Newsweek is titled “Jamal Khashoggi Secret Interview: The Saudi Journalist’s Views of Islam, America and the 'Reformist' Prince Implicated in His Murder.”

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has directly accused Saudi Arabia of the premeditated murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was last seen alive entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in Turkey on October 2nd. Erdogan said a team of Saudi officials had planned Khashoggi’s murder days in advance. During a speech before the Turkish parliament, Erdogan called for the Saudi suspects to be tried in Turkey.

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: [translated] The information and the evidence that we have so far collected indicate that Jamal Khashoggi was slain in a vicious, violent murder. Whitewashing such barbarity will of course injure and wound the conscience of all humanity. And we are of course looking forward to the same sensitivity being demonstrated by the administration of Saudi Arabia and all other parties to this affair. Dear friends, the Saudi Arabian administration took an important step by acknowledging and admitting the murder, and now our expectation from them, going forward, is that all those responsible, from the highest level to the lowest level, will be highlighted, will be brought to justice and will get the punishment they deserve. And there are indeed strong signs that the incident was not a momentary issue or a momentary result of something that erupted onsite, but rather the result of a planned operation.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Turkish President Erdogan’s remarks directly contradict Saudi Arabia’s claim that Khashoggi died after a fight in the consulate. Turkish officials have claimed that audio and video recordings show Saudi officials used a bone saw to dismember his body, but Erdogan made no mention of the audio and video recordings of the killing. Fallout from the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is still being felt across the globe. On Sunday, Germany announced it would halt an arms deal to Saudi Arabia. Britain, Germany and France have also joined together to demand Saudi Arabia explain exactly what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the Trump administration is rejecting calls by human rights groups to cut off U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. On Monday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This comes as CIA Director Gina Haspel is now in Turkey as part of the U.S. government’s investigation into Khashoggi’s death.

We turn now to the journalist and author Rula Jebreal. She’s in Rome, Italy. She conducted one of the last known interviews with Jamal Khashoggi. Her new cover story for Newsweek is headlined “Jamal Khashoggi Secret Interview: The Saudi Journalist’s Views of Islam, America and the 'Reformist' Prince Implicated in His Murder.”.

Rula Jebreal, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don’t you begin by first describing your response to what is known at this point about what happened to The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, and then the circumstances under which you talked to him and what he said to you?

RULA JABREAL: What happened to Jamal is a barbaric, evil act of terrorism, planted, orchestrated by a regime that wanted to silence him. They saw him as a traitor. They saw him as a slave, as they see all their citizens. Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, treats his own citizens as if they are his subjects, that he can do whatever he wants. He can take their lives. And around him, there’s advisers who have been actually very vocal about reactivating an assassination plan to go after not only Jamal, but every critic of this crown prince.

This crown prince felt that Jamal betrayed the royal family, because Jamal actually advised and worked for the royal family for many years and then was banned from tweeting or writing last year, so Jamal decided to leave the country, because he really thought that they were going to go after him, as they did with many other intellectuals, critics, journalists, lawyers, human rights activists. So he left the country, and he came to America, so his word and his writing can continue and he could continue to be the intellectual that he is.

In America, he thought that he was safe; however, he felt that he was being pressured. Between now and then, he received in March last year a letter from a Saudi prince who’s telling him, “Come back. Come back.” Actually, he published that letter. And that Saudi prince was arrested and probably beaten up and tortured. That’s Al-Waleed bin Talal. He was telling Jamal, “Come back. Build together with us this fourth Saudi state. This crown prince is a reformer.” Within 24 hours, this same man was arrested. And Jamal tweeted, saying, “If a prince can pay $1 billion to be released from jail, how much money any prisoner of conscience, any critic need to pay for this crown prince to be released from jail?” And I think it was a moment when the crown prince came to America and wanted to appeal to the American elite and the media, especially in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and he wanted to dine and wine with them, and many fell for his charade. And this is when Jamal’s criticism became even much more important.

I interviewed Jamal because I did a cover story in September this year about Mohammed bin Salman. We were trying to expose the true face and show the American audience, and especially lawmakers, who were celebrating this man. And 60 Minutes did this huge reportage about this crown prince, and they even went as far as saying that he is the new face and he’s a reformer. Calling him a reformer is like calling David Duke a civil rights activist. It’s preposterous. It’s outrageous.

So I did this cover story. I interviewed Jamal for one hour, and we talked about everything. And Jamal—I remember we were both shaken by the fact that this crown prince went as far as kidnapping a prime minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri. He lured him in. He summoned him and then kidnapped him and arrested him and forced him to resign. And it was an attempt to trigger a reaction by the Lebanese so he can use the Lebanese reaction, the Hezbollah reaction, to go into war against Iran.

Jamal said in that interview that he gave me—he said, “Our only hope is the international community. Our only hope to save the Saudis and people like—not only the Saudis, the region—from this reckless prince is the international community.” My feeling that from his grave, now that they found the body—it seems like they found his remains today in Turkey—from his grave, he’s calling on all of us to bring justice to Jamal but also some kind of process where there’s accountability for these barbaric acts.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Rula Jebreal, you’ve also said, though, that—in your interview with Jamal, that he insisted that he was not part of an opposition, but he was really—still had hope that the Saudi regime could be reformed. Could you talk about that further?

RULA JABREAL: Look, he didn’t think that reforms are connected to one man. He didn’t believe Mohammed bin Salman was really serious about the reforms. We discussed largely that the reforms were the byproduct of a PR campaign written for the Saudi crown prince by Cambridge Analytica, as it was confirmed by many publications. He understood the limits of what Mohammed bin Salman was doing, because his lofty words to the West were so different from his deeds in Yemen, in Saudi Arabia and against the Qataris, against the Lebanese, against the whole region.

But Jamal believed, like the rest of the Arab world and many intellectuals there—he believed in the promise of the Arab Spring. He believed that we deserve democracy, we deserve social justice, we deserve dignity. He even wrote in a tweet, “We deserve better as Saudis.” And today, we have Germany leading the effort, we had Macron and France leading the effort to hold this Saudi regime to account.

And we’re relying on Erdogan, President Erdogan, so he could release the tape, because the only way the spin from this White House, from Donald Trump and his—Mnuchin and all of these guys—and especially Kushner, who leaked information to the Saudi crown prince and gave him intel from the CIA, and he, the Saudi crown prince, bragged about it and used it to arrest and purge all of his political opponents, so they are complicit in the cover-up and emboldening and enabling this crown prince. The only hope the Saudis and all of us as intellectuals and journalists who came from the Middle East, who cover the Middle East and actually expose these tyrants, is that the international community, somehow, there’s a mechanism of protection for journalists.

I will be at the European Parliament very soon for a hearing about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but also about the Saudis and their behaviors and this reckless crown prince. And what the Europeans are trying to do, to bring the Magnitsky Act from America and impose sanctions on the Saudis, on all of the Saudis who committed this crime, but, above all, who ordered them to commit this crime.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at various news reports, something you just referenced, Rula. Breaking in Haaretz and also in Sky News, the remains of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi have been found in the garden of the Saudi consul general’s home. This, again, according to reports by Sky News. According to the reports, sources suggest Khashoggi had been cut up and his face disfigured. Rula, I want to go to a part of the interview you did with Jamal Khashoggi. He’s talking about the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI: Deep inside him, he’s an old-fashioned tribal leader. Why Mohammed bin Salman doesn’t see that part of reform? Because it will limit his authoritarian rule, and he doesn’t want that. He doesn’t see there’s a need for that. So, sometime, I feel that he will take—he wants to enjoy the fruit of First World modernity and Silicon Valley and cinemas and everything, and at the same time he wants also to rule like how his grandfather ruled Saudi Arabia.


JAMAL KHASHOGGI: Ultimate authority.

RULA JEBREAL: Well, that doesn’t work. You can’t have it both ways.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI: He wants to have it both ways.

RULA JEBREAL: Can you have it both ways? Can you call yourself—can you?

JAMAL KHASHOGGI: No, I don’t think he can. But if there is no one—first of all, there is no political movement in Saudi Arabia that could pressure him, number one. And the world is happy with him. Do you see anybody in America who is—except for Bernie Sanders, who is calling for putting pressure on Mohammed bin Salman? I only saw Bernie Sanders, but no one else. I’m sure the Americans are not going to apply pressure to Mohammed bin Salman, unless a true crisis happens in Saudi Arabia.

AMY GOODMAN: So that is Jamal Khashoggi, talking to our guest, Rula Jebreal, saying, “Who is putting pressure on Mohammed bin Salman? Do you see anybody in America, except for Bernie Sanders, who’s calling for putting pressure on MBS? I only saw Bernie Sanders, but no one else,” he said. Rula, again, say when this was, and your decision at the time not to release this interview, but why you’ve changed your mind.

RULA JEBREAL: Yes. Exactly like I wrote in the cover for Newsweek in September, it was only Bernie Sanders who really believes in humanity, legality, morality and combining our policies with all of these values that America has been, you know, calling for and exporting, supposedly, around the world. However, it was clear while Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, was decimating his neighboring country, Yemen, was bombing people to oblivion, was throwing bombs on school buses where children were being torn and killed, and he was starving an entire nation to death, nobody reacted because it was all about the dollars. It was all about selling weapons. And probably for Trump, it’s about selling apartments and real estate to the Saudis. Let’s remember that there is a huge conflict of interest. This is the most nakedly corrupt administration. They really don’t care about human rights.

And at least with other administrations, they were hypocritical about it, but there was moments where they withheld selling of weapons to the Saudis, especially when they committed atrocities in Yemen and elsewhere. Now we know the Saudis are partnering with al-Qaeda, and America is—their air force—the air force of al-Qaeda in Yemen is American pilots, and nobody is reacting to this.

What we saw with Jamal is a new—I think, a new level of depravity and barbarity of this crown prince. I mean, to think that he is using the house of a consul general of his own country to bury pieces of the body of a kind, gracious man who wanted nothing except reform in his own country. He wanted his people to live as dignified human being, not as slave. And he even wished Mohammed bin Salman to succeed. In my interview, I went as far and I told Jamal—even privately and during that interview, I said, “You would be a perfect adviser to this crown prince.” And he said—and that was his answer, and I quote him, that he would do it, because he want his country to succeed. And that’s the only home he loved and he cared about, and he felt deeply committed to the Saudi people, especially poor and humble people, but also to his country. That’s the only place where really he was craving to go back and live, under different circumstances.

I didn’t publish that interview at the time, because when we were talking off the record, I sensed that he feared for his life. The attempts to lure him in was not the first attempt to lure him in the embassy. He met with diplomats—and the news came out recently—in Washington, D.C., and they were all trying to be very kind to him and very gracious, and they were all inviting him to go back. I think Jamal never trusted them, but I think he fell in love, and he really wanted to get married, and he never in his wildest dream thought he will go and that the crown prince will send 15 people very close to him and murder him inside a consulate on foreign soil.

I think this level of truly atrocity—we’ve never seen anything like this before. The fact that that was a rogue operation—this is the worst spin I ever heard in my life. You don’t send somebody with a bone saw to cut people in pieces, and then you pretend, “Oh, there was”—and then you come out with this fabricated story that it was a fistfight. Jamal is a man in his sixties. These were 15 men. There is no way he resisted them. Jamal was the most kind, humble, the most nonviolent person I ever met in my life.

AMY GOODMAN: Rula, we’re going to—

RULA JEBREAL: But the fact that these goons went after him—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break. We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. And among those 15 people—

RULA JEBREAL: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: —it’s believed, was a body double, who came out of the consulate—


AMY GOODMAN: —wearing, it looks like, at this point, Jamal Khashoggi’s clothes. Not clear why Saudi Arabia didn’t continue with that story, the idea that he walked out of the embassy, which they did first float, but then quickly backed off on, as his fiancée, as you were describing, his Turkish fiancée, was outside hour after hour after hour, outside the consulate, waiting for her partner to come out. Rula Jebreal is a journalist, author, foreign policy analyst. Her new cover story for Newsweek, “Jamal Khashoggi Secret Interview: The Saudi Journalist’s Views of Islam, America and the 'Reformist' Prince Implicated in His Murder.” We’ll come back to Rula in Rome, Italy, in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Phantom Waltz,” Meredith Monk. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Rula Jebreal, journalist, author, foreign policy analyst, has the cover story of Newsweek, “Jamal Khashoggi Secret Interview: The Saudi Journalist’s Views of Islam, America and the 'Reformist' Prince Implicated in His Murder.” We have just learned, at least according to Sky News, that Jamal Khashoggi’s body parts have been found buried in the consul general’s lawn in Istanbul, Turkey, that consul general residence right next to the consulate where Jamal Khashoggi walked in October 2nd and never came out again. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Rula Jebreal, I wanted to ask you, in terms of—you had mentioned earlier that you’re going to be speaking to the European Parliament. What are you hoping to appeal to the countries of Europe to do in this situation, given the fact that the Trump administration and the United States keeps equivocating and buying the stories of the Saudi regime in one way or another?

RULA JEBREAL: I will use Jamal’s words. Again, I was hoping against hope that I would never have to publish this interview with Jamal. I was hoping to go to his wedding. I was hoping to celebrate his life and the many writings. Then, when I saw the cover story and the lies, lie after lie, as if they were putting a lie and seeing how the public would react to it, and then they’ll put another lie and another deflection and another fabrication, and when I saw that President Trump, which I have no faith in a man who will always put his benefit, his business and the cash flow coming from the Saudis—that, for him, will trump any human rights, any morality or any legality.

I will use Jamal’s words—our only hope, that the international community, more leaders like Angela Merkel and President Macron and others, would demand from the Saudis a process where there’s accountability and there’s justice for Jamal. His life should not be in vain. And we should understand that if Mohammed bin Salman will get away with this murder, as he hoped for, this will be only the first of many murders, because he will go after everybody. He’s testing the water. He’s trying to see—he actually tested the water with Yemen, then with Qatar, then with Prime Minister [Saad] Rafik Hariri, when he kidnapped him, and now he’s testing the water outside of his country and his region.

Now he’s sending a signal to every critic. They wanted this operation to come out. They wanted people to talk about it. They want everybody to be scared to speak up against this crown prince. Our answer to this crown prince, that we demand justice for Jamal, that we demand—we deserve better than a leadership in America that relinquished its moral authority and its leadership because of Trump towers and Trump apartments and weapons. We really, as Americans, deserve better. And that’s why the midterm election is so important. And I’m talking to the European Parliament, and they’re hosting hearings after hearings, because I have no faith even in Congress. I have no faith that Congress will stand up for what’s right, because what they did so far, when they saw that they have to choose, they will always back President Trump, whatever he will do.

AMY GOODMAN: Rula Jebreal—

RULA JEBREAL: If that case was against Iran, we would be bombing Iranians.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Jared Kushner. You mentioned him earlier, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, very close to Mohammed bin Salman. He was speaking with Van Jones on CNN.

JARED KUSHNER: Just to be transparent, to be fully transparent. The world is watching. This is a very, very serious accusation and a very serious situation, and to make sure you’re transparent and to take this very seriously.

AMY GOODMAN: “We have to be transparent; this must be taken very seriously,” he said. Rula Jebreal, that relationship and what it means?

RULA JEBREAL: Well, the fact that we don’t have—I don’t think he wants transparency. First of all, that interview was a disappointment. Van Jones, a man that I admire, actually, and I respect, could have pushed harder. People like Jamal risk their lives on a daily basis to expose these dictators and tyrants. Van Jones wanted access, and that interview was about access, and it’s a lost opportunity.

However, what our crown prince in America—in America’s ruling family—is saying is we want transparency, but then, actually, what they are doing is to cover up for this crown prince. I believe there is financial ties to the crown prince that the Kushners and the Trumps have. We need, as Americans, to know about this. This is why the next Congress is relevant, is crucial, is important, to expose them for what they are: mercenaries.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, President Trump himself, when he was running for president, talked about the money he had gotten, something like $40 million, $50 million from the Saudis. Rula Jebreal, we want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to link to your cover story for Newsweek, but we’re going to turn right now—we’re going to end this segment with Jamal Khashoggi in his own words. He was a keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy in Washington.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI: I’m from Saudi Arabia, where the issue of democracy and Islam are very much relevant. When a Saudi Arabian official wants to brush away the question of democracy, in the past, he will always raise the debate whether democracy is compatible with Islam. Maybe he will call Masmoudi to have a conference in Saudi Arabia and discuss whether democracy and Islam are compatible. So that is the relevant relation between Saudi Arabia and this organization. This topic, it is a topic that many in this room have used to discuss, debate, write books about it, essays, until recently. But it totally was put off to an end with the coming of Arab Spring, when the people, the youth, the Islamists—even the Islamists, including the Salafis, who were very much always critical of democracy—and many of them are still, until today, critical of democracy, and they see it—some of it see it as [inaudible] and breaking away from religion. And there are many in my country who also think democracy and Islam don’t go together.

AMY GOODMAN: Jamal Khashoggi. He was speaking in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post columnist. The New York Times just printed sort of a sort of abridged transcript of that speech, their headline, “Why the Arab World Needs Democracy Now.” Jamal Khashoggi, as far as we know, the latest story from Sky News is that his body parts were found in the garden at the consul general’s residence. The Turkish President Erdogan has just made a speech in the Turkish parliament, and the Saudi regime has admitted that, yes, Khashoggi died in the embassy, the consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. We’ll continue to cover this issue, and you can go to to get the latest news and all of our coverage over these few weeks.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the caravan heading north. We’ll talk about what’s happening. Stay with us.

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