The case of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance is a test for the Trump administration
Many journalists, writers, and human rights activists from nations where democracy is noticeably absent often choose the US and Europe as the de facto destination for self-exile. For a long time, the idea of self-exile was seen as a win-win for both the dissenter and the country they fled to.
But, the recent disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi proves that even the most well-established of ideas can eventually fall apart -- as it appears that, if you are a dissenting citizen, there is simply no escaping your oppressors even outside of your country.
To that end, the Khashoggi case is also a good test for the US -- at least its current administration -- a nation that is looked up to as a champion of human rights all over the world.
Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist, author, and the former general manager and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel. He had also served as editor of Saudi newspaper Al Watan, turning it into a platform for Saudi progressives. Khashoggi fled his homeland of Saudi Arabia in September 2017, fearing repression from the Saudi government.
Back then, Khashoggi had reportedly said the Saudi government had banned him from Twitter. Which makes sense as he had been intensely critical of Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, and the country’s king, Salman of Saudi Arabia.
On October 2, he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect some papers -- but he never came out of the premises. His fiancé reported that she had been waiting for him outside of the consulate but he never came out.
The New York Times and the Washington Post reported, quoting unnamed Turkish security officials, that 15 high officials from Saudi Arabia had flown to Turkey at that time and killed Khashoggi, dismembering his body inside the consulate as to not raise any suspicions.
It it now known that Turkey possesses audio and video evidence to their claims. Of course, the Saudi government has vehemently denied any such accusations.
Disappearances are not new for Saudi Arabia.
Prince Sultan bin Turki was tricked into boarding a private jet in 2016. The plane landed in Saudi Arabia instead of Cairo and he has not been heard from since. Prince Turki bin Bandar Al Saud was detained during a business trip in Morocco in 2015 and deported to Riyadh by Moroccan authorities -- he has been missing since then.
If there is any truth to the claims of the Turkish officials, this is an unprecedented event in the history of human rights abuse. Far more than a simple political assassination, Khashoggi’s killing represents Saudi Arabia at its absolute worst.
According to a Washington Post report, quoting US security officials, it stated that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had allegedly personally ordered a hit on Kashoggi while he was in the US.
It’s not a big secret that the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia are allies. There have been numerous reports of gross human rights violations in Saudi Arabia in recent years (as is the norm) but the Trump administration has yet to raise a finger at them.
It’s been over two weeks since Khashoggi disappeared, but we have hardly received any official statements from the Trump administration regarding the situation, except Trump’s usually soft words which he always has in store for the Saudi government.
This is a test for the Trump administration, there is no doubt about it.
Donald Trump recently spoke against the Iran nuclear deal, pulling out of it with the kind of conviction he displays in public. He needs Saudi Arabia to counter Iran, that is why he supported Saudi Arabia’s ceaseless killings of innocent people in Yemen, despite criticism from the American people.
Iran has already established its dominance in many parts of the middle east thanks to Russia’s participation in the Syrian war, and adding fuel to the flame is the Trump administration’s frayed relationship with Turkey’s Erdogan-led government.
If the Trump administration does not take any sort of concrete actions against Saudi Arabia, it stands to send out the wrong message: If you are an ally of the US, absolute impunity is one of the many perks.
Mushfique Wadud is a freelance journalist. He is currently doing his MA in Media Innovation at the University of Nevada, Reno.