A Tale of Two Probes: Khashoggi Murder and MH17 Downing

The stark, brutal reality is the Trump administration has no interest in sanctioning the Saudi rulers – even though its own intelligence agency and the UN report this week have laid responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder on the state at the highest level.

A UN special rapporteur issued a damning report this week on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. There is “credible evidence” to implicate the Saudi state at the highest level in perpetrating the gruesome killing of the dissident writer.

The UN expert on extrajudicial killings urged international sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) who is personally implicated for ordering the assassination last October in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Special rapporteur Agnes Callamard also censured the United States and other Western states for not doing enough to put pressure on the Saudis over the murder.

Saudi Arabia has maintained that Crown Prince MbS is innocent and that the killing was done by a team of rogue Saudi agents who overstepped their mission to apprehend Khashoggi and return him to Saudi Arabia to face prosecutors over his public criticisms of the monarchial rulers. Khashoggi had been self-exiled to the US where he was granted a legal residence status while working as a columnist for the Washington Post.

The damning conclusion of the UN report this week confirms an earlier assessment by the American CIA which assigned responsibility for the assassination to the Crown Prince. Despite that CIA finding, President Donald Trump has maintained MbS and the Saudi regime as a close ally. Trump has repeatedly sought to downplay accusations against the regime over Khashoggi’s killing.

Recently, Trump bypassed a ban imposed by Congress on selling weapons to the oil kingdom. The arms deal was priced at over $7 billion. Trump cited the “emergency” of supporting Saudi Arabia against “Iranian aggression” as the reason for bypassing Congress.

Trump’s indulgence of the Saudi monarchs has at least two reasons, apart from arms sales. He needs the Wahhabi regime for his anti-Iran “maximum pressure” policy. The Saudis are also key to the White House in selling its anticipated “Deal of the Century” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The stark, brutal reality is the Trump administration has no interest in sanctioning the Saudi rulers – even though its own intelligence agency and the UN report this week have laid responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder on the state at the highest level.

Amazingly, too, European governments have also let the Saudis off the hook. Earlier remonstrations against Riyadh have since subsided. Western media have also largely let the murder of the journalist fade from the condemnation it deserves. No doubt the lucrative business of selling arms to Saudi Arabia by Britain, France and Germany is just too good to let the state-sanctioned murder of a journalist get in the way.

Contrast that with the Western reaction to the Dutch-led probe into the 2014 downing of Malaysian MH17 airliner over eastern Ukraine. This week the investigation upped the ante of blaming Russia for the disaster in which 298 people onboard were killed. It names four individuals who are accused of embodying a link between Russia’s military and the Ukrainian separatists whom the Dutch-led investigators claim shot down the Boeing 777.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad got it right when he denounced the latest report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) as a “politicized” stunt aimed at scapegoating Russia for the disaster. “We are very unhappy,” said the premier about the report. “We want proof of guilt not hearsay.”

The JIT has spent the most part of five years propagating innuendo of Russian wrongdoing. It has relied on “classified information” from NATO intelligence sources, which it says it is not permitted to disclose. The JIT has also relied on a NATO propagandist blog site, Bellingcat, to claim as “evidence” that Russia supplied an anti-aircraft missile system to Ukrainian rebels to shoot down the MH17 passenger plane.

None of the Dutch-led probe has conformed to the slightest standards of criminal investigation and due process. The Malaysian authorities have been denied full access to findings, while the Ukrainian state has, even though the latter should be treated as a suspect party given the circumstances of the airliner being shot down over its territory.

Russia, which has been continually accused since the very beginning even before plane wreckage was examined, has also been denied participation in the investigation. Russia’s own independent findings have produced significant evidence implicating the military forces under the command of the authorities in Kiev. One such piece of evidence is that the Buk missile fragments indicate the munition dated from 1986 as part of the Ukrainian military’s inventory.

The JIT report, which is due to continue for several more years, is flawed from anti-Russia prejudice and unsubstantiated “evidence”. It is, as the Malaysian premier said this week, based on hearsay and innuendo. This is a travesty of legal standards and criminal investigation.

Yet the JIT’s unsubstantiated allegations against Russia and its collection of reports have lent political impetus for the US and its European allies to impose economic sanctions against Russia which have cost the country billions of dollars in disrupted trade.

By contrast, the UN report this week confirms serious allegations against the Saudi rulers for their role in the barbaric murder of a journalist. Jamal Khashoggi was kidnapped inside a consular premises, drugged, murdered and his remains dismembered, never to be found. As the UN special rapporteur asked this week: where are the Western sanctions against the Saudi regime?

The hypocrisy and double standards of the US and its European allies just goes to show their cynical expedience. It is expedient to sanction Russia over slanderous innuendo concerning the death of 298 airline passengers. It is, however, commercial and geopolitical good business to turn a blind eye to Saudi state complicity in murder.

A Tale of Two Probes: Khashoggi Murder and MH17 Downing

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