The Problem With the Declassified Report on Khashoggi’s Death

On February 25, new Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines declassified an assessment blaming Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. Khashoggi was, of course, the Saudi dissident and U.S. resident who was brutally executed in Istanbul, Turkey, in early October 2018. 

Bin Salman, a young royal commonly known by his initials, MBS, was immediately suspected of ordering Khashoggi’s grisly assassination. Turkish reports say Khashoggi was dismembered with a bone saw. To date, no one has really offered a credible alternative explanation for Khashoggi’s demise. Everyone knows the Saudis did it. The Trump administration even sanctioned 17 Saudis for their alleged roles in the killing.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration downplayed suspicions of MBS’s personal guilt. For instance, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed in late November 2018 that there was “no direct reporting connecting the crown prince to the order to murder Jamal Khashoggi.” It appears that Pompeo wanted to sidestep the issue of MBS’s role in the name of maintaining friendly relations with the Saudi Kingdom.

The ODNI’s assessment is intended to undercut Pompeo’s claim of ambiguity. The document bluntly states: “We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

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