Death of a Journalist

Training a tumultuous October, surrounding a shrouded murder and a boiling political feud.

Anthony Karambelas, General Assignment Reporter

It’s something out of a horror movie: a fiancée drops off his mobile phone with his soon-to-be bride and heads into a consulate to fill out paperwork for his upcoming marriage. Hours later he is nowhere to be found. Little does she know, she will never see her husband again–at least, not in one piece.


The surfacing details from journalist Jamal Khasshogi’s gruesome murder, reported by Turkish pro-government news outlets from Turkish investigative authorities, are unfolding an almost neo-Macbethian tapestry. A sultan vying for control, a dissent journalist complicating his tyrannical “state-run narrative,” and now, a severed head thrown into the mix. From the start, you could almost hear the Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s (M.B.S.) feigned astonishment and impassioned demurral, “What, in our house?”


Not often do you see a journalist in a posthumous limelight. But then again, few journalists have shaken the blood of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman like Khasshogi. Formerly an unofficial advisor to the Saudi royal family and staunch ally of royalty around the Arab-Muslim world, following M.B.S.’s crackdown on dissension within the country, Khashoggi’s career—and life—hung in the balance. Either he refrained from his castigation of M.B.S.’ practices, or he would suffer imprisonment, possibly death.


Known to be a political oddball of sorts, in support of both a Muslim Brotherhood-style political Islam and an electoral democracy, Khasshoggi’s leanings have often been at odds with the Saudi royal family. Since 2015, with King Salman’s ascension to the throne, extensive power has been ritually placed in the hands of Prince M.B.S. to run the operations of the country, including the newspapers.


Immediately, M.B.S. slaved away at his image, forming a foundation for a venerated international reputation. He proved he’d, by any means, to accomplish this, even if it meant spending millions to censor newspapers and immure his critics. For a brief period of time, the world might have been convinced M.B.S. was pioneering a new Saudi Arabia. He made moves to diversify the economy, loosen social structures, and even granted women the right to drive.


But Khashoggi was having none of it.


He remained skeptical of the authoritarian nature of M.B.S.’ government and saw these social justice “programs” for what they were: empty appeals to the public, orchestrated by a selective elite, who assumed expertise in governance and inwardly feared public participation.


Khasshogi has consistently pushed for the ethos of power-showing, to M.B.S. immense chagrin. The reporter moved to Washington, barely missing the incarceration of hundreds of Saudi officials and political apostates, many of whom remain interned.

Over the past month, Khashoggi’s murder has developed quite a bit, with contrapuntal narratives that at times harmonize and at others, clash dissonantly. Almost a full month after the incident, we remain empty-handed, only sufficiently informed to mourn the demise of a man who epitomized the democratic tenets of the press.


Justice is hungry to be served.


At first, it was thought to be a kidnapping. Khasshogi’s fiancée waited over ten hours outside the Saudi consulate, clutching two phones, with which Khashoggi had instructed her to phone Yasin Atkay, Advisor to Turkish President Erdogan, should he not return.


A week later, Turkish officials reported that Khashoggi had been murdered, claims Saudi Arabia ardently denied, purporting instead that Khashoggi had exited the building safely after only “a few minutes or one hour.”


As if the situation weren’t seedy enough, it turns out that a 15-person hit squad entered and left Istanbul on October 2nd, the same day Khashoggi reportedly disappeared. What more, security footage shows diplomatic vehicles stopping by the consulate after Khashoggi had entered.


Turkish officials say one of these fifteen members was an autopsy specialist. They were carrying a bone saw.


Whether or not any of this is all true remains to be determined. But two weeks ago, Saudi Arabia finally admitted to the murder of Khashoggi, claiming that it was executed by “rogue killers” with no palpable connection to M.B.S. Clearly, the Prince is desperate to shove this potentially volatile scandal under the rug.


But his sorry attempts to do so have only garnered him greater backlash. Shortly after his defense, an anonymous subject reported that a Saudi intelligence officer, a friend of the prince, had ordered for Khashoggi’s interrogation. The same person said M.B.S. had given the green light on this operation and even went so far as to permit coercion to ensure Khashoggi’s return to Saudi Arabia.


It is a situation going bad to worse.


Now, Turkish officials claim to possess audio and video recordings of the murder, in which Khashoggi is said to have been dismembered, his head and fingers cut off, and transported in a suitcase.


What’s more, Turkish officials recently located footage of a body double lookalike for Khashoggi wandering around Istanbul in the journalist’s clothes shortly after his disappearance. This would explain Saudi Arabia’s statement that Khashoggi had exited the building unharmed.


If Saudi Arabia’s strategy is prevarication, it is doing nothing to improve their credibility. And their lack of interest in the investigation of Khashoggi’s rings bells like that of Kavanaugh’s acquiescence to an FBI investigation.


Speaking of which, where is the U.S.A. in all this?


U.S. Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin is currently attending the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, where M.B.S. is slated to speak, in spite of the withdrawal of several American companies. Trump has expressed his hesitancy to risk American-Saudi economic relations and the $110 billion in American arms sales to Saudi Arabia. As such, he is on the Prince’s defense, proselytizing the “rogue killers” theory.


Meanwhile, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is exploiting this sudden rift in M.B.S.’ reputation to the max, doing everything he can to supplant the prince’s position as the U.S.A.’s Middle Eastern point of contact. For years, Erdogan has also envied the Prince’s prominent status among Sunni countries and has vied to reclaim his status as “The Lion of the Sunnis.”


Khashoggi’s investigation has devolved into a glamorized pissing contest and it is a shame that Khashoggi’s memory has not been granted the respect it deserves. Yes, Saudi, American, and Turkish officials are investigating this blatant and abominable display of human cruelty and political corruption, but their intentions are nothing short of solipsistic.


The world waits with bated breath as Erdogan prepares to expose Saudi Arabia.