A journalist for the Washington Post and critic of the Saudi government, Jamal Khashoggi, walked into the country’s consulate in Istanbul and was murdered on Tuesday, Oct. 2. The murder was suspiciously linked to some of the highest officials in the Saudi government. This drew the attention of surrounding nations as well as the United States. These tensions merit careful consideration not only because of the close economic partnership between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia but also because of the symbolic nature of this attempt to squelch freedom of the press.
Khashoggi was once a close adviser and friend to the members of the royal family. However, due to a disagreement, he fell from the favor of the government and fled to the U.S. in exile. During his time in America he wrote for the Washington Post, criticizing the Saudi government and its policies. To marry his Turkish fiancee, Khashoggi went to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to file for a divorce with his current wife. He never exited the building. The remains of his body have yet to be found.
The President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, came forward and told his administration to conduct an investigation. They were able to uncover some of this mystery. The Turkish government says that a team of 15 Saudi nationals arrived at the consulate prior to the murder and removed most surveillance systems. These nationals were supposedly sent by some of the highest officials – even the prince himself – in the Saudi government. Recordings were obtained of the murder and sent to Saudi Arabia, the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Germany and France. Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the only one to have admitted to hearing the recordings.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also conducted an investigation into the murder of Khashoggi and concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered his assassination in Istanbul last month. Other U.S. officials have said that such an operation would have needed the authority and approval of the prince. The CIA examined a number of sources and reports. The Saudi government and the prince deny all of these accusations.
These conclusions, along with those of the Turkish government supporting this claim, put President Donald Trump in a tough spot. Because of our oil trade, a common enemy in the radical state of Iran, as well our joint vision for peace in the Middle Eastern region – the U.S. and Saudi Arabia are in some ways close allies. In a recent White House statement from Trump, he denied the fact that the CIA found the link of the murder to the Saudi prince saying that “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” and that “we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi.”
It’s important to understand that the death of Khashoggi was tragic and speaks to a greater issue: the freedom of the press. The press is a powerful weapon against the powerful because it informs the public. Though many “news” stories are false in our day – whether due to malevolent intent or careless work – the press is an essential aspect of a free society. They must keep public officials accountable and inform the public of their actions be they good or bad. Trump and other world leaders should take this into consideration when moving forward with this critical issue. Their decisions will shape how the world understands the freedom of the press.