The murder of Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, highlights the moral depravity of the Trump Administration. Khashoggi was an outspoken journalist — an exemplary member of a profession Trump deplores. Khasoggi opposed the Saudi rulers — friends of Trump. Given this background, it’s no surprise that Trump is avoiding meaningful response to Khashoggi’s assassination.
In 2017, Jamal Khashoggi, perhaps the most famous journalist in the Arab world, left Saudi Arabia after being banned from publishing or appearing on television because he had criticized the Saudi rulers and Donald Trump. Khashoggi relocated to the United States and began writing for the Washington Post. On October 2nd, Khashoggi entered the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, Turkey, and has not been seen since. There are numerous reports that he was killed by a 15-person assassination team dispatched by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
To understand how this killing became a major Trump scandal, we must follow three threads. The first is the relationship between Jamal Khashoggi and his country. In 1958. Khashoggi was born into an affluent Saudi family. He went to Saudischools and then came to the U.S., receiving his college degree at Indiana State University (1982). Khashoggi returned to Saudi Arabia and became a journalist; during the next twenty years he traveled extensively, interviewing many Middle East luminaries including Osama bin Laden (https://www.businessinsider.com/missing-saudi-journalist-jamal-khashoggi-ties-to-osama-bin-laden-islamists-2018-10 ).
In 2003, the Saudi Ministry of Information fired Khashoggi from his post as editor of Al Watan and he moved to London. In 2007, Khashoggi moved back to Saudi Arabia and again became editor of Al Watan. In 2010 he was fired for criticizing the government. Nonetheless, he continued to write columns, and provide TV commentary, for a variety of media outlets. In December 2016, the Saudi authorities banned him from writing columns or appearing on television. Early in 2017 Khashoggi moved to the United States and began writing for the Washington Post.
Khashoggi’s new columns were sharply critical of the Saudi government, particularly Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman — next in line for the Saudi throne. In April 2018 Khashoggi wrote that Saudi Arabia “should return to its pre 1979 climate when the government restricted hard-line Wahhabi traditions. Women today should have the same rights as men. And all citizens should have the right to speak their minds without fear of imprisonment.” He criticized Saudi intervention in Yemen and the government crackdown on media and dissent. Khashoggi even established a Saudi political party, Democracy for the Arab World Now.
There’s strong evidence that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, on October 2nd, at the direction of Mohammad bin Salman. The Crown Prince doesn’t like to be challenged. Neither does Donald Trump.
Trump has made no secret of his contempt for the press. At his campaign rallies he’s encouraged his followers to heap abuse on nearby members of the press. He regularly calls out journalists in his Tweets. (By the way, Trump has particular contempt for The Washington Post, Khashoggi’s employer. He’s called out various Post reporters and the owner, Jeff Bezos.) One of Trump’s objectives is to diminish freedom of the press by expanding libel laws to permit more law suits against journalists (https://nypost.com/2018/09/05/trump-wants-to-change-libel-laws-in-wake-of-woodward-book/ ). Since becoming President, Trump has railed at alleged “fake news.” In August he began call journalists “enemies of the people.” (More than 300 U.S. media outlets have published editorials condemning Trump’s words.)
Given this background, it’s not surprising that Trump minimized the importance of Khashoggi’s murder. On October 11th, when queried about Khashoggi, Trump responded, “This took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen.” (Khashoggi was in the U.S. as a lawful immigrant,)
However, Trump has stronger reasons to avoid a strenuous inquiry into Khashoggi’s death; Trump has financial ties to Saudi Arabia. During the 2015 presidential campaign, Trump boasted: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me… Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much… They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundred of millions.”(https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/16/trump-says-no-financial-interests-in-saudi-arabia-but-makes-money.html ) By the way, Trump now denies these financial ties; on October 16th, Trump tweeted: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia.” (There’s also evidence that Trump’ son-in-law, Jared Kushner has ties to the Saudis. (https://www.npr.org/2018/10/16/657923244/jared-kushner-faces-scrutiny-for-his-ties-to-the-saudi-crown-prince )
Not surprisingly, Trump shows no interest in putting pressure on the Saudis. It’s been suggested that he should threaten to withdraw from his touted “$110 billion” arms deal to force the Saudi’s to cooperate. He’s unlikely to do this. Since May of 2017, the White House has touted “a $110 billion Saudi-funded defense purchase … which will grow to $350 billion over the next 10 years.” But it turns out that most of the $110 billion consists of “memorandum of intent” and only $14.5 billion are covered by the firmer “Letters of Agreement.” (https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/trumps-110-billion-saudi-arms-deal-doesnt-actually-exist ) In other words, Trump is lying about this arms deal.
The Trump Administration isn’t going to do anything about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Just like they haven’t done anything about the murders of other brave journalists in Russia and other parts of the world (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/oct/09/the-guardian-view-on-the-killing-of-journalists-the-truth-in-peril ). They don’t support freedom of the press.
Jamal Khashoggi’s last column was published posthumously by The Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/jamal-khashoggi-what-the-arab-world-needs-most-is-free-expression/2018/10/17/adfc8c44-d21d-11e8-8c22-fa2ef74bd6d6_story.html?). Khashoggi observed: “Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate… The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power.”
Donald Trump isn’t going to do anything about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the direction of Saudi rulers, because it’s consistent with Trump’s attitude about the press. He wants to impose his own Iron Curtain. Who will be the first American journalist to die?