A Journalist’s Mysterious Disappearance: Potential Shifts in U.S.-Saudi Relations

On October 2nd, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist and columnist for the Washington Post, was killed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. What was meant to be a trip to collect paperwork necessary to marry his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, quickly turned into an international debate and instigator of diplomatic rifts between Saudi Arabia and the West.

The investigation is ongoing, making the case’s facts and details still unclear. What is currently known is that Turkish officials are certain Khashoggi was killed by a team of 15 Saudi agents at the consulate, explaining for his lack of return after entering the building. Responses by Saudi officials to these allegations have been negative, calling Turkish claims “baseless” and “blatantly false.” However, Turkish officials have commented on policy finding evidence that confirms Khashoggi’s killing taking place at the consulate, along with a follow-up search that was conducted at the Saudi Consul General’s home. This search found that Saudi diplomatic vehicles moved to the consul general’s residence after Khashoggi entered the consulate, information that Turkish officials say confirms the October 2nd incident. Recently, it has been reported that Saudis are preparing a report that admits Khashoggi’s death occurred due to a Saudi interrogation that went awry. World leaders and news agencies have pointed out that this rationale clearly presents Saudi Arabia’s overarching goal of removing any responsibility from the royal family and preserving its image as best as possible.

Responses from the global community to Khashoggi’s death have varied, but the general consensus has been nothing close to cordial. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet emphasized that it is the responsibility of Saudi authorities to investigate and determine what happened to Khashoggi, as the last sighting of the journalist was in their own consulate. American business leaders have responded similarly, cutting off economic ties with the country in hopes of carrying a message that a lack of transparency and urgency in handling a potential human rights violation is unacceptable. Glover Park Group and BGR group, two lobbying firms based in Washington, have dropped Saudi Arabia as a client. The chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, spoke against an investment conference that was initially planned to take place in Saudi Arabia. What stands out from these reactions is that of President Donald Trump, who recently tweeted about his conversation with the Saudi King, stating that the King had “denied any knowledge of whatever may have happened to our Saudi Arabian citizen.” Although Trump initially threatened “severe punishments” in the form of “sanctions” if the kingdom was found responsible for Khashoggi’s death, he quickly reverted to a more neutral stance that involved ruling out the cancellation of a lucrative arms deal. Additionally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was extremely amicable in his recent meetings with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. He went on to thank Saudi leaders for their “transparent investigation” into the suspected killing of a journalist, even confirming the Crown Prince’s remarks that the United States  and Saudi Arabia are “strong and old allies.” The responses of both President Trump and Pompeo have angered many in Washington, particularly those who are frustrated with the Saudi Crown Prince’s silencing tactics towards Saudi dissidents and see this way of authoritarian rule.

Many suspect that the investigation will conclude with Saudis placing blame on their people for taking such actions and promising the global community that those who committed the crime will be placed through the justice system. Although this predicted ending to the investigation is disappointing, it sheds light on the reality of the current administration’s priorities. The United States’ coziness with Saudi Arabia’s regime is disturbing, as prioritizing billions of Saudi dollars flowing into the American economy over a citizen’s brutal death sets a dangerous precedent for American-Saudi relations.


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