Turkey appears poised to call Saudi Arabia’s bluff over its cover story about the alleged torture, killing, and dismemberment of Washington Post writer and Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi earlier this month.
That could make things more difficult for the Trump administration, which so far has tried to bolster the outrageous Saudi claim that Khashoggi was killed during a “fistfight” with 15 Saudi security agents, including some with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
According to the Associated Press, a senior official in Turkey’s ruling party said Saturday that Turkey would “never allow a cover-up” of Khashoggi’s killing, which occurred inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
The report noted:
The critical reaction by Numan Kurtulmus, deputy head of the Justice and Development Party, suggested that Turkey, which started its own investigation amid pro-government media reports that a Saudi hit squad killed Khashoggi, was not prepared to go along with the Saudi version of what happened to the writer.
“It’s not possible for the Saudi administration to wiggle itself out of this crime if it’s confirmed,” Kurtulmus said. He also said that Turkey would share its evidence of Khashoggi’s killing with the world and that a “conclusive result” of the investigation is close.
After initially denying that Khashoggi had disappeared shortly after entering the consulate to obtain marriage documents, the Saudi government acknowledged on Saturday that the journalist was, in fact, killed there. A tweet from the Saudi Foreign Ministry claimed Khashoggi’s death was caused by a brawl inside the consulate, The Washington Post reported.
Five Saudi officials have since been fired, including a close adviser to bin Salman and a top intelligence official, and 18 people were arrested as a result of the Saudi government’s “investigation” of the incident, its government said.
Turkey’s response to those claims is much more critical than that of Donald Trump and his administration. On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued an evasive statement that said the U.S. “acknowledges” Saudi Arabia’s acknowledgment of Khashoggi’s death.
“We will continue to closely follow the international investigations into this tragic incident and advocate for justice that is timely, transparent, and in accordance with all due process,” Sanders stated.
Trump previously had floated a possible cover story that Khashoggi was murdered by “rogue killers.” On Friday, Trump was asked if he found the latest Saudi statement credible. “I do,” he responded. He called the Saudi arrests a “great first step.”
By following this strategy, Trump has set himself up for yet another clash with his own intelligence agencies. As the Post reported, CIA officials have listened to an audio recording allegedly of Khashoggi’s torture, murder, and dismemberment. “If verified, the recording would make it difficult for the White House to accept the Saudi version that Khashoggi’s death was effectively an accident,” the newspaper said.
The headline of a New York Times story succinctly sets up Trump’s dilemma, nearly two weeks ahead of midterm elections in the U.S. “Trump, Breaking With U.S. Intelligence, Appears to Accept Saudi Explanation of Journalist’s Death,” it said.
This approach already has been condemned by many members of Congress. Rep. Adam Schiff, a senior Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted: “The claim that Khashoggi was killed while brawling with 15 men dispatched from Saudi Arabia is not at all credible. If he was fighting with those sent to capture or kill him, it was for his life.”
He added: “The Kingdom must be held to account. If Administration doesn’t lead, Congress must.”