The incoming US administration under Joe Biden will declassify an intelligence report about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul more than two years ago. This news was revealed by Avril Haines, who is expected to serve as the Director of National Intelligence in Biden's team.
Khashoggi was in self-exile and working as a columnist for the Washington Post when he was brutally murdered by a Saudi hit squad on 2 October 2018. Following months of investigations, it was reported that the operation was overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his intelligence chiefs, according to audio recordings obtained by Turkish intelligence.
Saudi Arabia has always denied official involvement in the killing and claimed that the agents from the hit squad went rogue and acted independently. Eight of them were sent to prison in the Kingdom last year in what the UN and human rights organisations labelled a sham trial that let the senior people responsible get away, literally, with murder. Outgoing US President Donald Trump boasted of having "saved" Bin Salman from being held accountable for the killing.
Since then, there have been calls to release the classified intelligence findings and Biden has been urged to do so. The Trump administration blocked its declassification despite being legally required to release the document.
When US senator Ron Wyden asked Haines about this during her confirmation hearing yesterday, however, she confirmed: "Yes, senator, absolutely. We will follow the law." Wyden commented afterwards that it is "refreshing to hear a straightforward commitment to follow the law."
According to the Guardian, former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel said that Haines' openness about publishing the report "is a useful way to put the question of accountability for Khashoggi's murder in the public domain early in the new administration."
Riedel predicted, though, that its release could open a new set of problems in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia. "If the document fingers [Bin Salman] as responsible for the murder it will raise the question, what is Biden going to do to hold him accountable?"
It has been predicted by many that Biden will be less accommodating towards Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince than Trump has been during his presidency. The new president may seek to curb US arms sales to Riyadh after saying in last year's election campaign that the international community must treat the Kingdom as a "pariah" state.