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Will the US hold Saudi Arabia to account for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi?

February 24, 2021 at 9:50 am

People gather in front of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia on October 2, 2019 in Washington, DC, to remember Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and a Washington Post contributing columnist, killed by a team of assassins at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. – Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos joined activists in Istanbul Wednesday for a memorial service outside the Saudi consulate where journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered a year ago. (Photo by Olivier Douliery / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

The Biden administration in Washington is set to declassify an intelligence report which could be a vital step in the search for accountability over the murder of respected journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If the US president makes progress with evidence from the report, it could mean that the US will be in the position of being able to assign blame for the killing of Khashoggi and take steps to hold Saudi Arabia to account. The question is, will it do so?

Khashoggi was a Washington Post columnist and US resident when he travelled to Turkey in October 2018 to obtain a document from the Saudi Consulate which would allow him to marry his fiancé Hatice Cengiz. He entered the consulate in Istanbul but did not leave. He was killed within minutes, and a lookalike left by a back door wearing his clothes in an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

Exiled from his home in Saudi Arabia for expressing views about the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, Khashoggi sought refuge in the US. Bin Salman has repeatedly denied any involvement in the murder but says that it was “rogue elements” of a Saudi hit squad who killed the journalist.

Despite the trail leading back to the crown prince and him admitting responsibility because the murder took place on his watch there has been no attempt to hold him to account for what took place in Istanbul. Human rights activists and the UN have both urged that a thorough investigation should be held, but will Joe Biden be the one to make that happen?

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When he was still seeking the Democrat nomination for the presidency In November 2019, Biden stated, “Khashoggi was murdered and dismembered… at the orders of the crown prince. We are going to make them pay the price and make them the pariahs that they are.”

During the election campaign itself, Biden was seen as a frontrunner in his commitment to accountability and justice for Khashoggi’s murder. His predecessor Donald Trump had close ties to Bin Salman, but Biden was noted to be someone who would stand his moral ground and ensure that justice is served.

Khashoggi’s fiancée and human rights organisations have urged the US to release details of the CIA intelligence report, a move that she has said would “greatly assist” the efforts to uncover the truth. If the report is published it would enable Biden to hold Bin Salman to account.

It is hoped, therefore, that President Biden will keep the promises that he made during his electioneering so that there can be a final closure for all the loved ones, family and friends of Jamal Khashoggi. More than anything else, such a move will demonstrate that his administration is taking a firm stand for press freedom and human rights.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.