Statement Of Senator Patrick leahy On Jamal Khashoggi

Credible, detailed reports from the Turkish government and the international press that Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was tortured and murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2nd have shocked the world.  While we do not yet have definitive proof, neither is there any other plausible explanation.  

Saudi authorities first insisted that Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, without offering any evidence of that.  No video footage, nothing.  After no one believed it, they concocted a completely different story.  King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman denied any knowledge of what happened – self-serving denials that President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo seemed eager to accept at face value – and the Saudi government suggested it was an interrogation gone wrong by rogue agents.  That story is becoming increasingly implausible by the hour.

The world should take note that it is the free press, not the Saudi government or the White House, that has doggedly searched for the truth about what happened to Mr. Khashoggi.  It reminds us, once again, that a free press is an essential check against tyranny, dishonesty, and impunity.  

If the reports are true, that Mr. Khashoggi was tortured and murdered with the knowledge of the Saudi royal family, it is an outrageous crime for which those responsible in the Saudi government – at the highest level – must be held accountable. The Saudi government – that is, the Saudi royal family – has long acted with near total impunity for corruption and repression, to which the United States has too often turned a blind eye.  In fact, the extrajudicial killing of a critic of the regime would not be an aberration in Saudi Arabia. 

Our government’s willingness to ignore – and to even tacitly encourage – the abusive and reckless policies of the Saudi government – most recently its war crimes in Yemen – is again being tested.  That history of excuses is exacerbated by the fact that the first foreign country President Trump visited was Saudi Arabia, with whom he and his family have conducted business deals totaling many tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.  That speaks volumes. 

In March, the Saudi Crown Prince, despite his dubious label as a “reformer,” was received here by President Trump and others, including American corporate executives, like a global celebrity.  Why?  Because of the vast petro-chemical wealth that he and his family control.  There is no other reason.  That is why the arrogance and crimes of the Saudi government, including since Mohammed Bin Salman’s ascension to Crown Prince, have been tolerated. 

The case of Mr. Khashoggi illustrates once again not only the ruthlessness of the Saudi government.  It highlights the threats posed to journalists around the world.  Journalists are regularly targeted with harassment, threats, and assassination because they expose the corruption and other crimes of despotic governments.   It also illustrates the corrosive threats to longstanding international norms and laws that are essential to diplomacy and global stability. Democracies cannot survive without a free press, which is why autocratic governments resort to arbitrary arrest, torture, and murder to silence the press.  Yet President Trump has demonized the press, calling it “the enemy.”  He has belittled reporters who are guilty of nothing more than doing their jobs, calling any criticism of him “fake news.”  His attacks on the press are a threat to our democracy, and they have provided an excuse to the world’s dictators – like the Saudi royal family – to crack down on the press. 

Being a journalist is now one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and it is the responsibility of all of us to defend freedom of the press.

I have long called for an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and for an end to U.S. military assistance for Saudi Arabia.  I opposed the recent decision by the Trump Administration to sell billions of dollars in U.S. military equipment to Saudi Arabia, for use in its war in Yemen.  If Mr. Khashoggi was tortured and murdered by, or with the knowledge of, the Saudi government, it will be long past time to treat the Saudi royal family as the criminal enterprise that it is.  

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693