U.S. finds Saudi Prince culpable of Khashoggi killing – slap on the wrist ensues

Japhy Barrera, is a member of the YCL’s Birmingham branch

Last week, long-withheld documents were declassified by U.S. intelligence revealing their acknowledgement of the direct involvement of the Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the killing of dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. The journalist fled Saudi Arabia, his own country, amidst a crackdown of dissent in the kingdom. Khashoggi wrote consistently for The Washington Post where he continued to criticise the Saudi government from abroad. His former ties directly to the Saudi elite, as well as his large social media following, deemed him a sizeable threat by the House of Saud.

When Khashoggi entered the Saudi embassy in Turkey to obtain marriage documents, he was brutally assassinated; his body was never found, plausibly disposed of within the embassy. The killing was met with worldwide outrage, many calling for sanctions among other consequences to be imposed on Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Prince admitted that the killing took place but maintained firmly that he had no personal involvement.

Due to the monopoly on political power held by the Saudi monarchy, with the Prince acting as its de-facto leader, it is unquestionable that he had ordered, or had concrete knowledge of Khashoggi’s killing as it happened. This is also acknowledged in the U.S. intelligence documents.

Despite this, the Trump administration did not hold back from putting on full display the true attitude of the state department towards the Saudi government, one of utmost support. The former president said that he refused to put the revenue garnered from the likes of arms sales and oil trade at risk and subsequently fell in line with the Saudi narrative on Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia, which is home to the 2nd largest oil reserves in the world, has been a longtime ally and trade partner of the United States. Not only does the kingdom allow access of their vast natural resources to the west, but also consistently and unscrupulously acts on U.S. interests in the greater Middle East.

The admittance of Saudi monarchial involvement has been part of a wider effort by President Joe Biden to appear tough on Saudi Arabia in juxtaposition to his predecessor. With the plethora of human rights abuses committed by the Saudi state, unapologetic compliance is a bad look for a U.S. state department that presents a do-gooder image.

The Saudi state rules with an iron fist, it is a theocratic absolute monarchy with complete control over the kingdom of almost 35 million people. They allow no criticism of the government in any way, shape, or form. Beyond that, the kingdom utilizes its oil money and western support to project its power abroad. The most alarming example of which is their involvement in Yemen.

Saudi intervention in Yemen is widely considered responsible for creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians are dead from direct attacks while millions more have died from starvation brought on by the turmoil. The United Nations estimate that a staggering 16 million will be at risk of starvation this year alone.

The U.S. and U.K. have been not just compliant but rather actively supportive of the conflict which many are now deeming a genocide. In 2017, Trump signed a 10-year, $350 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, one of the largest in history. Downing Street are also in a series of multi-billion pound contracts supplying the kingdom and subsequent intervention.

Amidst the rising awareness surrounding the issue, President Biden is supposedly ‘considering’ halting some of these arms sales (Downing Street have not announced any plans to do the same), but the overall Saudi-U.S. relationship will remain fundamentally unaffected during his administration. As far as a tangible response to the Khashoggi murder, there is little to be seen. Other than sanctioning low-level individuals that may have been involved, the kingdom and its commanding prince is coming out of the situation relatively unscathed. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki had very little to say in the official briefing acknowledging the situation. The little that she did say seemed to vaguely describe a reshuffling of the relationship without fundamentally changing anything. Psaki’s emphasis seemed to be on heavier control from Washington on what the Saudi monarchy could or could not get away with, but this has been clearly been the case hitherto.

If there is a vital takeaway from this situation it is that United States foreign policy has no ethical basis. Humanitarian issues are put at the forefront of the discussion when they are taking place in Iran or Venezuela, but when it is a massively profitable ally, ethics are taken out of the picture. The truth is that U.S. proclamations about human rights are not concerned with morality at all, but rather only with the further expansion of its capital and influence. U.S. imperialism can only be understood through this lens as it is the only one that reveals the nefarious, profit-driven consistency behind the otherwise utter pandemonium.

Japhy Barrera

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