As most of you know by now, a bomb went off between US and Saudi relations in the last week over the death of Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi.
Mr. Khashoggi was a voice for change in Saudi Arabia, having founded a progressive newspaper to push against the conservative religious orthodoxy. As a reporter for the Washington Post, he was a frequent and fierce critic of the House of Saud and the Kingdom’s abysmal record of human rights abuses.
Khashoggi is alleged to have been lured into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, where he was brutally tortured, murdered, and dismembered with a bone saw by a squad of at least fifteen Saudi nationals traveling on diplomatic passports, including Salah Muhammed al-Tubaigy, the Kingdom’s preeminent forensic autopsy expert. I’ll save you the more sensational details of the murder, but let’s just say it was some Saw franchise level stuff.
The House of Saud has issued any number of conflicting accounts of what actually happened to Khashoggi, from blankets denials, to asserting that his death was the result of an interrogation gone wrong. Although personally, I can’t imaging bringing a bone saw and autopsy expert to an “interrogation” I expected the subject to survive.
International pressure is mounting on Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman al Saud to provide an explanation for the disappearance and probable assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, from everyone except notably the regime currently controlling the United States.
In numerous public statements, *President Trump has defended his friends (read financial backers) in Riyadh with ever more paper-thin excuses and conspiracy theories, from repeating Prince MBS’s “strong denials,” to proposing “rogue killers” who just happened to have more than a dozen diplomatic passports and unrestricted access to a Saudi foreign consulate where the rest of the staff was told to go home early on the day of Khashoggi’s disappearance.
To say this strains credibility is to torture language itself. Especially since it’s been reported from multiple outlets that the NSA had intelligence saying Khashoggi was in danger from Saudi authorities prior to his disappearance. Intel trump would be aware of if he ever read his morning briefings. So why is Trump toeing the Saudi line?
Well, there’s a number of factors at play here. Trump has said that it’s not our concern because Khashoggi was not a US citizen. This is technically true, Khashoggi was Saudi Arabian, and despite his sparring with the royal family and agitation for basic human rights, he never renounced his citizenship and was viewed as a patriot by most everyone who knew him.
However, he was also a legal permanent resident of the United States. He worked for the Washington Post, one of America’s most prestigious newspapers. And his children are American citizens. To pretend that America has no stake in this man, or visa versa, is obscene.
But then, so is Trump. He has made a public spectacle of his loathing for reporters critical of his administration, and the Washington Post in particular, going so far as to repeatedly call for the United States Postal Service to increase shipping rates for Amazon.com, which just happens to have been founded by WaPo owner Jeff Bezos. Trump is openly fawning of brutal dictators with a history of murdering uppity journalists, such as Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin, and of others who have openly attacked freedom of the press in their countries, such as Philippine President Duterte.
It’s not hard to imagine, given his intense bromances with authoritarian strongmen, that Trump himself covets the power to silence his media critics, even if it means their murder. Remember, he could shoot someone on 5th Ave and not lose any voters. He frequently refers to the press as the “Enemy of the People” both online and at his propaganda, sorry, campaign rallies, and his base eats it up. He has been trying to normalize the idea of violence against the press almost since the moment he launched his 2016 election bid. Covering for Saudi Arabia’s violence against their own press is a natural expansion of that effort.
It doesn’t end there, though. Let’s circle back for a moment to Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Last year, he took bold action to consolidate his position by arresting more than five-hundred prominent Saudi royals, businessmen, and clerics in what was touted as an “anti-corruption” campaign, but which both domestic and international observers called a political purge. But the most interesting thing about the move from an American standpoint is where he got the names to move against from.
Enter Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka Trump, son in law to Donald Trump, and Macy’s menswear department mannequin animated by a cursed amulet. See, ol’ Jughead, excuse me, Jared, cropped up in this story after Prince Mohammad Bin Salman bragged about Kushner providing him with a classified list of “disloyal” Saudis gleaned from CIA and NSA intel. The prince then used this information to go after his own domestic rivals, not all of whom survived. At least one person on the list died in a mysterious helicopter crash.
Remember, at the time, Kushner was operating on a temporary security clearance due in no small part to the fact he lied hundreds of times on his SF-86 disclosure forms. That amounts to hundreds of felonies, for the curious.
But wait, there’s more! Trump himself has taken to Twitter to proclaim that he has no financial ties to the Saudis, just as he did in response to accusations of his conspiracy with Russia to steal his office. And just like then, this claim is transparently, hilariously false. In reality, Trump’s finances are positively swimming in Saudi money. Don’t take my word for it, Trump has bragged before about how much money the Saudis have dumped into his properties, which, by the way, are almost certainly being used as money laundering fronts for international organized crime. Or you could look to the flurry of companies Trump registered in Saudi Arabia ahead of his installation, sorry, there I go again, inauguration.
So in review, not only is Trump ideologically aligned with journalist-slaughtering autocrats, he’s also deeply in bed with them financially, giving not only him reason to support their goals, but giving them leverage over his behavior, which is kinda why the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution is a thing in the first place. Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm to avoid any appearance of impropriety, for God’s sake.
Oh, incidentally, freak helicopter crashes aren’t the only dangers of living in Saudi Arabia if you find yourself inconvenient for the Crown Prince, as one of the fifteen Saudis IDed by the Turkish government as being part of the hit squad to murder Khashoggi wound up dead in a car accident. Rotten luck, there.
“But Patrick!” you cry, “You write sci-fi. Why do you care? And why should we care that you care?” Excellent question. While most of you reading this know me as a novelist, fewer of you know me as a political pundit. I’ve had screeds like the above published by platforms such as The Hill, and even the New York Times. I’m not a journalist and have never claimed to be, but I’ve played in their sandboxes. Until recently, I was a strident and public voice against the Trump regime on Twitter, which only came to an end for reasons you can explore in detail here. And above all that, I’m a patriot. I’ve read the Constitution, the original, in person, in the National Archives in DC. There’s a reason unequivocal protections for the press were enshrined in the First Amendment, no matter how much I love the Second.
Which is why I feel compelled, in my own small way on this backwater blog followed by dozens of people, to sound the alarm. An attack on one US-based journalist is an attack on all of them, no matter where it happened or who was responsible. We cannot pretend to respect freedom of the press at home if we don’t also fight for it abroad, especially amongst nations we present as our allies. And any *President who doesn’t believe that, and won’t stand against assaults on the 1st at home or abroad, no matter the reason, deserves to be ripped from office as quickly as possible.
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