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Justice for Jamal: Congress must lead if the administration won’t

By Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA)

Jamal Khashoggi is a renowned Washington Post contributor, Virginia resident, and my constituent. Like many people who visit a diplomatic consulate, he expected his trip to be a fairly swift and routine piece of business. He was getting documents so he could marry his fiancé. Instead, he has been missing since Oct. 2 and may not have left the consulate in Istanbul alive.

Khashoggi is a thought leader and a voice for democracy who has challenged authoritarian abuses of power. He is not a radical or a threat to the Saudi kingdom.

His disappearance is deeply troubling and we – the United States government - and the Turkish government must demand a robust and transparent investigation into what happened. The idea that he left and “we don’t know what happened,” which is the Saudi story, is full of holes and implausible. The Saudis’ denial is even more suspect given recent revelations that U.S. intelligence sources intercepted Saudi officials discussing a plan ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to trick Khashoggi into returning to his homeland in order to detain him.

In the days since his disappearance, there have been leaked details from Turkish government sources that suggest a much grizzlier account. According to these reports, a hit team of fifteen Saudis flew into Istanbul, went to that consulate, murdered Khashoggi, and then dismembered his body. Such a series of events would amount to a crime of unspeakable depravity by a sovereign state in another sovereign state with a resident of a third sovereign state. A diplomatic consulate is a place of business, not an abattoir.

The United States cannot stand idly by, irrespective of our longstanding relationship with Saudi Arabia, and allow that to happen with impunity. This act, if true, would be a gross violation of international law and bring us back to a law of the jungle. To allow an event like this to happen without consequences would rewrite the rules of international diplomacy and threaten the safety of dissidents and journalists around the world.

When Russian authorities attempted to poison and murder two Russian citizens on British soil earlier this year, Britain and the entire international community, including the United States, reacted with punitive measures against Russia. This included the expulsion of diplomats and additional sanctions.

We have to stand ready to react with similar strength and unity if it is determined this act against Khashoggi was carried out by Saudi Arabia. It is not acceptable behavior and those responsible for it will be held to account, no matter how high up it may go.

Unfortunately, the reaction by the president and the secretary of State has been anemic at best. President Trump said he was unaware of what was going on. Secretary Mike Pompeo actually said they’d ask the Saudis to investigate this. We cannot expect, nor should we accept, an investigation done by the Saudis. Such an investigation would lack any modicum of credibility.

This incident demands a robust, independent investigation with U.S. leadership and full international cooperation, including diplomatic, intelligence community and FBI support. The bipartisan effort in the Senate to force a presidential review of possible human rights violations consistent with the Magnitsky Act is an example of how Congress must lead if the administration won’t.

Something terrible happened to Mr. Khashoggi. We owe it to him, his family, and to our own American values to get answers regarding his disappearance.
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