Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Saudi's shifting sands

The NY Times reports that Saudi Arabia Says Jamal Khashoggi Was Killed in Consulate Fight. The Saudis and Trump want us to believe that the mild-mannered journalist provoked a fist fight with 15 Saudi security thugs who, it is claimed, were sent to Turkey to bring Mr. Khashoggi home to Saudi Arabia. And, it was such an accident that Khashoggi was strangled to death. And then the body was hacked up and disposed of at a location unknown to the Saudis. And all this was such an unfortunate mistaken interpretation of what “MBS” ordered - or did not order. In other news, the Saudis are building a bridge that they want to sell us. And Trump seems willing to buy that too. Onward.

For the first time on Saturday, a Saudi official familiar with the government’s handling of the situation put forward the kingdom’s narrative of the events that led to Mr. Khashoggi’s death.

That would be the current narrative.

The story as of Saturday morning

The kingdom had a general order to return dissidents living abroad, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing. When the consulate in Istanbul reported that Mr. Khashoggi would be coming on Oct. 2 to pick up a document needed for his coming marriage, General Assiri dispatched a 15-man team to confront him.

The team included Maher Abdulaziz Mutrib, a security officer identified by The New York Times this week as a frequent member of the crown prince’s security detail during foreign trips, the official said. Mr. Mutrib had been chosen because he had worked with Mr. Khashoggi a decade ago in the Saudi Embassy in London and knew him personally.

But the order to return Mr. Khashoggi to the kingdom was misinterpreted as it made its way down the chain of command, the Saudi official said, and a confrontation ensued when Mr. Khashoggi saw the men. He tried to flee, the men stopped him, punches were thrown, Mr. Khashoggi screamed and one of the men put him in a chokehold, strangling him to death, the official said.

"The interaction in the room didn’t last very long at all,” the official said.

The team then gave the body to a local collaborator to dispose of, meaning that the Saudis do not know where it ended up, the official said.

All 15 members of the team had been identified by name by the Turks, and Turkish newspapers had published their photographs. The New York Times established that most of them were employed by the Saudi military or security services and that at least four had traveled with the crown prince as part of his security detail.

The Turks had said the body had been disassembled with a bone saw by an autopsy specialist flown in specifically for that purpose and probably carried out of the consulate in large suitcases.

People with knowledge of the Saudi plans had told The Times on Thursday that the kingdom was planning to blame the operation on General Assiri, the deputy intelligence director. The people said the kingdom would portray the operation as carried out by rogue actors who did not have orders from the top and who had set out to interrogate and kidnap Mr. Khashoggi but ended up killing him, perhaps accidentally.

Reactions to current Saudi account are skeptical

The Saudi statement … offered no explanation for why Mr. Khashoggi would enter into an altercation with multiple foes in territory he knew to be dangerous. Mr. Khashoggi was regarded as low key and even-tempered by those who knew him. He felt nervous enough about his safety entering the consulate that he told his fiancĂ©e to wait outside with instructions to call the Turkish authorities if he did not come out.

Whether the United States or Turkey is willing to dispute or contradict the Saudi explanation is far from clear … [since] President Trump on Friday night said that Saudi Arabia’s statements were credible and that, along with its announcement of arrests, amounted to “good first steps.”

But Representative Adam Schiff of California was not buying the Saudi explanation. Mr. Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview Friday night that “if Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him.”

Mr. Schiff, who said he had received a detailed, classified briefing earlier in the day on what American spy services believe were the circumstances, said that the Saudi version “was not credible.” He said he could not disclose what the intelligence agency briefers told him.

Since Mr. Khashoggi disappeared after entering the consulate on Oct. 2, Saudi Arabia has offered various, changing explanations for his disappearance, all of which seemed to distance top leadership from responsibility.

Scriber, tongue in cheek, thinks that the Saudi account might be victim to an error in translation from Arabic to English. Might the English “chokehold” really be a mistranslation of the Arabic word for “beheading”? And might “punches were thrown” be a mistranslation of the Arabic phrase for “beaten to death”?

All this will settle down when the final version comes out that is a “mutually acceptable explanation.” Then we will have another cloud lingering over Trump’s reign, this time a suspicion of covering up a murder.

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