Johannesburg- What do we tell the next generation about the death of Jamal Kashoggi?
For all the columnists of international affairs that dare to speak truth to power, his brutal killing is beyond belief and a real concern to the fraternity of truth tellers. But it is the message it sends our children that is probably of greatest concern.
Despite the fact that Saudi state TV has claimed Khashoggi died after a fist fight in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, youngsters have easily been able to access the claims on the internet of Turkish authorities that they have evidence Khashoggi suffered a far more gruesome death.
Trying to shield our children from that reality is almost an impossibility. This medieval form of sadism is what some of our youth may start to see as the new normal. What kind of world is it that we are leaving to them?
This week's horrifying revelations have made it very difficult for journalists to convince the young and impressionable that it is safe to write about human rights abuses being committed around the world, the victims of which depend on us to speak for them.
The New York Times and the Middle East Eye reported this week that senior Turkish officials have described Khashoggi's killing according to details Turkish intelligence received from an audio recording. Turkish authorities have declined to disclose how the material was obtained, although according the the NYT it may have come from intercepted communications or audio surveillance that the Turkish government is unwilling to acknowledge for fear of compromising intelligence sources or revealing violations of international law.
The Middle East Eye has reported that according to a senior Turkish official who has heard the full recording of what transpired, top Saudi Dr of Forensics Salah al Tubaigy began to cut Khashoggi’s body up on a table while he was still alive. The killing took seven minutes, and as Tubaigy started to dismember the body, he put on earphones and listened to music. He advised other members of the squad to do the same.
“When I do this job, I listen to music. You should do [that] too,” Tubaigy was recorded as saying, the source told MEE.
In the wake of these tragic revelations and the Saudi version of events, PEN America Senior Director of Free Expression Programs, Summer Lopez, has released the following statement: “The admission by Saudi authorities that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in their custody plainly exposes all their previous claims about his fate as flagrant lies. It is absurd to entrust the investigation of Khashoggi’s murder to those most likely to have ordered it; Turkey should call on the UN Secretary General to authorize an independent, international investigation to expose the truth and lay the groundwork for holding those behind this grievous crime fully responsible. The Saudi regime must not be allowed to hide behind lies in order to literally get away with murder.”
Our world has fallen into a dark new abyss. Not even in the darkest days of apartheid did we ever hear of the regime’s hit squads having tortured and dismembered the body of a leading journalist who dared to take issue with government policies.
Even the most conservative US Republican Senators like Lindsay Graham, who have habitually defended Saudi Arabia on the floor of the US Senate, are calling for a fundamental break in US-Saudi relations, and a halt in US support for the war in Yemen. Republican Senator Rand Paul is calling for a vote on blocking future arms sales to Saudi Arabia and rethinking the US-Saudi relationship, and Republican Chair of the US Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker is asking President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on those responsible. Never has the outrage over a crime been so vociferous.
Khashoggi had not been considered a dissident as such, but for many years was close to the ruling family and previously advisor to the former intelligence chief. Khashoggi had left Saudi Arabia to relocate to the US in June 2017 after Saudi authorities had banned him from Twitter.
Since becoming a columnist for the Washington Post last September, Khashoggi had become vocal in his criticism of official Saudi policy on the war on Yemen, the blockade against Qatar, the dispute first with Lebanon and then more recently Canada, and the crackdown on dissent and the media.
In Khashoggi's last column for the Washington Post written before he was killed but only sent by his translator a day after his disappearance he said, "Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate...these actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence."
Khashoggi never sought the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy, but merely the reform of its policies. For that he paid with his life, but it was no ordinary murder, it was undeniably the most gruesome killing many of us have ever heard of.
The rule of law is what distinguishes dictatorships from modern states, and it is time for real pressure to be placed on governments to stop their vile violations of basic human rights. Decapitation and dismemberment simply can no longer belong to the history of the 21st century, and our leaders need to collectively make that crystal clear. Above all else, we owe it to our children.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's foreign editor.