US lawmakers push for release of intelligence on Khashoggi murder

Defying Congress, the Trump administration refused to publicly release US intel on the killing of Saudi journalist.

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, stands alongside US Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and US Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, during a news conference calling for the Trump administration to release details about his killing, on Capitol Hill [Saul Loeb/AFP]

Washington, DC – Two members of the United States Congress said on Tuesday they will push for the public release of a new US intelligence report on the 2018 murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Tom Malinowski, both Democrats, joined by Khashoggi’s fiance Cengiz Hatice, held a news conference on Tuesday to announce plans to force release the US report.

Partially responding to a law passed by Congress, the Trump administration delivered a classified version of what US intelligence agencies know about the murder of Khashoggi to Congress on February 20.

“The law stipulates that publicly, in an unclassified way, you would identify those who carried out, those who participated in, those who ordered this murder or were otherwise complicit in, or responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi,” Wyden said.

A provision attached to an annual defence bill, requires a public report from the US intelligence agencies identifying who carried out the Khashoggi murder and who ordered or was otherwise complicit in his killing.

“The law left no ambiguity. The law was very specific about what needs to be public,” Wyden said.

Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post newspaper, was assassinated in October 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

According to individuals who have seen the US intelligence, intelligence agencies concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had a hand in directing the hit squad in Khashoggi’s murder – a conclusion Saudi officials rejected.

Khashoggi “was lured out of the United States by the government of Saudi Arabia with the purpose of murdering and silencing him”, said Representative Malinowski.

“This was not just a horrific human rights violation. It was an act of extreme arrogance by the government of Saudi Arabia to think they could get away with murdering somebody who had sought and received shelter in the United States,” Malinowski said.

Wyden said he now is invoking procedures within the Senate Intelligence Committee providing for congressional release of the information. A Senate vote would likely be required.

‘It’s been 518 days’

Hatice Cengiz, the fiance of Khashoggi, joined Wyden and Malinowski at the news conference.

It has been 518 days we have been denied the truth. It has been 518 days we have been denied justice, Cengiz said. 

“I am here today to support Senator Wyden’s calls for public release of the DNI report and any other related intelligence so we know the answer to some of our critical questions,” she added. “There is no reason to keep the DNI report secret. There is no reason to hide the truth.”

Khashoggi Wyden
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, attends a news conference calling for the Trump administration to release details about his killing [Saul Loeb/AFP] 

In a February 20 letter to leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the top US intelligence agency declined to provide an unclassified version of the report citing “protection of sources and methods” as a rationale.

“This is a total and complete cover-up,” Wyden said.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of International Intelligence (ODNI) said the office “will continue to be responsive to questions from Congress, including providing classified briefings, reports and information to meet the needs of its oversight committees”. 

The spokesperson added: “The Intelligence Community has a legal and moral obligation to protect classified information and ensure sources and methods are not jeopardised.”

Members of Congress are continuing to debate and reassess the US relationship with Saudi Arabia amid increased military tensions with Iran and the war in Yemen.

‘Not going away’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Riyadh on February 20, the same day the classified report was sent to Congress.

Pompeo was there for meetings with Saudi leaders including bin Salman and a review of US troop deployments at the Prince Sultan Air Base to help Saudi Arabia defend against the threat of missile attacks from Iran.

Asked by reporters travelling with him about the Khashoggi murder, Pompeo said, “the Saudis share our strategic objectives.”

“They are an important ally and partner, and we continue at the same time to make clear to them our expectations with respect to a broad range of human rights issues,” Pompeo said, without specifically addressing Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia is scheduled to host the annual G-20 economic cooperation summit of developed nations in Riyadh in November.

The Khashoggi murder and the continuing campaign of repression of Saudi dissidents and journalists will be a focus of criticism by outside groups.

“We’re not going away,” Malinowski said.

Wyden and Malinowski were supported in their call for the release of the US report by human rights advocacy groups, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, PEN America and the Project on Middle East Democracy.

Source: Al Jazeera