Some members of the Saudi hit team that killed Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul received training in the United States, according to a new Washington Post column.
Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), entered the building on October 2, 2018, to obtain documents necessary for his forthcoming marriage. He was killed inside the consulate by a team of Saudi operatives in what has been described as a “premeditated murder”.
His body is yet to be found.
According to the reporting by Washington Post’s David Ignatius, which included interviews with more than a dozen US and Saudi sources who requested anonymity, some of the special-operations training that members of the hit team received in the US might have been conducted by Tier 1 Group, an Arkansas-based company.
The training, part of a wider intelligence and defence partnership between the US and Saudi Arabia, was conducted under a State Department licence, said the Post, for which Khashoggi was a columnist. It has not resumed since.
A US project to help modernise and provide training to the Saudi intelligence service is also on hold, pending State Department approval of a license, according to the newspaper.
The intelligence project, developed by Culpeper National Security Solutions with help from some prominent former CIA officials, involved Ahmed al-Assiri, the Saudi deputy chief of intelligence who is under investigation by Saudi Arabia for his alleged involvement in the Khashoggi murder.
According to the Washington Post, Tier 1 Group and DynCorp are owned by affiliates of Cerberus Capital Management, a privately-owned investment group in New York. The company did not confirm or deny whether any of the 17 Saudi nationals sanctioned by the US in connection with the Khashoggi killing had been trained under the Tier 1 contract.
The article said that with several of these partnerships now suspended, the future of the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia is “on hold”, pending answers from the Riyadh
“The bottom line is that unless the crown prince takes ownership of this issue and accepts blame for murderous deeds done in his name, his relationship with the United States will remain broken,” Ignatius wrote.
Calls for open trial
Saudi authorities have charged 11 unnamed suspects over Khashoggi’s murder, including five who could face the death penalty on charges of “ordering and committing the crime”.
The CIA has reportedly concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, which officials in Riyadh deny.
But United Nations human rights expert Agnes Callamard said earlier this week that Saudi Arabia‘s secretive hearings for the 11 suspects fall short of international standards and should be open to the public and trial observers.
Callamard, who leads an international inquiry into the killing, called on the kingdom to reveal the defendants’ names and the fate of 10 others initially arrested.
Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch, said the Saudi criminal justice system has “an abysmal record”, marked by defendants being held for long periods without charge or trial and often denied lawyers.
Charbonneau added that Saudi authorities should open the Khashoggi murder trial to UN observers, international activists and media, and countries whose diplomats observe that the trial should speak out publicly.
“We can’t enable the Saudi government to turn it into a kangaroo court that conveniently finds a bunch of people guilty while whitewashing the possible responsibility of top Saudi officials,” he said.