Biden administration ‘to declassify report’ into Khashoggi murder

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The Biden administration will declassify an intelligence report into the murder by the Saudi government of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to Avril Haines, who has been nominated to serve as director of national intelligence.

The decision means that the US is likely to officially assign blame for Khashoggi’s brutal murder to the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist and US resident who wrote critical columns about the Saudi crown prince, was murdered by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October 2018.

While media reports have said that the US intelligence community determined with a medium to high degree of confidence that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, that assessment has never officially been stated. The crown prince has denied he ordered the murder.

Since then, Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz and other human rights activists have called on Biden to release the classified report into the murder, saying that doing so was the first step towards seeking accountability.

During Haines’s confirmation hearing on Tuesday, the Oregon senator Ron Wyden said that, if confirmed as the new DNI, she would have the opportunity to “immediately” turn the page on the “excessive secrecy” and “lawlessness” of the Trump administration, and submit an unclassified report on “who was responsible” for Khashoggi’s murder, as required under a February 2020 law that the Trump administration in effect blocked.

Asked whether she would release the report, Haines replied: “Yes, senator, absolutely. We will follow the law.”

In a statement, Wyden praised the move, saying it was “refreshing to hear a straightforward commitment to follow the law” from Haines.

Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst and director at the Brookings Institution, said: “It is a useful way to put the question of accountability for Khashoggi’s murder in the public domain early in the new administration.”

One of the most outspoken advocates for justice for the murder, Agnès Callamard, also praised the move, saying the information would provide the “one essential missing piece of the puzzle of the execution of Jamal Khashoggi”.

Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, said she hoped other information would also come to light, such as any new details about the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s remains, and whether a risk assessment had ever been done by the US about whether Khashoggi was in danger before his trip to Turkey.

Callamard, who will be named the new head of Amnesty International later this year, also pointed to other threats that have reportedly been lodged against human rights defenders and former Saudi officials in Canada and Norway by Prince Mohammed’s agents, who have been called a “death squad” in media reports.

“At some point, if the US intelligence has information about those operatives, then I think they should really make that information publicly available,” Callamard said.

The release of the Khashoggi report will also raise a host of new questions for both the US and Saudi Arabia.

“If the document fingers MBS as responsible for the murder it will raise the question what is Biden going to do to hold him accountable?” said Riedel.

During the 2020 election campaign, Biden issued scathing attacks against the crown prince, saying Saudi Arabia needed to be treated as “a pariah”. It is expected that the Biden administration would seek to curb weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, but it could also take more targeted actions against Prince Mohammed, including financial sanctions.

Source: The Guardian

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