US senators: we’re certain Saudi crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder

Senators emerge from briefing by CIA director Gina Haspel Corker: jury would convict Prince Mohammed in 30 minutes

Photo : The Washington Post

 

Senators have emerged from a classified briefing by the CIA director, Gina Haspel, saying they are certain that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

“If the crown prince went in front of a jury he would be convicted in 30 minutes,” Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Senate foreign relations committee told journalists immediately after the Haspel meeting.

A handful of leading senators from both parties attended the secure briefing from Haspel, who flew to Turkey to hear tapes of the 2 October killing from Turkish intelligence intercepts.

The senators were not allowed to disclose details of what they were told, but their reaction reinforced reports that the CIA had accumulated substantial evidence that the crown prince (widely known by his initials MBS) was behind the murder.

The Trump administration has said that there is no “direct evidence” of the prince’s culpability, with the defence secretary, James Mattis, insisting there was no “smoking gun”, but Corker said you would have to be “willfully blind” not to see the evidence.

“There is no way anyone with a straight face could say they didn’t know what happened,” he said.

After Tuesday’s Haspel briefing, the Republican senator Lindsey Graham said: “There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw.”

Turkish authorities say it took seven and a half minutes for Khashoggi to be killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had been lured thinking he was going to pick up documents he needed to marry his fiancee.

Turkish investigators have said he was suffocated before his body was dismembered with a bone saw, which a 15-strong hit team had brought into the country.

“I went into the briefing believing it was virtually impossible for an operation like this to be carried out without the crown prince’s knowledge. I left the briefing with high confidence that my initial assessment of the situation is correct,” Graham said.

“MBS, the crown prince, is a wrecking ball, I think he is complicit in the murder of Mr Khashoggi to the highest level possible,” Graham added.

The Senate is due to vote in the coming days on a measure that would cut off US military support for Saudi military operations in Yemen. Although most senators came out of the Haspel briefing declaring themselves convinced of the prince’s guilt, there are still differences over whether the US response should involve the Yemen conflict.

The Khashoggi murder, however, has opened up a wide rift between the administration and congressional Republicans on Saudi policy which threatens to widen further.

Graham made clear on Tuesday that as long as Prince Mohammed remained at the head of government, he would oppose continuing weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the main justification Trump has given for withholding judgment on the crown prince.

“Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally and the relationship is worth saving, but not at all costs,” the senator, usually a fervent Trump ally, said.

“If the Saudi government is going to be in the hands of this man for a long time to come, I find it very difficult to do business because I think he is crazy, I think he is dangerous, and he has put the relationship at risk.”

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