Turkey apparently believes the Saudis might have dumped whatever was left of Jamal Khashoggi down a well in Consul-general Mohammad al-Otaibi’s yard.
As usual, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry (or both) at this point, because while this is obviously a tragedy of epic proportions, the cartoonish nature of the Saudi operation is reminiscent of something you’d expect to see in an Austin Powers sequel.
Earlier this week, CNN Turk released footage of what appeared to be Mustafa al-Madani wearing a fake beard and glasses and dressed in Khashoggi’s still warm clothes, wandering out the back door of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The ruse was doomed by the fact that al-Madani looks more like Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski than he does Khashoggi, but also by the fact that al-Madani was wearing different shoes. Again, this is so farcical that it’s hard not to laugh even under the decidedly macabre circumstances.
The footage of al-Madani was just the latest in a string of damning evidence leaked to the press by Turkish intelligence and on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear that he has no intention of letting this go. Instead, he’s going to try and leverage whatever evidence he has to extract concessions out of Riyadh. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s half-hearted effort to shout out Erdogan on Wednesday notwithstanding, Ankara is angling for a royal shakeup.
Thanks to the haphazard fashion in which the operation to kill Khashoggi was conducted, the Saudis have been forced to change their story on a number of occasions as new evidence continues to surface. Initially, Riyadh claimed Khashoggi exited the consulate unharmed shortly after entering. That eventually morphed into a story about a “fist fight” gone wrong.
Now, Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb says investigators have concluded that Khashoggi’s murder was in fact premeditated. The suspects, al-Mojeb says, “carried out their ‘deed’ with premeditation.” He added the following:
The Saudi prosecution pursues its investigations with the suspects in light of the information it received, and in light of its investigation in order to determine the facts, Allah willing, and ensure the pursuit of justice.
This is yet another example of Riyadh changing their story to fit the evidence as that evidence becomes more and more incontrovertible.
Speaking of incontrovertible evidence, according to the Washington Post, CIA director Gina Haspel has heard the audio recording of Khashoggi’s torture and dismemberment. To wit:
A person familiar with the audio said it was “compelling” and could put more pressure on the United States to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the death of Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.
“This puts the ball firmly in Washington’s court,” said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and scholar at the Brookings Institution. “Not only will there be more pressure now from the media but Congress will say, ‘Gina, we would love to have you come visit and you can tell us exactly what you heard.’ ”
Right. And don’t forget that Congress is pushing Trump hard to crack down on bin Salman, even as the President pushes back citing “investment”.
Meanwhile, as alluded to here at the outset, Turkey has zeroed in on a well in Mohammad al-Otaibi’s garden.
That’s according to Yeni Safak, so you can take it with a grain of salt, but the pro-government paper says that while Turkish security forces were forbidden from searching the garden, “water samples were taken from the well.”
That story was at least partially confirmed by CNNTurk and Hurriyet, who both reported that Turkish police took a water sample from the well.
The upshot to all of this is that Turkey knows what happened and so does the CIA, and it looks like it’s just a matter of time before Erdogan finds the body.
The only question now is whether Erdogan has enough leverage to succeed in undermining the Crown Prince, an effort which will largely depend on Donald Trump’s willingness to answer calls from the international community to hold bin Salman accountable.
As far as the well story is concerned, unfortunately, it looks like the following attempt at dark humor (published here on October 11) might have been some semblance of accurate.
It is a near certainty that Khashoggi is not only dead, but extra dead, where that means his body parts have probably been dissolved in acid or else buried in Consul-general Mohammad al-Otaibi’s yard. What’s equally certain is that the U.S. government knew what was likely to happen to poor Jamal ahead of time.