That law requires you to determine whether a foreign person is responsible for gross violations of human rights, including extrajudicial killings, and to report to Congress on the imposition of sanctions for such a violation.
Your Administration is currently not in compliance with that statutory requirement, and we urge you to fix the situation immediately.
That is from a letter Senator Bob Menendez sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week and what’s so delightful about it is this: Congress is going to force the Trump administration to either hold Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed accountable for the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi or else make the State Department essentially admit (in an error of omission type of way) to being complicit in a coverup.
The letter excerpted above was sent to Pompeo this week and it’s a followup to the administration’s refusal to comply with a Magnitsky Act request. The deadline for compliance was February 8. Trump openly flouted that deadline, which is illegal.
One of the positive side effects (for the White House, anyway) of Trump’s “national emergency” farce is that it distracts America from the myriad other embarrassing headlines that continue to cross the wires on a near hourly basis.
The day before the Magnitsky deadline, we fatalistically lamented that Trump was sure to ignore it. Specifically, we said this:
It’s obvious that the White House isn’t going to do anything to infuriate the Saudis. Trump publicly rebuked the assessment of the CIA (which determined that Prince Mohammed likely gave the order) and has variously cited lucrative weapons deals as an excuse. The US did of course sanction 17 Saudis in the killing, but that was clearly coordinated with the Kingdom’s own farcical investigation.
Plus, there’s precedent for Trump ignoring these requests. The White House let a similar deadline expire with regard to sanctions on Russia in connection with the Skripal poisoning, but was ultimately forced to relent.
Congress tried to ratchet up the pressure on February 7, when a bipartisan group of Senators (led by the above-mentioned Menendez) introduced legislation to punish the Saudis for Khashoggi’s grisly murder. The legislation (wholeheartedly supported by Trump sycophant Lindsey Graham, by the way) would limit arms sales to the Saudis in retaliation both for the Khashoggi murder and Riyadh’s role in turning Yemen into a nightmare. On the same day, the New York Times revealed that the US is in possession of voice and text communications that find Prince Mohammed describing how he’d like to “use a bullet” on Khashoggi.
But this is just par for the course. Congress has been pushing to limit US involvement in Yemen as punishment for Khashoggi for months and the amount of public evidence implicating the Crown Prince in the murder is overwhelming. And that’s to say nothing of the evidence which isn’t public, but which Trump (and Pompeo) have no doubt seen.
Unfortunately for Trump, this isn’t something Congress is going to let slide. Just read the following additional excerpts from the Menendez letter to Pompeo:
Since the October letter, a number of stunning details have emerged regarding Mr. Khashoggi’s death. Moreover, according to public reports, U.S. intelligence officials have assessed with high confidence that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing. The U.N. special rapporteur investigating the killing has found that his death was not only premediated but “planned and perpetrated” by Saudi officials. The Senate passed a resolution unanimously naming Mohammed Bin Salman as responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
The United States must continue to reaffirm our guiding principles of transparency, accountability, and human rights. Our moral leadership on the global stage is critical. We cannot let egregious acts to go unanswered.
The administration’s response thus far to a brutal killing of a U.S. lawful permanent resident and a journalist makes a mockery of the United States’ commitment to human rights and its efforts to demand accountability for extrajudicial killings around the world.
That is a sitting Senator explicitly accusing the Secretary of State of “making a mockery” of America’s commitment to human rights by participating in the coverup of a murder that involved the dismemberment of a lawful US resident with a bone saw.
We do realize this story has been in the news for so long that most readers are probably desensitized to it, but do take a moment to appreciate the gravity of what Pompeo stands accused of there.
Meanwhile, Congress continues to move ahead with efforts to force the White House to distance itself from the Saudis. On Wednesday, the House voted 248-177 to end US military assistance for the conflict in Yemen and the most remarkable part of the vote was that more than a dozen members of the Freedom Caucus voted with Democrats. That, folks, is a stunning rebuke of the President. The Senate passed a similar measure late last year, but it never made it to a vote in the House.
“The House resolution is a rare use of the 1973 War Powers Act, which gave Congress the ability to compel the removal of military forces absent a formal declaration of war”, the New York Times wrote this week, adding that “those powers, created in the wake of the Vietnam War, have almost never been used, as lawmakers have demurred from intervening in politically sensitive matters of war, peace and support for the troops.”
Now, the Senate will likely take up the issue again and the administration’s refusal to hold Prince Mohammed accountable for Khashoggi’s death means at least some Senate Republicans are likely to support the resolution.
That, in turn, means Trump will be forced to veto it, a move that would send a clear message to the world that this administration is ready and willing to not only participate in efforts to sweep extrajudicial murders under the rug at the behest of an unelected autocrat, but in fact prepared to use the president’s veto power to keep America involved in the perpetuation of the worst humanitarian crisis on the face of the planet.
And speaking of autocrats, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is loving every minute of this, because the longer it goes on, the more leverage he has over Trump thanks to the evidence his intelligence apparatus wields implicating bin Salman.
On Friday, he again chided Trump for not challenging the Crown Prince. “The CIA has yet to put all their weight”, he said, during a live TV interview, adding that “America needs to put their presence behind this issue.” He also hinted that Turkey has more “documents” that point to bin Salman that he (Erdogan) has yet to share.
The 2018 annual report, published by the Istanbul police department, stated that two water wells and a tandoor oven which could be fired with natural gas and wood were found in the consulate.
The report emphasized that the temperature of the tandoor oven can be increased to a thousand Celsius (1832 F), destroying all the DNA.
Investigations carried out in the region revealed that after the killing of Khashoggi, 32-portion uncooked meat was ordered to the Consulate from a famous restaurant, according to the report.
“Unavoidably many more questions come to the mind… Was cooking meat in the tandoor oven part of the plans that they already made?
Yes, “unavoidably many more questions come to the mind”, and between Congress in the US and Erdogan in Turkey, you can be absolutely sure that these questions will continue to get more “unavoidable” for the Trump administration.
Make no mistake, this has all manner of implications. All it’s going to take is one more high profile incident of mass civilian casualties in Yemen to send Congress into a frenzy. The CNN report that detailed where US weapons are actually ending up was damning in the extreme (if not at all surprising), and that only adds to the urgency on Capitol Hill.
If the administration is ultimately forced to take some kind of action above and beyond the sanctions imposed in November, it could have serious cross-asset ramifications for markets at a time when the Saudis are keen to put the Khashoggi debacle to bed and move ahead with the Crown Prince’s ambitious development plans.