Saudi Arabia to Condemn 5 to Death Over Khashoggi Murder, Crown Prince MBS Shielded

The prosecutor's office said it was seeking the death penalty for five individuals of the 11 indicted. Ten other suspects were still under investigation.

Saudi Arabian prosecutors will seek the death penalty for five of the 11 suspects detained over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi state news agency SPA reported Thursday, as a Saudi court held a first hearing on the case.

RELATED: Netflix Bows to Saudi Pressure, Removes Episode on Khashoggi

Saudi Arabia said it also sent new letters to the Turkish public prosecutor asking for "any evidence connected to this case," which has rattled the Saudi royal court and damaged the reputation of 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). 

Khashoggi was a close ally of the royal family before becoming a critic of MBS and began writing for the Washington Post and speaking to international media about Saudi politics when he moved to the United States last year.

Saudi officials have rejected accusations that the crown prince ordered his murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in which Khashoggis body was dismembered, removed from the building, and handed over to an unidentified "local cooperator.'"

The whereabouts of Khashoggi's remains are still unknown, but a Turkish television channel Monday showed men carrying suitcases purportedly containing the remains into the residence of the Saudi consul general in Istanbul.

"The initial hearing for the 11 individuals indicted by the Public Prosecution in the case of the murder of citizen Jamal Khashoggi was held today ... in the Criminal Court of Riyadh," a statement from the Saudi prosecutor carried by SPA said.

The prosecutor's office said it was seeking the death penalty for five individuals of the 11 indicted. Ten other suspects were still under investigation.

SPA added that the defendants' lawyers attended the hearing and the court approved a request from the 11 who asked for more time to prepare their defense. It did not give details on the next hearing.

RELATED:Turkish TV Airs Video Purporting Transfer of Khashoggi Remains

The statement said the kingdom was still waiting for responses to requests for information sent to Turkish officials.

Last week, Saudi King Salman put Ibrahim al-Assaf, a veteran former finance minister, in charge of foreign affairs, in an effort to improve the kingdom's image after the crisis caused by the killing.

Assaf replaced Adel al-Jubeir, and experts in Saudi politics said the move reflected a perception that Jubeir was tainted by having served as Riyadh's chief global defender during the Khashoggi affair.

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‘Spying & threats’: Assange complains of ‘more subtle’ silencing than Khashoggi

Julian Assange has accused his Ecuadorean hosts of spying and feeding information to US authorities, and slammed attempts to block his journalistic work as a more subtle way of silencing than the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Suggesting there were “facts of espionage” inside the embassy, the WikiLeaks co-founder expressed concern during a hearing in Quito on Wednesday that Ecuadorean intelligence is not only spying on him, but sharing the data it has harvested with the FBI. Ecuadorean intelligence clearly spent a sizable amount of money equipping the embassy for surveillance, Assange added.

He accused Ecuadorean authorities of “comments of a threatening nature” relating to his journalistic work and compared attempts to silence him to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was tortured and cut up in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul in October, but “more subtle.”  The comparison elicited a harsh reaction from Ecuadorean Prosecutor General Inigo Salvador, who accused Assange of biting the hand that feeds him.

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‘Biggest attack on freedom of speech in decades’ – WikiLeaks hits back against DNC lawsuit 

Assange told the Ecuadorean court that the living conditions in the embassy were so detrimental to his health that they may put him in the hospital – and suggested that may be the point, because once he leaves the building, he’s fair game for UK and US authorities.

US prosecutors accidentally revealed the existence of a sealed indictment against the whistleblower last month and have since stonewalled reporters’ inquiries into what the indictment might contain.

Ecuador: Assange appeal over new embassy rules heard in court

While Assange was being held incommunicado earlier this year, his suspicions about his hosts’ spying were confirmed in a May report by the Guardian that revealed Ecuador spent about $5 million on surveilling the WikiLeaks founder and his visitors in the London embassy from 2012 until 2017. However, that paper’s recent publication of blatantly “fake news” involving Assange casts its earlier coverage into doubt as well.

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Assange rejects Ecuador president's 'no death penalty' deal with UK 

Assange was in court appealing a strict set of rules handed down in October governing his conduct, which he has called a violation of human rights. He submitted 15 “facts of evidence” along with letters from individuals and groups barred from visiting him at the embassy. An earlier attempt to sue his hosts over the restrictive measures was ultimately dismissed by a judge last month, while Assange rejected Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno's offer to leave the embassy in exchange for a guarantee he would not be executed.

 

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Saudi Prince Gave Order To "Silence" Khashoggi, CIA Has Recording: Report

Istanbul: A Turkish newspaper reported on Thursday director Gina Haspel signalled to Turkish officials last month that the agency had a recording of a call in which Saudi Arabia's crown prince gave instructions to "silence" Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Asked about the report, a Turkish official told Reuters he had no information about such a recording. Saudi Arabia has said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had no prior knowledge of Khashoggi's killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul six weeks ago.

"There is talk of another recording," Hurriyet newspaper journalist Abdulkadir Selvi wrote in a column, saying the purported call took place between Prince Mohammed and his brother, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Washington.

"It is being said that CIA chief Gina Haspel indicated this during her visit to Turkey," he wrote, adding that they had discussed Khashoggi, a critic of the kingdom's de facto ruler.

"It is being said the crown prince gave orders to 'silence Jamal Khashoggi as soon as possible'," in a call which was monitored by the U.S. agency, he said.

Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 in an operation that Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan has said was ordered by the highest level of Saudi leadership.

After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh said last week Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.

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US Congresswoman to Trump: Stop Being 'Saudi Arabia’s Bitch'

Gabbard previously clashed with former President Barack Obama on Syrian policy, commenting that the United States was hastily pushing for change in the country but ignoring the potential consequences.

Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has been criticized for opposing U.S. interference in Syria, had harsh words for President Donald Trump, regarding Washington’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. 

RELATED: Khashoggi Killing: Trump Will Remain Saudi Arabia 'Partner'

Gabbard tweeted that the U.S. president was “Saudi Arabia’s bitch,” after Trump said Washington will remain allies with Riyadh regardless of the Kingdom being implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi - who was killed on the Saudi consulate in Turkey.  

Trump doubled down, saying the United States Government will not dissolve any partnership with Saudi Arabia despite a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) investigation concluding that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi's killing.

“...we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi... the United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region."

On Tuesday, Trump highlighted that Saudi Arabia was a key ally against Iran as well as an important oil supplier. The U.S. president added that, though Khashoggi’s murder was an “unacceptable and horrible crime” and “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event,” Washington will not sever ties with the middle eastern country.

“I’m not going to destroy the world economy, and I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia,” Trump told reporters. "If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake."  

Oil prices getting lower. Great! Like a big Tax Cut for America and the World. Enjoy! $54, was just $82. Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower! 

Similarly, Gabbard, who is a two-tour veteran, previously clashed with former President Barack Obama on Syrian policy, commenting that the United States was hastily pushing for change in the country but ignoring the potential consequences of that action, and hitting out against Washington arming anti-government fighters in Syria.

Republican senators Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham have both made remarks against Trump’s stance on the Saudi Kingdom. Paul has urged the U.S. head of state to suspend the arms deal with Riyadh, while Graham noted that the Crown Prince is responsible for Khashoggi’s death.
 
"They are an important ally but when it comes to the Crown Prince, he's irrational, he's unhinged and I think he's done a lot of damage to the relationship (between) the United States and Saudi Arabia. And I have no intention of working with him ever again," Graham told NBC.
 

The President indicates that Saudi Arabia is the lesser two evils compared to Iran and so the US won’t punish Saudi Arabia for the brutal killing and dismemberment of a dissident journalist in their consulate. I disagree.

"I'm pretty sure this statement is Saudi Arabia First, not America First," Paul posted on his Twitter page. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker also tweeted displeasure, "I never thought I'd see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”

Last week, anti-interventionist Gabbard also called for an end to U.S. involvement with the Saudi-led war in Yemen. "It is long overdue that we end U.S. complicity in Saudi Arabia's atrocities. We must end all U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's genocidal war in Yemen now."

Gabbard had began her political career with more conservative views on several issues. “I began to realize that the positions I had held previously regarding the issues of choice and gay marriage were rooted in the same premise held by those in power in the oppressive middle east regimes I saw,” the Hawaiian Democrat said, referencing her tours of duty.

The congresswoman, who supported Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic primary, is being considered a potential presidential candidate for 2020.

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Saudis can get away with anything 'as long as they bribe Washington'

The US will keep turning a blind eye to the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and other Saudi crimes, as long as Washington strikes lucrative arms deals with the kingdom, political analyst Lew Rockwell told RT.

“Questions of morality are entirely absent” from US foreign policy with regards to Saudi Arabia, Rockwell, who leads the Mises Institute, noted, adding that the White House is more interested in the kingdom’s economic assets than its human rights record.

“As long as the Saudis are willing to bribe enough Americans, or do what the US government wants in terms of oil or give big contracts to American companies, there is nothing they can do that would hurt them,” he stressed. Rockwell said that, enjoying such mutually-beneficial relations, the kingdom will likely feel confident to continue targeting dissidents and waging a bloody campaign in Yemen.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump’s approach to the Khashoggi case sparked anger, even among US senators. On Tuesday, he suggested that it “could very well be” that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had known in advance of the plan to murder Khashoggi. But, nevertheless, the president refused to scrap major arms deals with the Arab nation. The Saudis pledged to invest $450 billion in the US, with $110 billion spent on buying US military gear, and it would be “foolish” to abandon those contracts, Trump stated.

In response, a bipartisan group of senators penned a letter urging the president to “determine” whether the Crown Prince bin Salman is responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

The White House condemned the journalist’s murder and sanctioned 17 Saudi officials accused of masterminding and executing the crime, but fell short of criticizing the kingdom’s leadership. In a statement, titled “Standing with Saudi Arabia,” the president praised Riyadh as “great ally” in a fight against Iran and vowed that the US will remain “a steadfast partner” of the oil-rich country.

Investigative journalist Rick Sterling told RT that Trump’s statement serves as “a confession that the US foreign policy is basically driven by the military-industrial complex,” which is due to receive a large boost from dealings with Riyadh.

READ MORE: Senators ask Trump to investigate if was MbS responsible for Khashoggi's death

Washington remains loyal to Saudi Arabia because “the US under President Trump is first and foremost a weapons and arms dealer,” the journalist argued. “It’s really not in the interest of the American people. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing like this. But for the rest, it’s a disaster.”

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Washington always turned a blind eye to Saudi Arabia, says ex-CIA officer on Khashoggi case

The White House is far more interested in ensuing Saudi Arabia’s stability than punishing it for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, former CIA officer Bob Baer said.

We’ve always turned a blind eye to what’s going on in Saudi Arabia – right from the very beginning,” Baer told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Tuesday. He stressed that the close ties between the nations make Washington reluctant to attack the kingdom not only with regards to the Khashoggi case but also on the issues of human rights abuses and the devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen.

 
© Global Look Press/ Aurelien Morissard

Dissident journalist and The Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi disappeared in early October after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia claims that he was killed during a spontaneous “fistfight,” and has pledged to investigate his death. Turkish officials, meanwhile, insist that the Saudis dispatched a ‘death squad’ to assassinate the journalist. His body still hasn’t been located.

Khashoggi’s murder sparked international outrage. US President Donald Trump warned that the kingdom will face a “severe punishment” if it had indeed put out a hit on the journalist. The US, however, chose to keep the existing arms deals with the Saudis and said it didn’t believe the nation’s leadership was behind the dissident’s demise.

Washington is more interested in maintaining Saudi Arabia’s stability than searching for the truth and criticizing Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, known as MBS, Bob Baer argued. The kingdom remains among the prime buyers of US-made arms and Washington’s strategic ally in the region.

“Saudi Arabia is a volcano right now. We don’t have players there on our side [other than MBS],” Baer, who is now an author and commentator, said. “What worries the White House is that this country could pop.”

According to the recent New York Times report, the audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder, given to the CIA by Turkey, reveals how a member of the ‘kill team’ instructed a superior to “tell your boss” about the mission’s success. The US intelligence officers believe that “boss” in question is MBS, the paper reported.

At the same time, Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton, who himself didn’t listen to the tape, strongly suggested that it was “not the conclusion” the officers have made.

Bob Baer found it hard to agree with Bolton and noted that the Crown Prince “is in control” of all Saudi security services. “The Saudis don’t have rogue operations – ever. It has never occurred.”

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