U.S. and Saudi Arabia relations and death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi - What's Your Point?

- This week's panel: Jessica Colon - Republican strategist, Nyanza Moore - progressive commentator and Houston attorney, Steve Toth – former Republican State Representative,  Tony Diaz- Chicano educator and activist,  Tomaro Bell – Super Neighborhood leader, Bill King - businessman, columnist and former Kemah Mayor talk about U.S. and Saudi Arabia relations in the wake of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's confirmed death.

ISTANBUL (AP) - The official Saudi statements on the fate of journalist Jamal Khashoggi have changed several times since he mysteriously disappeared after entering his country's consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.

The latest announcement on Saturday, declaring that Khashoggi had died in a "fistfight" with officials that came to see him there, increased criticism over Saudi's handling of the case and concern over the kingdom's possible complicity in the killing of the prominent Washington Post columnist.

Here is a look at the Saudi narrative regarding Khashoggi, as it developed.

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Oct. 2: Khashoggi enters the Saudi consulate in a leafy neighborhood in Istanbul at 1.14 p.m. on Tuesday. He had left his mobile phones with his Turkish fiancée, who waited for him outside the consulate. She calls friends hours later to tell them that Khashoggi never emerged from the consulate.

Oct. 3: In a wide-ranging interview, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman tells Bloomberg he understands that Khashoggi left the consulate after "a few minutes or one hour." Bin Salman says his kingdom's authorities are in talks with the Turkish government to determine what happen. He insists Khashoggi is no longer inside the consulate and says Turkish authorities are welcome to search the diplomatic mission. "We have nothing to hide," says the crown prince.

Oct. 4: On Twitter, the Saudi consulate in Istanbul says it is following up on media reports of Khashoggi's disappearance "after he left the building" of the consulate.

Oct. 4: Turkey summons the Saudi ambassador.

Oct. 6: Saudi Arabia says it has dispatched a team to "investigate and cooperate" with Turkish officials over Khashoggi's case.

Oct. 7: Turkish officials say Khashoggi has been killed at the consulate. A Saudi government statement describes the Turkish allegations as "baseless."

Oct. 9: Turkey says it will search the consulate.

Oct. 11: Turkey says it has agreed with Saudi Arabia to form a joint group to shed light on the disappeared journalist's fate. The Saudi team arrives in Istanbul a day later.

Oct. 13: Saudi Arabia's interior minister describes claims in the media that there were "orders to kill (Khashoggi)" as "lies and baseless allegations." Turkish media quote officials as saying Khashoggi has been killed and dismembered inside the consulate.

Oct. 14: Turkey's Foreign Ministry renews calls on Saudi Arabia to allow investigators to search the consulate.

Oct. 15: Nearly two weeks after Khashoggi's disappearance, teams of Turkish investigators enter the consulate to start their search.

Oct. 15: A Saudi-owned satellite news channel says the 15-member team referred to by Turkish media as Khashoggi's "hit squad" were "tourists" visiting Turkey.

Oct. 16: Without warning, the Saudi consul in Istanbul, a key witness in the case, leaves Turkey to Saudi Arabia.

Oct. 17: Turkish authorities begin searching the consul's residence in Istanbul.

Oct. 19: In an announcement early Saturday, Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor says preliminary investigations show an "altercation" and "fistfight" led to Khashoggi's death shortly after he arrived at the consulate. He adds that 18 Saudi nationals were detained. A Saudi foreign ministry official says the kingdom is investigating the "regrettable and painful incident of Jamal Khashoggi's death" and forming a committee to hold those responsible accountable.

 

ISTANBUL (AP) - Turkey will "never allow a cover-up" of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, a senior official in Turkey's ruling party said Saturday, reflecting international skepticism over the Saudi account that the writer died during a "fistfight."

The comment was one of many critical reactions to Saudi Arabia's announcement early Saturday of the writer's violent death, indicating the kingdom's efforts to defuse a scandal that has gripped the world were falling short. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, was an exception. Asked whether he thought the Saudi explanation was credible, he replied: "I do. I do."

Despite widespread outrage over the killing of the columnist for The Washington Post, it is unclear to what extent the top leadership of Saudi Arabia, a key U.S. ally and a powerful player in a volatile region, would be held accountable for what human rights activists describe as an extrajudicial killing by Saudi agents.

The only way to find out what happened would be through an international investigation led by a U.N.-appointed panel, the editorial board of The Washington Post said.

Saudi Arabia's "latest version asks us to believe that Mr. Khashoggi died after becoming engaged in a 'brawl' with officials who had been sent to meet him. His body, Saudi officials told several journalists, was handed over to a 'local collaborator' for disposal," it said, while also criticizing Trump for allegedly trying to help top Saudi leaders escape "meaningful accountability."

Saudi Arabia said 18 Saudi suspects were in custody and intelligence officials had been fired. But critics believe the complex scheme that led to Khashoggi's death could not have occurred without the knowledge of Mohammed bin Salman, the 33-year-old crown prince whose early promises of sweeping reform are being eclipsed by concerns that he may be an impulsive, even sinister figure.

The Saudi narrative of Khashoggi's death - that he was killed in a brawl following discussions with visiting officials in the consulate - contrasts with Turkish pro-government media reports that a Saudi hit squad, including an autopsy expert, traveled to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi and dispose of his body, which has not yet been found.

The overnight statement, released by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, that the writer died in the consulate also came more than two weeks after Khashoggi, 59, entered the building for paperwork required to marry his Turkish fiancée and never came out. Saudi Arabia initially denied any knowledge of his disappearance.

The kingdom has described assertions in Turkish media leaks, based on purported audio recordings that Khashoggi was tortured, killed and dismembered inside the consulate, as "baseless." Turkish politicians pushed back Saturday.

"It's not possible for the Saudi administration to wiggle itself out of this crime if it's confirmed," said Numan Kurtulmus, deputy head of Turkey's Justice and Development Party. He also said Turkey would share its evidence of Khashoggi's killing with the world and that a "conclusive result" of the investigation is close.

Another Turkish ruling party official, Leyla Sahin Usta, also criticized Saudi Arabia, saying the kingdom should have given its explanation "before the situation reached this point." She said it would have been "more valuable" if Saudi officials had earlier admitted that Khashoggi was killed in its diplomatic post.

In firing officials close to Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia stopped short of implicating the heir-apparent of the world's largest oil exporter. King Salman, his father, appointed him to lead a committee that will restructure the kingdom's intelligence services after Khashoggi's slaying. No major decisions in Saudi Arabia are made outside of the ultraconservative kingdom's ruling Al Saud family.

Khashoggi, a prominent journalist and royal court insider for decades in Saudi Arabia, had written columns critical of Prince Mohammed and the kingdom's direction while living in self-imposed exile in the U.S.

"God have mercy on you my love Jamal, and may you rest in Paradise," Khashoggi's fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, tweeted following the Saudi announcements.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged "a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi's death and full accountability for those responsible," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Standing outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the head of a media group said the "authority that gave the orders" in the killing of Khashoggi should be punished.

Turan Kislakci, president of the Turkish Arab Media Association, said Khashoggi was "slaughtered by bloody murderers" and that his group wants "true justice" for its slain colleague.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. will advocate for justice in the Khashoggi case that is "timely, transparent and in accordance with all due process."

Trump has called the Saudi announcement a "good first step," but said what happened to Khashoggi was "unacceptable."

The Saudi announcements about Khashoggi came in statements carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.

"Preliminary investigations conducted by the Public Prosecution showed that the suspects had traveled to Istanbul to meet with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi as there were indications of the possibility of his returning back to the country," the statement read. "Discussions took place with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi during his presence in the consulate of the kingdom in Istanbul by the suspects (that) did not go as required and developed in a negative way, leading to a fistfight. The brawl led to his death and their attempt to conceal and hide what happened."

There's been no indication Khashoggi had any immediate plans to return to the kingdom.

The Saudi statements, which expressed regret and promised accountability, did not identify the 18 Saudis being held by authorities and did not explain how so many people could have been involved in a fistfight.

The kingdom at the same time announced the firing of four top intelligence officials, including Maj. Gen. Ahmed bin Hassan Assiri, a one-time spokesman for the Saudi military's campaign in Yemen who later became a confidant of Prince Mohammed.

Saud Qahtani, a powerful adviser to the prince, also was fired. Qahtani had led Saudi efforts to isolate Qatar amid a boycott of the country by the kingdom and three other Arab nations as part of a political dispute.

On Twitter, where Qahtani had launched vitriolic attacks against those he saw as the kingdom's enemies, he thanked the Saudi government for the opportunity to serve.

"I will remain a loyal servant to my country for all times," he wrote.

From Katherine Ross freelance writer for the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) - Sitting in my suburban American kitchen, it is easy to feel that Saudi Arabia is a world away, that events at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul - as gruesome as they now seem to have been - have little to do with me.

Except for one thing.

Almost 25 years ago, Jamal Khashoggi was my friend and mentor when I was a young reporter in Yemen on a fellowship studying Islamic movements. I got to see him in action and experience his remarkable kindness and wisdom. He changed my life and may even have saved it.

In an age when cultural stereotyping is too frequent and when the #MeToo movement highlights how commonplace bad behavior truly is, Jamal was a gentleman and an unfailingly perceptive guide in a pivotal time and place.

Those were the years before 9/11 changed the world. In the heady and dangerous latter half of 1994, Islamists - many of them fresh from Osama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan - won the upper hand in Yemen's civil war. I was possibly the only Western woman covering the northern front of the war, where they led the fight.

I had the amazing good fortune to meet Jamal, who made sure I had access to everyone across the Islamic spectrum, from hardcore jihadis (some of whom agreed to speak with me only after Jamal bravely said he wouldn't talk with them unless they did) to mystical-leaning Sufis.

I have a photograph from those days, taken by Jamal, of me standing beside Tareq al-Fadhli, a Yemeni jihadi who had fought under Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan before becoming a commander on the front lines in Yemen. Jamal encouraged me to see this intimidating man as an aspiring and able local leader who was using the only means he knew to retake lands once ruled by his family. And Jamal was right: The man left the jihadi movement soon after the war ended, joining the government there.

Late in 1994, Jamal made sure I was included in the Yemeni delegation to a religious conference in Sudan, where we celebrated my 30th birthday together (our birthdays were a day apart) at the Khartoum Hilton. He courageously attempted to convince bin Laden, who was living there at the time, to let me interview him. (An infidel American woman? Even Jamal and his unmatched way with words couldn't convince bin Laden to budge.)

I never had the impression that Jamal sympathized with his views, and he certainly did not condone terrorism in any form. He was a well-connected reporter trying to get the whole story and to encourage others, like me, to dig beneath the surface, too.

He seemed to have earned the respect of all sides, whether Islamist or leftist and secular.

Jamal also had a playful streak, and a soft spot for electronic gadgets. He had the tiniest Japanese tape recorder I'd ever seen - about half the size of a deck of cards, with a microphone the size of a blueberry. And he had a passion for the Nintendo Game Boy. It seemed like he had every model and game, and between our long discussions about Islam, he would expound on the evolution of the games. He played them as he waited for interviews to begin, or in the long car rides across Yemen.

A non-believing American blonde and a tall devout Saudi - we must have been a sight as we traversed Yemen, visiting mosques and meeting Islamic leaders of various persuasions. Jamal was protective of me in danger zones while respectful of my personal space.

He shared with me time and again the many ways that Yemen reminded him of the beloved Saudi Arabia of his childhood. I never met anyone who loved his homeland more.

His adherence to the values of Islam, and the depth of his desire to help outsiders like me understand the wide spectrum of Islamic ideologies, was real. Before 9/11 and after, Jamal was a much-needed bridge between ever-evolving political Islam in all its iterations and the West.

He was also ready to listen to criticism of Islam. On one holiday in Yemen, Jamal went into a mosque while I - along with dozens of Yemeni women - was left to listen to the sermon while seated in the dusty streets outside. It was a long sermon, and as it went on I became angrier and angrier. "Why should 50 percent of the population cover themselves and be forced to sit outside because the other 50 percent of the population can't behave themselves?!" I shouted at him later.

I don't remember his reply. But he listened. And he understood my frustration.

A devoted family man, he spoke often in those days of his beloved wife and family. My heart goes out to them and to his fiancee, whom he planned to marry soon after obtaining from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul the paperwork certifying his divorce. He vanished after entering the consulate on Oct. 2, and Saudi Arabia has now acknowledged he was killed.

It's unbelievable that a man so deft at navigating danger for so many decades, so courageous in his reporting, so optimistic about humanity in general and so utterly patriotic about Saudi Arabia and its potential, should be so suddenly and cruelly silenced.

I wish more Americans had had the chance to know Jamal Khashoggi as I did that year.

As I sit in my kitchen now, wishing that I could offer him some coffee or a cup of tea, I see all too clearly and painfully that he was not just another Saudi, not just another brave journalist. He was a caring human being who could, truly, have been anyone's friend.

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Roth researched Islamic movements in the Arab world on a fellowship from the Institute of Current World Affairs from 1993 to 1995. In 1995, she joined The Associated Press in New York, where she continues to contribute stories on a freelance basis.

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