Khashoggi aftermath: Saudi Arabia to develop security in accordance with international law

After Khashoggi gruesome murder, Saudi Arabia has announced that it will revamp its intelligence services to ensure that operations are in line with national security policy and human rights law.

In the wake of the international outrage and pressure from allies and human rights organisations following the heavily murder of US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, the middle-eastern kingdom has announced that it will revamp its intelligence services to ensure that operations are in line with national security policy and human rights law.

The Saudi Intelligence Restructuring Committee agreed to reform and assess the current situation and identify gaps in the organisational structure, policies, procedures, governance, legal framework, rehabilitation mechanism. It also recommended short-, medium-, and long-term development solutions within the General Intelligence Presidency Development Program.

Reform of security agencies to follow

Denying the crown prince’s involvement in the “rogue operation” inside Istanbul’s consulate that had resulted in Khashoggi’s death in October, Saudi Arabia on Friday said that it was creating at least three new government bodies to improve oversight and supervision of its intelligence operations.

This comes a month after deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani were fired for the premeditated murder of the journalist during his visit to the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Khashoggi had remained in exile from Saudi Arabia for years for being a vocal dissident of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s oppressive and war-mongering policies.

Following the emergence of grisly details of the operation, King Salman had ordered a restructuring of the main intelligence agency under his son’s supervision despite US senators and Turkey calling for a UN probe into the crown prince’s involvement in the murder.

After over a month of investigation into US-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, the CIA confirmed last month that MBS had ordered the assassination of the Washington Post columnist. This Thursday, the official Saudi Press Agency notified of state approval for three departments that will be formed to ensure that Riyadh’s security operations are now in line with national security policy, international human rights law and “approved procedures”.

The decision was ratified by a committee headed by the prince, making no mention of Khashoggi for the time being.

The shake-up that was

Ever since Khashoggi’s disappearance from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, Turkish investigators have alleged that it was an assassination but stopped short of holding MBS directly culpable in the premeditated murder, gruesome details of which emerged in the following weeks.

Turkish media first reported the existence of audio recordings that confirm that the journalist was ambushed, strangled, and later tortured to death by a 15-man Saudi security team. The probe also revealed that the operation was allegedly carried out by trained forensic specialists and post-mortem experts. Precise gruesome details of beheading and dismemberment also emerged from the tapes retrieved from the office of the consulate’s chief, Mohammad al-Otaibi, suggesting high level of premediation.

One of the members of the “hit squad”, Salah al-Tabiqi, was recorded on tape telling the consul general to leave the room, asking the rest to listen to music while he proceeded to hack Khashoggi’s lifeless body. Another member was captured on CCTV footage outside the consulate, dressed as Khashoggi, long after he was killed.

Saudi Arabia, in the meantime, changed its narrative multiple times. They first claimed that the journalist got into a fist fight, later admitting that he was killed with a lethal dose of tranquilisers and then dismembered. However, the kingdom has so far remained steadfast in their account exonerating the crown prince of any blame or responsibility. Before sacking the two officials, MBS is reported to have sought the death penalty against five of the perpetrators, which include members of the Saudi government and intelligence, for allegedly plotting the whole operation behind his back.

How the US responded

The CIA dealt a crucial blow on November 17 concluding the crown prince’s involvement, based on his stranglehold on his country’s internal affairs and intercepts of his international calls in the days leading up to the killing, as well as of those placed by the hit squad to his senior advisor right afterwards. In one of them, an agent told the aide to “tell your boss” that the mission had been accomplished.

Ignoring the glaring evidence that suggests that Khashoggi’s murder was premeditated and orchestrated by the Saudi government, possibly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s intervention, Trump reportedly accepted $100 million from the Saudi government and insisted on MBS’s ignorance of the entire matter. Trump had also agreed to let MBS’s authorities conduct their independent probe later admitting in a bizarre statement, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t [know]!”

The Khashoggi incident not only turned up international pressure on Saudi Arabia to modify its intelligence policies, but it also turned the radar on the kingdom’s proxy war on Yemen. Several Republican senators have been demanding distance from Saudi Arabia and severe congressional action including demands to release jailed activists and and to end the war on Yemen, among others.

Last week, the US Senate approved a resolution to suspend aid to the Saudi troops deployed in Yemen. However, Saudi Arabian and US resistance on Thursday delayed plans to table a UN security council resolution on Yemen, raising the prospect a UN-appointed general will fly to the Red Sea port of Hodeidah without a mandate to enforce a fragile ceasefire. The US is currently demanding that Iran’s role in arming the rebel Houthis must be included in the resolution, a proposal that has led to Russian threats to veto it.

Time magazine had opined that the kingdom’s “grisly crime holds the power to transform the crown prince into a pariah, and perhaps even the Middle East order he had made his personal project, with the help of a flattered U.S. President”. The entire fiasco has shed light on the need for the US to reevaluate its relationship with the controversial authoritarian Saudi regime solely for economic and strategic benefits.

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius

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