Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has taken the world by storm. No murder story in recent history has claimed as much media attention as this one.
Reasons are many: Khashoggi was a famous journalist with The Washington Postand was a resident of the United States; he was ferociously critical of the Saudi Crown Prince; he is a Saudi and had a Turkish fiancée. What makes Khashoggi’s murder of great geopolitical significance is the fact that it has dragged powerful nations into this gruesome murder case—USA a major trade partner of Saudi Arabia, Turkey where the murder took place, and of course Saudi Arabia where Khashoggi comes from. This has been described as a geopolitical triangle. The rest of the world is watching with keen interest how this tragic drama will unfold and it is not ending soon.
The good book—the Holy Bible has a specific commandment that no one should kill and another commandment that no one should lie or give false witness (cf. Deuteronomy 5:17, 20) and all Abrahamitic faiths (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) teach this basic command. There is even a more blunt verse: “God’s curse on any one who secretly commits murder” (Deuteronomy 27:24). Enough of biblical jurisprudence. Both individuals and states do commit murder in contravention of the divine decree, and go ahead and lie about it in an attempt to cover it up.
What lessons can we learn from the tragic murder of Khashoggi whose only crime was being critical of a corrupt and tyrannical monarchy of the Saudi ruling family? First, murder, especially premeditated murder, is a crime and an evil. Whatever criticisms one may have against a regime don’t deserve to be met with brutal murder. Killing a messenger does not help. One wonders what threat does an ordinary journalist pose to the state that wields enormous economic and military power. Many people across the world were not even aware of Khashoggi until his murder. His cruel murder has all of a sudden made him a global icon and those who were not aware of the Crown Prince’s leadership in Saudi Arabia are glued on television screens with unprecedented interest.
Second, it is exceedingly difficult to cover up a well planned and premeditated murder. We do not know yet the full details of how Khashoggi’s murder was planned and executed, but the bits of information available is sufficient to make some hypothesis. The case is on-going, so no need to over analyse it. Few comments will suffice. The plethora of cover-ups and shifting explanations about the murder are shocking to say the least. Up to now, there is not coherent explanation coming from the Saudi authorities on what happened. This has not helped the situation; instead it has generated all manner of speculation and rumours.
The Saudi Crown Prince’s global reputation is at stake. At the beginning, there was silence on the missing journalist until Turkey blew the whistle with CCTV footages. Then, the rogue elements thesis that even President Donald Trump had bought into. After, followed a fist-fight during interrogation ridiculous theory—ridiculous because a fist-fight that leads to death just like that would not have been concealed for so many days, and the body would not have been decimated.
At the end, after all the evidence that Khashoggi was brutally murdered, and the Turkish President took on the Saudi Consulate officials to explain, the Saudi Crown Prince also speaks out condemning the murder, a little too late. If the murder took place at a Saudi Consulate in Turkey, it was the primary duty of the Saudi government to come out clean right from the word go and give a clear explanation after investigation and not cover up.
Third, the more a murder is planned as meticulously as possible the more likely it will go wrong. Some circumstantial evidence suggests that there were movements of key figures from Saudi leading up to Khashoggi’s death. Mention is made of 15-member high-powered delegation of experts including forensic experts, a doctor and intelligence officials from Saudi Arabia. Even an amateur in crime investigation would raise basic issues as to what these specialised officials had come to do around the same time the crime happened. The Consular official, it is reported, left his residence shortly after the murder took place when it was indicated that a search would follow.
The million dollar question is where was Khashoggi’s body disposed and by who. There is some speculation about the forest. How was the specific location identified? There is mention that some surveillance was done some days before the murder. Then the mysterious diplomatic car parked in some public parking lot. You put all these pieces together, and you are left with only one conclusion: this murder was carefully planned and executed with some state involvement. The lingering question is: in whose interest was the murder of Khashoggi?
Fourth, as the saying goes, when you are found in the hole, stop digging. The moral is that when you find yourself in a bind, stop getting deeper into the quagmire. The honourable thing to do for whoever planned and executed the murder of Khashoggi is to come out and make an admission. I am afraid it never happens with systems of power. Now that the Turkish government has vowed to leave no stone unturned in the investigation, the truth will finally come out. No amount of cover up will help in this one. Even Trump who at first was dilly darling in his talking, has gathered some courage to condemn the murder and has dispatched his Central Intelligence Agency Chief to do some investigation. Mid-term elections are coming up and Donald Trump is worried about the backlash.
Fifth, issues of diplomatic immunity are at stake. The international community will have to revisit the doctrine of diplomatic immunity. Embassies will not longer be viewed as sacred sanctuaries where anything can be done hidden from scrutiny. The sanctity of diplomatic immunity has been grossly violated, and that is why all the civilised and democratic nations of the world need to come out clear and condemn the heinous murder of Khashoggi and even go an extra mile and impose severe sanctions on whoever is found guilty of the crime committed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Short of that people will not trust consulates any longer.
And finally, the most crucial lesson to learn is what this piece chose as a title: thou shalt not kill, and if you do, do not lie about it. Khashoggi’s death will continue to haunt all those who took part in it, and his blood will continue to cry for vengeance until justice is done. Don’t kill the messenger, deal with the message—rogues states beware.
* Doctor Odomaro Mubangizi teaches social and political philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa, where he is also Dean of Philosophy Department. He edits the Justice, Peace and Environment Bulletin.