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Opinion Richard Connor: Killing of Khashoggi threatens free speech everywhere

Richard Connor: Killing of Khashoggi threatens free speech everywhere

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“The United States has shown on many occasions that it has many other values that supersede oil, including international norms of behavior, free democratic elections, and freedom of speech.” – Amy Myers Jaffe, Council on Foreign Relations

The Oct. 2 disappearance and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi two weeks ago should matter to all of us, not just to journalists who identify with the victim or politicians whose concern may be driven more by political or policy interests than by unmitigated outrage at what happened.

My own sense of indignation over the horrendous treatment of Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi Arabian thugs in Turkey is fueled not by parochialism toward my profession but by my fear of the growing threat to free speech at home and around the world.

This killing represents a danger to all of us. Although some Saudi officials and Saudi apologists, including President Donald Trump, initially suggested that Khashoggi’s death may have been the work of “rogue” killers, the apparent suspects are closely associated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and almost certainly were operating with his knowledge if not at his direction. Evidence released by Turkish sources suggests a level of brazenness that could only be the result of the killers’ confidence that they were acting in accordance with Mohammed bin Salman’s wishes. And they were blatant about it because they did not think anyone would really notice or care.

According to information leaked by Turkish officials investigating the case and included in numerous press reports, Khashoggi, 60, went to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey to obtain papers for his upcoming wedding only to be greeted by what the New York Times described as a “15-member hit team” that tortured him, cut off his fingers and beheaded him. His body was dismembered under the watch of a pathologist who brought along a bandsaw.

Rogue forces? Right.

In one of my newsrooms many years ago we posted an interview with the journalist and author David Halberstam, who did breakthrough reporting on the Vietnam War and exposed the lies of our government about U.S. successes there. We were in fact failing and American lives were lost by the thousands. Halberstam told us about the true debacle that was Vietnam.

In the interview, Halberstam said the major prerequisite of a good reporter is a great “bullshit detector.”

“If your mother says she is your mother, check it out,” he advised.

We seem to have lost our “detector,” at least in Washington.

The Saudis committed murder to shut up a detractor of the current regime and its iron-fisted boss Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known these days as M.B.S.

Let’s not fool ourselves. The “hit squad” flew by chartered aircraft to Turkey and flew back the same day. How much evidence do we need that M.B.S. was behind this ghastly attack – an attack not just on Khashoggi but on free speech all over the world?

The United States, the country of the First Amendment, needs to react and do it quickly and strongly.

We should punish Saudi Arabia and its royal family economically. Stop buying their oil. Stop the massive sales of arms and weapons they depend on for their defense. We can find other buyers.

The Washington Post published Khashoggi’s final column Oct. 17. It was ominous.

“Arab governments have been given free rein to continue to silence the media at an increasing rate,” he wrote, describing incidents of persecution of journalists by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In an editor’s note accompanying the column, the Post’s Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah said Khashoggi’s column “perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for.”

As details of Khashoggi’s fate continued to emerge, President Trump seemed to back away from his earlier skepticism that the Saudi government was involved and threatened “severe retaliation.”

As for M.B.S., the crown prince had been successful in fooling most of the world about his true intentions for Saudi Arabia’s future and his hypocrisy in promising to modernize the country while ruling with the ruthlessness of a brutal dictator behind the scenes.

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch feted the prince at a star-laden Hollywood party when he recently toured the U. S. But the “bad actor” behind the good-guy image has been revealed; he is now being described as violent and impulsive.

Mohammed bin Salman “has got to go,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said as the facts of the case became increasingly obvious.

“Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening, there are a lot of good people you can choose,” Graham said. “But M.B.S has tainted your country and tainted yourself.”

The curtain is drawn back and his thin veil torn away. World leaders, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have withdrawn from his scheduled financial summit and now we wait to see that he and his regime are fully punished.

No American who values a free press should forget Khashoggi’s murder – or let Prince Mohammed bin Salman forget it, either.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

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