In-Depth: Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced this bill to immediately stop all military sales and aid to the Saudi Arabian government. In a press release, he said:
"Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in cold blood by the Government of Saudi Arabia. The use of a diplomatic post as a torture chamber is an affront not only to international norms, but to basic human decency. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration refuses to take real action to stand up for our values and hold the Saudi Government accountable. It’s time for the United States to halt all weapons sales and military aid to Saudi Arabia. Our democratic values are on the line here – and we must step up and do the right thing.”
After introducing this bill, Rep. McGovern delivered a speech on the House floor:
“Madam Speaker, I am proud to introduce today H.R. 643, a bipartisan bill to stop all U.S. arms sales and military aid to Saudi Arabia. Madam Speaker, it has been over one hundred days since the Government of Saudi Arabia brutally murdered journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khoshoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. The Senate unanimously condemned the Saudi government for this heinous crime. But the House remains silent. It’s past time the House clearly and unambiguously declared that there’s a price to pay for such barbarity. Let it begin by ending all U.S. arms sales and military aid to the Saudi government. I urge all my colleagues to join me and cosponsor H.R. 643.”
On Twitter, Rep. McGovern added that it’d been over 100 days since Khashoggi’s killing, and that the Senate had already unanimously condemned the Saudi government. He added, “Now the House must clearly & unambiguously declare that there’s a price to pay for such barbarity.” Rep. McGovern argues it’s “long past time for the Saudi government to be held accountable” for both Khashoggi’s killing and “numerous other systemic human rights violations.”
President Trump has vowed to remain a steadfast supporter of Saudi Arabia, and argued that the true circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s murder may never be fully known. In a statemented released by the White House in November 2018, Trump said:
“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t! That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
In response to this statement, Khashoggi’s Washington Post editor, Karen Attiah, strongly condemned the president’s statement on Twitter, writing:
"Trump’s statement on Saudi Arabia + #Khashoggi is full of lies and a blatant disregard for his own intelligence agencies. It also shows an unforgivable disregard for the lives of Saudis who dare criticize the regime. This is a new low."
Saudi Arabian officials have denied the government’s role in Khashoggi’s death. Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir has said that the death, while a “massive tragedy,” was the result of “officials of the Saudi government acting outside their scope of authority.” In an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” al-Jubeir asserted, “Nobody in Saudi Arabia knew about the murder except the people who did it.”
The Saudi government has also indicated that tying Khashoggi’s death to its leadership would be considered a severe affront. On February 12, 2019, the deadline for the Trump administration to deliver a report to Congress on Khashoggi’s killing, the Saudi Foreign Ministry tweeted, “Our leadership is a red line. We warn against any attempt to link Khashoggi’s crime to our leadership.”
This bill has 21 bipartisan cosponsors, including 19 Democrats and two Republicans. Rep. McGovern introduced similar legislation in October 2018. When he introduced that bill, H.R. 7070, McGovern said:
“I think the civilized world has to take a stand [after Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi’s killing]. This is so brazen, so outrageous, so horrific, that to not take a strong stand would mean that we're turning our back on human rights."
In December 2018, the Senate passed a pair of bills imposing consequences on Saudi Arabia for Khashoggi’s murder. The first ended military support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the second called for a diplomatic solution to the Yemen conflict and formally condemned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s murder.
Of Note: Jamal Khashoggi was a well-known journalist and critic of the Saudi government. For decades, he was close to the Saudi royal family and served as an advisor to the government. However, he fell out of favor and went into self-imposed exile in the U.S. in 2017, from where he wrote a monthly column in the Washington Post in which he criticized the policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS.
Khashoggi first visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on September 28, 2018 to obtain divorce documents to allow him to remarry, but was told to return and arranged to come back on October 2, 2018, when he was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Initially, Saudi officials denied knowledge of Khashoggi’s whereabouts, and MBS told Bloomberg News that he’d left the consulate “after a few minutes or one hour.” Eventually, on October 20, 2018, state television reported that Khashoggi had been murdered in a “rogue operation” on an intelligence officer’s orders. However, Saudi officials’ accounts of what had happened continued to differ. Ultimately, on November 15, 2018, the Saudi public prosecutor said Khashoggi was given a lethal injection after a struggle, and his body was dismembered inside the consulate after his death.
To date, Saudi Arabia has detained 21 Saudi nationals and dismissed two senior officials in connection with the killing. Saudi King Salman has also ordered a restructuring of the intelligence services — to be headed by MBS. So far, 11 people have been charged in connection with Khashoggi’s death, and the prosecutor is seeking the death penalty in five cases, although none of those officially charged have been identified.
After Khashoggi’s killing and the Saudi government’s admission in late October 2018 that the murder was premeditated, the U.S. government has taken “little action” in response. In late 2018, members of Congress triggered the Magnitsky Act, requiring the president to identify the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s murder and submit a report to Congress within 120 days. However, the report that’s resulted from this investigation has been criticized by some as insufficient.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) has stated that he’s satisfied with the Trump administration’s probe into Khashoggi’s death, even while several GOP lawmakers have complained that the administration hasn’t complied with a law requiring them to make a determination in the killing. Politico reports:
“Many Senate Republicans widely believe that Khashoggi was killed at the direction of the Saudi kingdom after hearing from top administration officials last year. But President Donald Trump has declined to join them in that determination even though U.S. intelligence reportedly concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing. Though the Magnitsky Act required the administration to respond to a bipartisan request asking them to come to a conclusion, the White House last week declined to meet the deadline to reply. Multiple Senate Republicans said in interviews on Monday night that they were angry about the administration's move to not comply with the law.”
However, Sen. Risch argues that the administration is acting in good faith to investigate Khashoggi’s death:
"We have had numerous briefings and meetings with the administration where we put the information together that we have, that they had, and like I say it's a work in progress. They've been very forthcoming with us ... they're working in good faith to reach a conclusion on this with some direct evidence."
Foreign Relations ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) disputes Sen. Risch’s assertion, saying that the response the State Dept. transmitted to Congress fell well short of the obligations under the Magnitsky Act:
“The Administration failed to meet its legal requirement to make a determination of responsibility for this heinous murder and report to Congress. I am very disappointed that the response from Secretary Pompeo doesn’t come close to fulfilling the statutory mandate and demonstrates what the administration has wanted all along — the Khashoggi murder to be forgotten. I will continue to push for the President to fully hold accountable those responsible for the death of Mr. Khashoggi and to uphold United States laws.”
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Sergio Lacueva)