By offering up this incredible account, the Saudi regime is baldly defying all those, including leading members of Congress, who called for full disclosure and accountability. Yet the Trump administration appears ready to accept its stonewalling. On Thursday, it announced sanctions against 17 persons implicated by the Saudis — leaving untouched both the crown prince and top intelligence officials in Riyadh.
Accepting the Saudi story means ignoring a number of well-established facts. An audio recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s last moments, which Turkish officials shared with CIA Director Gina Haspel, indicates that he was attacked and strangled immediately after entering the consulate. The Saudi version claims he died only after a quarrel and a struggle that prompted the head of the “negotiation team” to decide to murder him by injecting him with drugs.
The Saudi account says the operation was ordered by the then-deputy chief of intelligence, Ahmed al-Assiri, and advised by Saud al-Qahtani, a court propagandist. Both are close to Mohammed bin Salman. The two aides, so Riyadh’s story goes, were not complicit in the decision to kill Mr. Khashoggi and were fooled by their team’s claim that the journalist had left the consulate alive. That doesn’t explain a portion of the audio recording reported by the New York Times, in which Maher Mutreb, a close associate of the crown prince, instructs an official by phone to “tell your boss” that the mission was accomplished. As the Times reported, U.S. intelligence officials believe the “boss” is “almost certainly Prince Mohammed.”
Other contradictions and improbabilities abound. It’s known that a forensic expertwho specializes in autopsies was on the Saudi team; the Turks said he arrived with a bone saw for dismembering Mr. Khashoggi’s body. Yet the Saudis would have the world believe that the specialist was recruited only in order to clean up any evidence of an abduction, and that officials in Riyadh didn’t know about him.