The Irish Times view on Jamal Khashoggi: Saudi Arabia must be held to account

A devastating UN report on the journalist’s murder highlights Riyadh’s role

It was 1.02pm on October 2nd last year, and Jamal Khashoggi was about to enter the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Inside, according to subsequent analysis of a recording by Turkish intelligence services, two Saudi officials – a spy and a forensics specialist – were discussing logistics. It would be "easy", said the medic. "Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished." There was a reference to cutting skin and, a few minutes later, to the imminent arrival of "the sacrificial animal".

Another recording, in the consul's office, captured what Turkish and other intelligence services have concluded was Khashoggi being injected with a sedative and suffocated with a plastic bag before his body was dismembered with a saw and disposed of by a team of Saudi officials flown to Turkey for the task. Khashoggi was probably dead within 10 minutes of entering the building.

The passages above are drawn from a 100-page report published on Wednesday by Agnes Callamard, the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. The document does not fundamentally alter our understanding of the killing – a carefully planned operation against a well-known Saudi journalist and dissident, which Riyadh initially lied about and still seeks, quite implausibly, to dismiss as a "rogue" event carried out without official sanction. But Callamard's analysis, a rigorous and devastating indictment of the Saudi regime, offers the most detailed picture yet produced on the horrific killing, its build-up and its aftermath.

The report chronicles the careful Saudi preparations for the murder and Riyadh’s subsequent attempts at a cover-up that included scrubbing down rooms, blocking investigators and possibly burning evidence. It demands that the secret trial of 11 unnamed suspects in Riyadh be suspended over its lack of credibility.


Pointing to the involvement of several senior Saudi officials, including the consul general, Callamard concludes that there is credible evidence, warranting further investigation, of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including that of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In the immediate aftermath of Khashoggi's murder, world opinion seemed to be turning on Crown Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia. Governments condemned him and business leaders shunned a flagship investment conference. But even though western intelligence agencies have concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, the consequences for Riyadh have been minimal. The US-Saudi relationship remains as tight as ever, and foreign investment continues apace. But justice demands that the Saudi leadership be held accountable, and that those who ordered and carried out the killing of Jamal Khashoggi pay for their crime.