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Was Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Involved In Jamal Khashoggi's Death?


Was the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, involved in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? U.S. intelligence officials looked into it, and they came to a conclusion, but the Trump administration kept their findings a secret. Now, of course, there's a new administration in the White House. NPR's Deb Amos has been following the story closely. Good morning, Deb.


KING: What do we know about what's in this U.S. intelligence report?

AMOS: So officially, we don't know much, but making it official is a big deal. Of course, we do know a lot about the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. We've seen transcripts about his dismemberment in the consulate in Istanbul.

Greg Gause, head of the International Affairs Department at Texas A&M, a Saudi watcher, says there's not going to be a surprise.

GREG GAUSE: I would assume that any release would confirm what I think almost everyone assumes. Operations like this don't happen in Saudi without approval from the top.

AMOS: Now, people are going to want to know if the U.S. has proof of that because the Saudis say that they've tried and convicted the people who killed Jamal Khashoggi. But the process was mostly secret, and it was very criticized.

KING: What is the deal with the timing? Why is this report coming out just now?

AMOS: So this all has to do with a lawsuit. You know, right after Khashoggi was killed, the U.S. intelligence community made this assessment whether the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, as he's known, ordered the murder. Some members of Congress had access to it, but the Trump administration, as you say, didn't want to make this public. So Open Society's Justice Initiative filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking that document.

I spoke to Amrit Singh. She's the lawyer. And she said this is what she wants to be revealed in court.

AMRIT SINGH: It's a two-page document.

AMOS: It's only a secret to the American public.

SINGH: Correct. This is a vital step forward in ending the impunity for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

AMOS: That's Amrit Singh.

Now, the Biden administration has pledged to release the document even before the court case is done. And that's why there's a frenzy now about this release.

KING: Americans were outraged over the killing of Khashoggi. He had lived in the United States for some time, had a lot of powerful friends here. And yet, it seems to have done nothing to damage the U.S.-Saudi relationship. How is that possible?

AMOS: Well, let us see what happens after this is - this report is released. It is delicate diplomacy, as you say. President Biden is going to call King Salman. This is two fathers. One is going to say to the other, we're going to release this report, and there is going to be some damaging information here about your son. So how the Saudis react will be important.

I put this question to Karen Young. She's at the American Enterprise Institute. She specializes in Saudi Arabia.

KAREN YOUNG: I think it will be probably six months of a rough patch in the relationship. It'll go along with, probably, a bilateral review within the State Department - all very normal, all very bureaucratic. And then they'll set the terms of engagement. And so that's where the real change happens. Who would be surprised that Mohammed bin Salman is implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? We all know that.

AMOS: You know, but knowing it and knowing what to do about it - those are two different things. Now, without the former president, Trump, to defend the kingdom, people are looking to see what Biden will do about a killing that shocked the world.

KING: NPR's Deb Amos. Thanks so much, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.