One year ago Oct. 2, Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi was kidnapped, brutally murdered, and dismembered with a bone saw as he sought marriage documents in a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
After repeatedly and brazenly lying about his fate, the Saudi government finally admitted it had killed Khashoggi.
On Sunday, in a “60 Minutes” interview, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman called the murder a “heinous crime” and a “mistake.”
Eleven Saudis are subject to a secret trial, poised to take the fall for a killing the crown prince denies ordering.
A U.N. report, U.S. intelligence agencies, most members of Congress, and common sense suggest otherwise. But unfortunately, the one U.S. figure who could hold the crown prince to account — President Donald Trump — disgracefully equivocated, saying, “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t,” about the crown prince’s culpability in the slaying of a U.S. resident.
It’s all part of the president’s pattern of admiring rather than admonishing repressive rulers. It also fits Trump’s pattern of being disdainful of, and even dangerous to, journalists.
The latest example also involves a Mideast nation — Egypt, ruled by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whom Trump called out as “my favorite dictator” at the recent G7 Summit in France.
Last week New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, in a commentary titled “The Growing Threat to Journalism Around the World,” wrote that two years ago a U.S. official “without knowledge or permission” of the Trump administration warned of an imminent arrest of the newspaper’s Cairo correspondent.
That type of threat wasn’t unprecedented, but this was: “Rather than trying to stop the Egyptian government or assist the reporter, the official believed, the Trump administration intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out,” Sulzberger wrote. “The official feared being punished for even alerting us to the danger.”
So the Times turned to the reporter’s native Ireland for help, and within an hour Irish diplomats hustled him to the airport before he could be detained.
The U.S. was long the beacon of media freedom. Ceding that status endangers not only journalists, but democracy itself.