US report on Khashoggi murder critical for justice: UN expert

The pending release of an unclassified United States intelligence report on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi will be a critical step in the ongoing search for justice, a leading United Nations expert has said.

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said the report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) is expected to provide information on who was responsible for the October 2018 killing.

“Once we have further evidence, it will be really impossible for the rest of the world to ignore whatever information will be provided,” Callamard said late on Wednesday during a panel discussion hosted by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post newspaper columnist and prominent critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to retrieve documents for his upcoming marriage.

His murder sent shockwaves around the world and spurred demands from human rights advocates, press freedom organisations, UN experts and legislators for the perpetrators to be held accountable.

“For the sake of accountability and for the sake of American democracy, the DNI report must be released,” Callamard said.

Unclassified report

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday the Biden administration remains committed to releasing the DNI report. She did not give a specific timeframe for its release, saying only it would be “soon”.

Biden told reporters he has read the report and expected to speak by phone soon with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud. The US president he did not say when the call would take place, the White House press pool reported.

Earlier this week, news outlet Axios said the report – which is widely believed to provide more details on the alleged role of bin Salman, also known as MBS, in Khashoggi’s murder – could be out as early as Thursday.

Citing four unidentified US officials familiar with the matter, the Reuters news agency said the report “assessed that the crown prince approved and likely ordered the murder of Khashoggi”.

‘Absolutely not’

Saudi officials have repeatedly rejected accusations MBS was involved in Khashoggi’s killing, instead blaming the murder on a group of rogue operatives.

In an interview with broadcaster CBS’s programme 60 Minutes in 2019, the crown prince was asked if he ordered Khashoggi’s murder. “Absolutely not,” he answered, adding however that he said he took “full responsibility” as a Saudi leader for the “heinous crime”.

Amid global calls for a thorough and transparent investigation into what happened, the US Congress passed a defence bill in December 2019 that included a provision requiring the DNI to release within 30 days an unclassified report on the murder.

Specifically, it asked the intelligence chief to list anyone they believe with “high confidence” was responsible or complicit in Khashoggi’s murder, knew of or assisted in the killing, or impeded the investigation.

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