US report avoids linking MBS to Khashoggi murder

Indo Asian News Service

Washington, March 14 (IANS) A US State Department report has labelled journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder a human rights violation committed by Saudi Arabian government agents, but has made no mention whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played a role in the Washington Post columnist's death.

The annual report, details human rights abuses around the world, under a mandate set by Congress in foreign aid and trade laws. It was released on Wednesday, CNN reported.

The State Department's top human rights official declined to say what role, if any, the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) assessment of the case played in the account of Khashoggi's death.

The CIA had concluded that the Crown Prince, also known as MBS, directed Khashoggi's murder, according to multiple lawmakers briefed by the agency's Director Gina Haspel.

Ambassador Michael Kozak of the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour did not answer when asked why the report failed to mention Bin Salman in connection to Khashoggi's death, instead talking about an ongoing Saudi investigation and saying, "we're sort of in the middle of that movie".

He also refused to say whether the State Department had reviewed the CIA assessment on Khashoggi's killing.

"I'm not going to give you an answer about Saudi," Kozak said. "But I can say that we, I mean, we routinely review intelligence information as part of our daily job."

In its account of Khashoggi's death, the State Department report said that Saudi government agents "carried out the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2." Khashoggi was a fierce critic of the Crown Prince.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman "pledged to hold all individuals involved accountable, regardless of position or rank" and 11 suspects had been indicted by the Kingdom's public prosecutor's office, the report stated.

The Saudi government has not publicly named any of those 11 suspects or provided any detailed account of where its investigation stands.

"In other cases, the government did not punish officials accused of committing human rights abuses, contributing to an environment of impunity," the report said.

Kozak defended the omission of the Crown Prince's name in connection with Khashoggi. "We can all have our suspicions or speculations, but our effort is fact-driven rather than opinion-driven."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo singled out four countries - Iran, South Sudan, Nicaragua and China - in brief remarks on the report.

China "is in a league of its own when it comes to human rights violations," Pompeo said. He pointed to the Chinese government's repressive campaign against Muslim minority groups.

"Today, more than 1 million Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslims are interned in re-education camps designed to erase their religious and ethnic identities," he said.

"The government also is increasing its persecution against Christians, Tibetans and anyone who espouses different views from those of government - or advocates change in government."

--IANS

soni/bc