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Top Democrat urges Khashoggi murder report to be released 'without delay'

Congressman Adam Schiff welcomed new intelligence chief's pledge to release document naming Saudi officials responsible for the murder
Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi government agents in Istanbul
Saudi journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi government agents in Istanbul in 2018 (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, has welcomed the new US administration's pledge to release a declassified report on who killed Jamal Khashoggi, calling for the document to be made public "without delay".

In a letter to the newly confirmed Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines on Friday, Schiff said ensuring accountability for the murder of the Saudi journalist has been a top bipartisan priority in Congress.

Earlier this week, Haines had told lawmakers that her office, known as ODNI, would release a report naming the Saudi officials involved in the assassination, in compliance with legally binding congressional requests.

"I greatly appreciate the commitment you made during your confirmation hearing that you will ensure that ODNI releases the unclassified report, and hope that you will do so without delay," Schiff wrote to Haines on Friday.

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Late in 2019, Congress had inserted a provision in the Pentagon budget, ordering ODNI to submit to Congress within 30 days an unclassified report outlining "the advance knowledge and role" of any Saudi official in "the directing, ordering, or tampering of evidence in the killing of Khashoggi".

However, the Trump administration refused to produce the report, arguing that releasing the information would compromise intelligence sources and methods.

Khashoggi, a US resident and columnist for both the Washington Post and Middle East Eye, was killed by Saudi government agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

Riyadh initially denied the assassination, claiming that Khashoggi had left the building alive. 

More than two weeks after the killing, Saudi officials acknowledged that the journalist was killed but portrayed the murder as a rogue operation that happened without the knowledge of the kingdom's leadership.

Former president Donald Trump had been pushing to shield top Saudi royals from accountability for the murder, often citing Washington's weapons deals with Riyadh and the kingdom's role as a geopolitical counterweight to Iran in the Gulf region.

Accountability

According to numerous US media reports late in 2018, the CIA concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, was responsible for the murder.

"Whereas President Trump bragged to US journalist Bob Woodward that he 'saved' the Saudi crown prince from congressional scrutiny for his role in Mr Khashoggi's brutal murder, President Biden has made clear that 'Jamal Khashoggi and his loved ones deserve accountability'," Schiff said.

"I agree and look forward to working closely with you and President Biden to fulfill that commitment, as well as to Congress receiving the unclassified report, together with any additional assessment that Intelligence Community analysts have produced."

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Agnes Callamard, the UN rapporteur on extrajudicial killings who found in 2019 that the killing of Khashoggi was a state-sanctioned crime, welcomed Haines' pledge earlier this week to release the report.

"The DNI report is an essential piece of the accountability puzzle, a crucial step for #JusticeforJamal," Callamard wrote on Twitter.

The UN expert has been calling on Washington to share what it knows about the murder with the rest of the world. 

"From an international legal standpoint and an international political standpoint, the public release of a document with the CIA assessment - a document that could be probed by others - will make it far more difficult for the rest of the world, particularly governments, to ignore Mohammed bin Salman's personal involvement in the operation that led to the killing and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi," Callamard told MEE last year. 

"It's all about making it more difficult - if not impossible - for countries, governments, the UN decision-making bodies, to turn the page."