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US judge orders government to release thousands of documents on Khashoggi case

Khashoggi's murder is of 'exceptional public importance and obvious and unusual time-sensitivity', judge says
Advocacy group had sued US government agencies to obtain files (AP/File photo)

A US judge has ordered government agencies to release thousands of documents related to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, dismissing the State Department and Pentagon's claim that they do not have the resources to make the information public.

The murder of the Washington Post journalist, who resided in the United States when he was killed, is of "exceptional public importance and obvious and unusual time-sensitivity", Judge Paul Engelmayer wrote in a ruling released on Tuesday.

Saudi government agents murdered Khashoggi at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate last October.

His death sent shockwaves through Washington, where lawmakers have questioned the US alliance with Saudi Arabia and strongly criticised President Donald Trump, who has insisted on defending his allies in Riyadh.

The CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the assassination, several leading US media outlets reported late last year - a finding that was echoed unanimously in the US Senate and denied by the Saudis.

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Still, the CIA has not shared its findings with the public.

In early 2019, the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) filed a lawsuit against US government agencies to compel them to comply with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to release information related to the murder of Khashoggi.

OSJI is a legal initiative for the Open Society Foundations, a pro-democracy advocacy group founded by liberal philanthropist George Soros.

The US government had said it possesses a large trove of documents about the killing that need to be reviewed, arguing that it was not "practicable" to release thousands of files.

But Judge Engelmayer ruled on Tuesday that the State Department and Defense Department must release 5,000 pages per month.

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Last week, the CIA and Department of Defense released dozens of files to OSJI, but the heavily redacted documents mostly focused on correspondence between government spokespersons and journalists.

They did not contain any major revelations.

Engelmayer's ruling follows a June report by UN expert Agnes Callamard urging Washington to make public any relevant information its intelligence agencies have collected on the murder.

At an event in the US capital in July, Callamard said the US is uniquely equipped to unearth the truth about the assassination because Khashoggi was a Virginia resident who worked for an American publication.

"Most of my recommendations are about transparency and truth-telling," she said of her suggestions for the US government.

The judge cited Callamard's recommendations in his decision, stressing the importance of the information in the US government's possession.

"The court has found that there is paramount public importance and urgency to OSJI's request for records bearing on the information known to the federal agencies regarding Khashoggi's disappearance," he wrote.

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