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'Zero question' MBS directed Khashoggi murder: US senators

After meeting with CIA director, Republican senators say Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is 'complicit' in journalist's murder
'I think he’s crazy. I think he is dangerous,' US Senator Lindsey Graham said about the crown prince (AFP)

Two US Republican senators have emerged from a meeting with CIA Director Gina Haspel on Tuesday saying it's clearer than ever that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

US Senator Lindsey Graham said on Tuesday that bin Salman, known as MBS, is "complicit" in the killing of Khashoggi.

"MBS, the crown prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he’s complicit in the murder of Mr Khashoggi to the highest level possible," Graham told reporters after he came out of the meeting with Haspel.

"I think the behaviour before the Khashoggi murder was beyond disturbing and I cannot see him being a reliable partner to the United States."

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Haspel delivered a closed-door briefing on the Khashoggi murder to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Appropriations committees on Tuesday morning.

While Saudi Arabia and the crown prince "are two different entities," Graham said the relationship between Washington and Riyadh was imperilled due to MBS's control of the Saudi government.

"If the Saudi government is going to be in the hands of this man for a long time to come, I find it very difficult to be able to do business because I think he’s crazy. I think he is dangerous, and he has put the relationship at risk."

'Zero question' MBS directed the murder

US Senator Bob Corker, the current head of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, also said after the meeting that he is certain that MBS ordered Khashoggi's murder.

"I have zero question in my mind that the crown prince directed the murder and was kept appraised of the situation all the way through it," Corker said.

A Saudi government critic who was living in self-imposed exile in the US at the time of his death, Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

A 15-man Saudi team was sent to Turkey to kill the Washington Post columnist and his murder took seven minutes, a Turkish source previously told Middle East Eye.

Corker called on US President Donald Trump to strongly condemn Saudi Arabia for the killing and make sure that those responsible are held accountable.

“If the crown prince went in front of a jury, he would be convicted in 30 minutes," he told reporters. Asked if he would be convicted of murder, the senator then answered: "Yes."

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also briefly spoke to reporters after the meeting.

"The views that I had before have only solidified," said Menendez, who has called for the US to respond forcefully to Khashoggi's murder and supports legislation to end US support for a Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

The Trump administration has so far pledged to remain a steadfast supporter of the Saudi government, including MBS, the country's de facto leader, despite the murder of Khashoggi, however.

The case has highlighted growing tensions between the Trump administration and the CIA, which concluded last month that MBS ordered Khashoggi's murder.

Trump has repeatedly cast doubts over the US intelligence agency's assessment, however, while Saudi officials have repeatedly denied that the crown prince had any knowledge of Khashoggi's murder or its subsequent cover-up.

MBS, the crown prince, is a wrecking ball. I think he’s complicit in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, to the highest level possible

- US Senator Lindsey Graham

A source told Reuters on Tuesday that Trump administration officials, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, will brief all members of the US House of Representatives on the Saudi situation on 13 December.

Haspel is also expected to brief leaders and top committee members of the House within the next two weeks on Khashoggi's killing, a source familiar with the plans told Reuters.

A 'smoking saw'

Both Pompeo and Mattis have said in the past week that there is no definitive link - or a "smoking gun" - to tie MBS to Khashoggi's murder.

However, US politicians have repeatedly called for the CIA and the Trump administration to release all the information they have related to the case.

On Tuesday, Graham said while there may not be a smoking gun, there is a "smoking saw," a reference to reports that a member of the Saudi hit team sent to Istanbul used a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi's body after he was killed.

Earlier in the day, Republican Senator Rand Paul voiced his frustration that "most rank-and-file senators and congressmen" were not invited to the meeting with Haspel.

"It’s wrong for the CIA to have expressed a conclusion that the crown prince was involved in the killing of Khashoggi and then withhold that information," he told reporters.

"Were there text messages sent back from the killers to the crown prince’s office? Was there a phone conversation between the crown prince and the killers?" said Paul, about what he would have asked the CIA director had he been allowed into the briefing.

Meanwhile, the Open Society Foundations' Justice Initiative, a legal organisation which campaigns for human rights, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the CIA and other US federal agencies for all documents related to the murder of Khashoggi.

The request covers records "including but not limited to the CIA’s findings on the circumstances under which [Khashoggi] was killed and/or the identities of those responsible," the group said in a statement.

"In the face of widespread public and bipartisan Congressional outrage about the murder of a U.S. resident, the Trump Administration has responded with what appears to be a cover-up," said Amrit Singh, the lead lawyer for the Justice Initiative on the filing.

"The full disclosure of these records is a vital step towards ending impunity for the perpetrators, no matter how powerful they might be, and allowing the public to evaluate for itself how the U.S. government is responding to this flagrant disregard for the rule of law.”  

The Justice Initiative was also filed with the US Departments of State, Justice and Defence, as well as the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

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