Just over nine months ago, Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never came out. His remains have not been found. The actual killers may or may not be on trial—criminal proceedings against 11 people in Saudi Arabia are shrouded in secrecy by the same Saudi state accused of orchestrating Khashoggi's death. And the most senior officials implicated in the killing remain free.
Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions, released a report on June 19 that concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has played "an essential role in a campaign of repressing dissidents." She said experts found it "inconceivable" that an operation of the scale of Khashoggi's killing and dismemberment could be conducted without the crown prince being aware that a "mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched."
She called for further investigation into the crown prince and other top Saudi officials. She also urged the U.S. Congress to hold hearings "to determine the responsibility of high-level Saudi officials, and demand access to the underlying classified material."
Some members of Congress are ahead of the game.
Shortly after Khashoggi's death, several resolutions and bills were introduced that question U.S. support for Saudi Arabia and propose a range of actions for the administration to take including sanctions on senior officials involved in Khashoggi's murder and a suspension of weapons transfers. Earlier this month, the House passed a number of amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that would limit weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and require a report on its human rights situation.
One week ago, those same provisions passed the House in the form of the Saudi Arabia Human Rights and Accountability Act by an astounding majority of 405-7.
In the Senate, the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act—which would impose sanctions on Saudi officials involved in Khashoggi's murder, among other things, was first introduced in 2018and again in February. Senator James Risch introduced a competing bill, the Saudi Arabia Diplomatic Review Act, in July.
On Tuesday morning, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is meeting to mark up the competing bills.
The time is ripe for Congress to pass and reconcile versions of these bills to produce a strong, bipartisan statement that resets U.S.-Saudi relations. But any congressional action also needs teeth, and to seek to hold to account those Saudi officials responsible for gross human rights violations.
While the Trump administration did impose sanctions on 17 Saudis who allegedly played a role in Khashoggi's killing, it has not disclosed the information that supported those sanctions, or why more senior Saudi officials were not included. Congress should press forward with hearings to demand more information from the administration, and pass legislation that holds those who orchestrated Khashoggi's killing to account.
Most important, however, Congress and the Trump administration should acknowledge that Khashoggi was not killed in a vacuum.
The crown prince's government is responsible for both brutal suppression of human rights at home, and violations of the laws of war abroad. On the domestic front, Saudi authorities carried out a widespread arrest campaign against the women's rights movement, detaining nearly 20 people. It put 11 women on trial in March. At least four of them said that they were tortured in detention. Several remain on trial.
In April, Saudi Arabia announced the mass execution of 37 men in various parts of the country. At least 33 were from the country's minority Shiite community, following unfair trials.
Saudi Arabia's discriminatory male guardianship system remains intact despite government pledges to abolish it. Adult women must obtain permission from a male guardian—usually a husband, father, brother or son—to travel abroad, obtain a passport, marry, or be discharged from prison. Women may be required to provide guardian consent to work or to receive health care.
These are just some of the egregious human rights violations by Saudi authorities against their own people. Crown Prince Mohammed's foreign policy has been no better. Human Rights Watch has previously called for individual sanctions against the crown prince over the Saudi-led coalition's indiscriminate bombing and unlawful blockading of essential goods to Yemen's civilian population. Despite evidence of violations, including apparent war crimes such as an attack killing a busload of Yemeni children, the U.S. continues to sell weapons to the Saudis that can be used in violations that the coalition refuses even to seriously investigate, let alone end.
It's too late for Jamal Khashoggi. But for the hundreds of people imprisoned on trumped-up charges, the detainees tortured, the Yemeni civilians under repeated attack, and every Saudi woman and girl who has fewer rights than men, there is still hope. If the Trump administration won't stand up to Crown Prince Mohammed, Congress needs to. Passing laws that seek to hold killers to account, and not rewarding them with billions of dollars in weapons sales, is a good start.