Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has accepted responsibility for the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, though has denied directly ordering the assassination.
Speaking with CBS News for the 60 Minutes show broadcast this weekend, Salman also claimed that the murder—committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, almost exactly one year ago—had caused him and his government a great deal of pain.
Salman’s interview with Norah O’Donnell was the first time he has discussed Khashoggi’s murder on television. The crown prince stands accused of ordering Saudi agents to kill the Washington Post journalist, who had been regularly critical of Salman and the ruling royal family.
Khashoggi was lured to the consulate to collect documents relating to his imminent marriage to fiancée Hatice Cengiz. While Cengiz waited outside the building for him to re-emerge, Khashoggi was led into a room with the assassins, asphyxiated and then dismembered. His remains have never been found, and those responsible fled back to Saudi Arabia on a private jet.
The Saudi government has charged 11 people with involvement in the killing and is seeking the death penalty for five of the defendants. However, the trial is taking place behind closed doors and the identities of those charged has not been released, raising concerns of a cover-up.
The CIA has concluded that Salman ordered Khashoggi’s killing, but the crown prince told O’Donnell he was not directly to blame. Asked whether he gave the kill order, Salman replied, “Absolutely not.”
“This was a heinous crime,” he added. “But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government.”
Pressed on what he meant, Salman continued, “When a crime is committed against a Saudi citizen by officials, working for the Saudi government, as a leader I must take responsibility. This was a mistake. And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future.”
Salman argued that he could not possibly be aware of what every Saudi government employee was doing at any one time. “It’s impossible that the three million would send their daily reports to the leader or the second highest person in the Saudi government,” he argued.
But several of Salman’s closest aides and bodyguards are believed to have formed the 15-man hit squad that traveled to Istanbul to kill Khashoggi. Asked if he could not know what his closest advisers were doing, Salman side-stepped the question and promised justice.
“Today the investigations are being carried out,” he replied. “And once charges are proven against someone, regardless of their rank, it will be taken to court, no exception made.”
Salman, who has rapidly consolidated power within the kingdom in recent years, said there was no threat to any other journalists. “The threat to Saudi Arabia is from such actions against a Saudi journalist,” he told O’Donnell.
“You cannot imagine the pain that we suffered,” he added, “especially as the Saudi government, from a crime such as this one.”
Khashoggi’s murder caused consternation among U.S. lawmakers. America’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia is already a contentious issue, not helped by Saudi Arabia’s rampant human rights abuses, the ongoing bloody war in Yemen and support for extremist Islamic ideology globally, among other challenges.
But the murder of such a prominent U.S. resident in such gruesome circumstances prompted vehement criticism from many in U.S. politics and the media. Regardless, President Donald Trump consistently backed Salman, despite the findings of his own intelligence community.
Salman told CBS that the bilateral relationship is strong enough to overcome such obstacles. “The relationship is much larger than [the Khashoggi killing] and this is a heinous incident and painful to all of us. Our role is to work day and night to overcome this and to make sure our future is much better than anything that happened in the past.”
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