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Rogue killers or state murder? Riyadh gets benefit of doubt from Trump where Russia doesn’t

Rogue killers or state murder? Riyadh gets benefit of doubt from Trump where Russia doesn’t
Washington has reacted with uncharacteristic calm following the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Instead of slapping Riyadh with sanctions and tearing up deals, Trump has refused to pin the blame on anyone.

Turkey has flatly accused Saudi Arabia of murdering and dismembering Khashoggi when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 to obtain marriage documents. That was the last time the dissident journalist was seen — and Ankara says it has audio and video proof that he was murdered inside the building.

Trump on the other hand has been more circumspect, even suggesting that perhaps “rogue killers” were responsible for the suspected murder — a theory he proffered to journalists at the White House shortly after a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

But the mostly low-key reaction from the Washington to the disappearance provides a stark contrast to how both Trump and his predecessors have dealt with unproven accusations made against other countries — most notably Russia.

When ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in Salisbury in March, it took nothing more than a swift declaration (sans evidence) from British intelligence agencies before sanctions had been slapped on Moscow.

Within days of the poisoning, British Prime Minister Theresa May had expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the country and requested that Britain’s allies do the same. The US along with a slew of European countries were happy to oblige, all announcing they too would kick Russian diplomats out of the country as punishment for the poisoning of the Skripals — for which there was no actual solid evidence presented.

READ MORE: Telegraph defence editor savaged by Owen Jones over Saudi-links, deletes Twitter account

Soon, the media too lost all interest in searching for answers on the Skripal case — and journalists probing further were quickly subjected to public ridicule for daring to question the official government narrative.

While it would be nice to think that Trump has suddenly realized the value of calmly awaiting information and assessing evidence, the reality unfortunately is quite different.

Trump has promised “severe punishment” will be handed out to Riyadh if it turns out that the country is responsible for the alleged killing of the journalist — but that harsh comment has been tempered by other less angry statements which indicate that the US president is not quite serious about doling out any kind of consequences. After all, there are other things on Trump’s mind, far more important than the fate of one journalist.

Referring to a $110 billion weapons deal previously signed by Riyadh and Washington and noting that Khashoggi was not a US citizen, Trump told journalists last week that he didn’t really want to stop “massive amounts of money” from being poured into the US from Saudi Arabia. “It would not be acceptable to me,” Trump said.

In other words, if Saudi Arabia really did send a team to torture, kill and dismember Khashoggi — a journalist who wrote for the Washington Post —  weapons sales are still more important. Even the sale of weapons which are being used by Riyadh to continually slaughter civilians in Yemen during a war that threatens to create the worst famine in 100 years, according to the UN.

So much for the notion that the US really cares about standing up for human rights around the world. As is so often the case, when human rights conflict with war and money, war and money win — and not just under Trump, as some journalists have been quick to suggest.  

With Trump now appearing to buy into theories about “rogue killers” being responsible, even while Ankara claims it possesses strong evidence of Riyadh’s guilt, it seems certain that anyone expecting a strong US response to Khashoggi’s disappearance would be well advised to lower their expectations now.

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