CIA Director Gina Haspel traveled to Turkey on Monday to assess and help with the investigation into the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi — but the timing and possible motives of the visit are raising some eyebrows.
With Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatening to reveal the full "naked truth" about what happened to Khashoggi, Haspel touched down in Ankara on Monday. Why? A sign of panic from the Trump administration? A damage control mission as Erdogan prepares to reveal politically inconvenient information?
After initially denying any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi, Riyadh eventually admitted that the journalist had been killed inside its Istanbul consulate, but said that the death was accidental and happened after a “fist fight” broke out between the journalist and some rogue operatives acting in an “unsanctioned” manner.
Turkey, however, claims that Khashoggi’s death was planned and brutal. Erdogan has said the journalist was killed in a “extremely savage” attack and called for suspects to be tried in Istanbul. What’s more, Ankara claims to have sufficient evidence to prove its version of events and has called on Riyadh to provide answers.
Washington, on the other hand, has been more circumspect about the Khashoggi case, with the Trump administration swaying back and forth between chastising and complimenting Riyadh. Overall, however, Trump has given the impression that he is eager to find a way to defuse the whole situation — even admitting that it would not be acceptable for the US to lose “massive amounts” of Saudi money over the death of a journalist who was not a US citizen, prompting accusations that he was part of a financially motivated cover-up with Riyadh. Those accusations grew louder when Trump said he found Saudi explanations credible and touted the country as a “great ally”.
On the face of it, Trump has sent Haspel to get to the bottom of what happened to Khashoggi; perhaps to look into whether Ankara really has the video and audio evidence some officials have claimed to have seen in leaks to media. But it’s hard to escape the irony that Haspel is well known for her role in destroying video evidence of CIA torture in 2005 — one of the hurdles she faced in Senate confirmation hearings earlier this year.
Haspel herself was also reportedly an active participant in torture of detainees earlier in her CIA career, even earning herself the nickname “Bloody Gina” from some less torture-happy colleagues.
Could Haspel’s impromptu trip to Ankara be part of this effort to defuse the situation rather than to really get to the bottom of what happened inside the consulate walls? Could she be there in an effort to convince Erdogan to keep secret information which may implicate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who critics believe must have ordered Khashoggi’s murder — and who the US would prefer to keep as a “great ally” in the region?
As for Erdogan, some believe he is more than open to withholding crucial information about those responsible for Khashoggi’s death if the US or Saudi Arabia presented him with some kind of attractive deal or proposal. Others believe he may want to use whatever evidence he claims to have to weaken the Saudi crown prince, which could be to Ankara’s benefit in the region. During the Tuesday speech in which he promised to reveal the “naked truth” about the killing, Erdogan did not make mention of, or implicate, Mohammad bin Salman.
Trump has touted the “tremendously talented” intelligence figures Washington has sent to Ankara and said he will have more information on the investigation “very soon”. Indeed, very soon we may know more about whether Haspel and her colleagues are tremendously talented at getting to the bottom of crimes or helping cover them up.
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