Murder in the Consulate– in Istanbul, at that. Agatha Christie? Call Hercule Poirot? No- this isn’t a joke. It’s real life drama, and potentially a gruesome horror story.
Dramatic events at diplomatic and consular missions are not all that unique- think hostage taking or asylum seeking. The occasional disgruntled visa applicant wielding a gun or a knife. Many a diplomat has lived it. But this case is in a different league altogether.
A few comments from the diplomatic point of view.
Diplomatic immunity, although not nearly as absolute as it used to be, theoretically is still strong when it comes to criminal law. Yet the Saudi consul general left Turkey in a hurry. Leaving a crime scene is never the best proof of innocence. Was His Excellency wary that the case was too dramatic for him to hide behind his status?
Two other possibilities: was he in on a plot, and was his hasty departure organized as part of it? The line in most of the international press is not just that he departed, but that he fled- as one does a crime scene. How did he manage to escape? At the very least, the authorities in Ankara could have called him in to ask for an explanation. That would be standard procedure, and fully consistent with diplomatic immunity.
But no. He left the country, presumably on a private jet. I know from experience that security checks when boarding private planes are a piece of cake next to what the ordinary traveler is routinely subject to. Also- the Turkish authorities my have preferred to look the other way as His Excellency slipped through, still hoping, in the early stages of the story, to avoid an embarrassment. That’s no longer possible.
There is another possible explanation. By leaving the country, if the consul general was not in on an alleged plot to assassinate Mr Khashoggi, he prevented the Saudi authorities from throwing him to Turkey and the world as the fall guy, as the expression goes in crime fiction.
If all the details being leaked to the press are authenticated- the beheading of Mr Khashoggi, followed by the dismemberment of his body- the full horror may come to light. What does it say about Saudi Arabia? Even without this case, the human rights record of the country is nothing but atrocious. Why would they stop at one more beheading? The princes in Riyadh may buy all the TV spots in the world to try and present themselves in a different light, but that can’t hide the medieval state of their State.
But there is another aspect. Mr Kashoggi was by no means the harshest critic of the princes nor the most vocal Saudi dissident. But he was living in the United States, and he was becoming worse than an enemy: an embarrassment, to powerful people who will rather resort to extremes than to lose face. Power corrupts- sure; but maybe even worse- it creates acute paranoia. Look at Mr Nixon. Was Mr Kashoggi a threat to the pretend reformers in the Kingdom? But how could they be so ill-advised as to think a case like this would not blow up in their faces? Mystery. How shielded from reality can the desert princes be?
All of this is speculation. Is Mr. Kashoggi indeed gone, and under what circumstances? What more will we find out? Will the United States and others cling to contracts and billions of petrodollars rather than to expose the true culprits, if the horror of the events is confirmed? In the short run, Davos in the Desert may fall through- but how long before money talks again, over any human rights concerns?
Let’s not be naive. Enemies of the Saudis in their own region are quick to blame Riyadh, but behind the glitter of their shopping malls and airports, museums and opera house and theme parks…, Gulf countries are not exactly human rights champions either- what with their vast schemes of migrant worker slavery, to name only that?
One last thought. Political assassinations have been a given, almost a routine, in all of human history. The Khashoggi case may be particularly atrocious, but in our hyper-civilized European Union we had three cases of investigative journalists murdered over the last year because they embarrassed the powerful.
The desert princes may be more cruel than others, and somewhat naively unaware of the risks of international indignation; but exceptions as to the principle of liquidating unfriendly journalists they are, alas, not. And in the end, I bet you- their money will talk loudest.