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Khashoggi fallout
January 2, 2019

Apparently some theocratic Arabian monarchies just can't take a joke. On Wednesday, Netflix confirmed that it had pulled the second episode of Daily Show alumnus Hasan Minhaj's new topical comedy show, Patriot Act, from its streaming service in Saudi Arabia following complaints from the kingdom's Communications and Information Technology Commission. "We strongly support artistic freedom worldwide and only removed this episode in Saudi Arabia after we had received a valid legal request — and to comply with local law," Netflix said in a statement. The law in question is, curiously, Saudi Arabia's cyber-crime statute.

In the episode, Minhaj criticizes Saudi Arabia and its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He also characterized MBS as autocratic and slammed his war in Yemen. "Now would be a good time to reassess our relationship with Saudi Arabia," he said. "And I mean that as a Muslim and as an American." You can still watch the episode, first released in October, on Netflix in the U.S. and apparently on YouTube in Saudi Arabia. There is some NSFW language, but you can try to figure out which part the Saudis found so offensive in the barred segment (and its December update) below. Peter Weber

November 28, 2018

Defense Secretary James Mattis is defending the Trump administration's response to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as questions continue to swirl about the CIA's conclusions.

Mattis told reporters Wednesday that there is "no smoking gun" implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the murder of the Washington Post columnist last month, saying that he has personally reviewed the intelligence that has been collected. But The New York Times reports that the CIA has concluded bin Salman did, in fact, order the killing. CNN backs this up, reporting that the CIA has "assessed with high confidence that the prince directed Khashoggi's murder." When asked if this was correct, Mattis would not answer, simply telling reporters, "There you need to go to the CIA."

President Trump himself has claimed that the CIA "did not come to a conclusion" and they just "have feelings certain ways," reports the Times.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also defended the administration's response to the murder in a closed door meeting with senators about Yemen on Wednesday, telling lawmakers that there is "no direct reporting" implicating the crown prince, per CNN. CIA Director Gina Haspel did not participate in the meeting, which Pompeo reportedly said was a decision made by the White House, although a CIA spokesperson denies anyone told her not to attend. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was not happy about this, saying the meeting was "inadequate" because the CIA did not participate. Watch Mattis' comments below. Brendan Morrow

November 27, 2018

National Security Adviser John Bolton on Tuesday dismissed the idea that he should listen to the tape of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

When asked if he has listened to audio of Khashoggi being killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Bolton said he hasn't, and he doesn't see why that's necessary. "I guess I should ask you, why do you think I should?" Bolton shot back to the reporter at a press briefing. "What do you think I'll learn from it?" Bolton said the reason he hasn't listened to it is that he doesn't speak Arabic. When a reporter suggested he could listen to it and make use of an interpreter, he said, "Well, then I can read a transcript."

Bolton later said that he has been informed about the "substance of what's in" the tape. CNN's April Ryan in a follow-up suggested that if he listened to the audio recording, he could "hear the emotion, and a translator could help you understand what happened," but Bolton said he is "very satisfied that we know what the tape picked up." President Trump previously said that he did not want to listen to the tape of the murder because it is a "suffering tape." The Trump administration is currently sticking by Saudi Arabia and claiming there's no evidence that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the murder, a position White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders maintained, saying there has been no "definitive evidence" from the intelligence community. Watch Bolton's comments below. Brendan Morrow

November 19, 2018

During an interview with Fox News that aired Sunday night, President Trump said he will not listen to the tape recording of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist living in the United States, was killed last month inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The Turkish government has supplied the audio, Trump told Chris Wallace, adding that listening to it won't change how he decides to respond. It's a "suffering tape, it's a terrible tape," Trump said. "I've been fully briefed on it, there's no reason for me to hear it. I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it."

U.S. intelligence has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, which he denies. Khashoggi had been critical of the Saudi government, but also supported some of its policies. Trump told reporters on Saturday that a full report will be published by Tuesday, including the answer to "who did it." On Fox News, Trump said Saudi Arabia is "an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good." Catherine Garcia

November 15, 2018

The United States is considering extraditing one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political enemies in an attempt to get Turkey to "ease pressure" on Saudi Arabia, NBC News reported Thursday.

The Trump administration has been examining ways to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in Pennsylvania with a green card for almost two decades, the report says. This effort is reportedly directly tied to the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkey says was murdered by Saudi government operatives in Istanbul. NBC News reports that Gulen's extradition would be a way to "placate Turkey over the murder."

A U.S. official reportedly says there has been pushback against the possibility. "The career guys were furious" at the suggestion, said the official.

Turkey formally requested Gulen's extradition in 2016, after blaming him for an attempted coup, NBC News reported at the time. If extradition isn't an option, the Trump administration has also weighed the possibility of making Gulen relocate to South Africa. Turkey disputes the report and says there is "no connection" between Khashoggi's murder and the Gulen case. Alternatively, the release of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced to prison for evading sanctions, has also been considered, NBC News reports.

This news comes after Saudi Arabia once again changed its story about Khashoggi's murder, concluding the journalist was killed in an on-the-spot decision after previously calling his murder premeditated. News about Gulen's possible extradition drew immediate criticism, with NBC News' Benjy Sarlin summing it up: "So if I have this right," he wrote, "Trump looking into handing a prominent dissident over to an authoritarian regime to get them to ease up on a second authoritarian regime for murdering a second prominent dissident?" Brendan Morrow

November 15, 2018

Saudi Arabia has indicted 11 people in connection with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and five of them may receive the death penalty.

The Saudi public prosecutor, Saud al-Mojeb, announced the charges during a news conference Thursday, which came over a month after the journalist, who was critical of the kingdom, went missing at the Saudi consulate in Turkey, per The Washington Post. Al-Mojeb says a 15-person team was sent to the consulate to abduct Khashoggi, but when he resisted, they decided to kill him, The New York Times reports. The Saudi public prosecutor says they did so by injecting Khashoggi with an overdose of a sedative and then dismembering his body, per CNN.

After Khashoggi went missing in early October, the kingdom's narrative of events changed dramatically. At first, it said Khashoggi actually left the consulate safely, only to later say he was killed accidentally during a fistfight. Then Saudi officials suggested the killing was premeditated. Now, the public prosecutor claims the decision to kill Khashoggi was made on the spot, The New York Times reports.

Saudi Arabia also maintains that the operation was carried out without the knowledge of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, even though officials say this is unlikely, the Times reports. "It is obvious that this murder was previously planned and that the order had come from high-level authorities in Saudi Arabia," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says. Brendan Morrow

November 13, 2018

Turkey's evidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was directly involved in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last month includes a phone call from one of the 15 men who apparently murdered him in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, The New York Times reports. In the recording, Saudi security officer Maer Abdulaziz Mutreb tells a superior in Saudi Arabia to "tell your boss" that the deed was done, right after the killing. Turkish intelligence believes the person on the other end of the call, conducted in Arabic, was an aide to the crown prince.

Turkey played the recording for CIA Director Gina Haspel in Ankara last month, and on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country has shared the audio with not just the U.S. but also Saudi Arabia and other Western allies. However, Turkish officials say no other government has copies of the recordings, just transcripts.

Bin Salman's name is not mentioned in the audio, and Saudi officials deny he had "any knowledge whatsoever" of Khashoggi's killing and said there were no instructions to "tell your boss" in the parts of the recordings Turkey played for them. But "even without definitive proof, intelligence agencies had already concluded that only Prince Mohammed could have ordered the operation to kill Mr. Khashoggi, given the personal character of his governance and the depth of his control over the kingdom," the Times notes.

"A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get," former CIA officer Bruce Riedel tells the Times. "It is pretty incriminating evidence." Without irrefutable evidence, President Trump is unlikely to cut ties with bin Salman, the Times reports, "but the shift in power in Congress, where Democrats take control of the House in January, is also increasing pressure on the administration to take more punitive action." Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

November 1, 2018

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia denigrated journalist Jamal Khashoggi and claimed he was a dangerous Islamist during a call with the White House shortly after Khashoggi's death, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

The conversation reportedly took place between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and both White House National Security Adviser John Bolton and senior adviser Jared Kushner. The Post reports that bin Salman claimed Khashoggi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood during this call and encouraged the U.S. to maintain its alliance with Saudi Arabia. Bolton reportedly did not indicate whether he agreed with this assessment of the missing journalist.

This was before Saudi Arabia acknowledged knowing anything about what happened to Khashoggi, who disappeared when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in early October. The Saudi government's story shifted dramatically over the following weeks, first claiming Khashoggi made it out of the consulate, then suggesting he had been killed during a rogue operation that went wrong when a fist fight broke out. Later, they conceded that Khashoggi's murder was actually premeditated. In private, bin Salman was apparently "puzzled" by the widespread outrage over Khashoggi's disappearance, the Post reports.

Recently, the Saudi government has characterized Khashoggi's death as a "terrible tragedy," and the Saudi ambassador to the United States, who is also the crown prince's brother, called Khashoggi a "friend" who dedicated "a great portion of his life to serve his country." Khashoggi's family told the Post that he was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and said he "was not a dangerous person in any way possible." A Saudi official denied that the crown prince made these comments. Read more at The Washington Post. Brendan Morrow

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