The G20 summit in Osaka began and ended with a group photo that speaks volumes. It was more than just a summit of sovereignists and strongmen, on a knife’s edge between peace and war: it was a summit of the complicit. The participants showed themselves ready to step over everyone and everything in pursuit of a realpolitik that no longer has anything human in it—if it ever had in the first place. They all became outright accomplices to the murderer of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was seen jaunting comfortably in Osaka alongside Trump and the host of the summit, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and who was received with a friendly atmosphere and not even the slightest note of embarrassment.
This summit can be seen to mark not only the end of liberalism, as the Kremlin leader says, but the obsolescence of the very ideas of justice and democracy, which we are delivering over to ruthless autocrats. The international courtship of ferocious dictators is something we have become accustomed to, even in the recent past. From Bokassa, Idi Amin and Gaddhafi to Saddam Hussein, who got a cordial handshake from Reagan’s envoy Donald Rumsfeld in the ‘80s while he was attacking Iran. The same Rumsfeld later on, as Bush’s defense secretary, was one of the architects of the attack on the Baathist regime in 2003 and of the operation of falsifying evidence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
But the Saudi prince is not only being supported by the omerta of his accomplices, who are saying nothing—Erdogan included—about his ferocious deeds. He is a leading partner of the G20 powers-that-be: the number one client of the US arms industry with his country’s oil revenues, and the one who has been financing, together with the other Gulf monarchies, the proxy war in Syria and the one in Yemen. He is also one of the main protagonists, alongside Israel, of the plan (which looks dead on arrival) to buy off the Palestinians.
In short, bin Salman is a man whose favor is worth courting, and who until recently was being touted in the international press as “an enlightened reformer.” However, in addition to supporting the massacres in Yemen, he had been exerting ruthless “justice” with the sword in his own country, without the slightest hint of a protest in front of any Saudi embassy. The Italians are also complicit in his crimes, by making German-branded bombs for him in Sardinia. Everyone gets something from the Crown Prince, and he is buying all of us off, happy to be treated with kid gloves by us Westerners.
He has no worry that US sanctions would ever affect him, Saudi Arabia or the Gulf monarchies, which are fueling conflict in the Middle East to keep it away from their own countries. If possible, he’d like us to also go to war against Shiite Iran. The prince belongs to the category of those who cannot be touched: he can jail whomever he wants and kill whomever he wants, apparently beyond his own borders as well. He can be a bit clumsy, as everyone knows: his henchmen tortured an opponent to death and everyone found out about it; he hasn’t been able to win the war in Yemen for years, despite massacring entire populations. But all is forgiven, because he is “young.” As they say, he’ll turn out all right.
Nonetheless, a recently released UN report highlighted that there was “sufficient credible evidence” of the “individual liability” of bin Salman for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was tortured, killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
The author of the report was Agnès Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who is a French human rights expert with extensive experience and who, incidentally, also got a PhD in Turkey. She detailed the conclusions of her investigation in a document of over 100 pages, at the conclusion of an inquiry lasting six months. Callamard writes that there is “sufficient credible evidence” which warrants additional investigation into the individual guilt of senior Saudi officials, and in particular of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
For some time now, both the CIA and experts on Saudi Arabia have been convinced that Khashoggi was killed on the orders of the regime—that is, ultimately bin Salman himself. Despite having had access to only a part of the records in the hands of the Turkish authorities and having been denied entry into Saudi Arabia, Callamard conclusively described the very gory details of what happened in the consulate, including the sound of an electric saw, most likely used to dismember the body of the journalist.
But this haunting sound is nothing more than an annoying background noise when it comes to the affairs of world leaders—and so it must remain.