Press protection, justice for Jamal Khashoggi should be Biden priorities

In October 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally killed in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey. He was getting paperwork he needed to get married. Despite promises to the contrary, President Joe Biden has said he will not sanction the country even after his administration released an unclassified intelligence report confirming that the Saudi prince likely approved Khashoggi’s death.

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In 2017, former President Donald Trump called the media the “enemy of the people.” In 2019, then- presidential candidate Biden promised to hold the Saudi government “accountable” for the death of Khashoggi.

Both this year and last year journalists have been beaten, harassed and arrested while covering protests and riots.

Biden, and the nation, owe Khashoggi’s memory and our current and future journalists better than this.

#JusticeforJamal means justice for Khashoggi and protection for journalists in the future. Biden, and we as a nation, should support that.

Violence against journalists

In 2020, at least 274 journalists were imprisoned, according to the tracker from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Twenty-four of those were in Saudi Arabia. Some of them imprisoned had been since 2012.

There were 65 journalists worldwide listed as missing as of March 3, 2021. The oldest last-seen date was in 1982 and the most recent disappearance occurring in 2020.

Screenshot from the database of the Committee to Protect Journalists taken on March 3, 2021.

A total of 392 journalists in the United States reported being assaulted in 2020. So far, there have been 15 reports in 2021.

To put that in perspective, there were ‘only’ 35 attacks on the media in 2018 and in 2019.

Last year, 99 journalists reported having their equipment damaged. Six journalists have reported the same this year, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

In 2020, 126 journalists were arrested or detained. Three have been in 2021.

Many of these assaults, arrests or detainments occurred during protests and the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

On the door of the Capitol, someone wrote, “Murder the media.”

Journalists working to cover the elections, protests, riots and other news suffered physical, emotional and mental harm, as well as damage to their equipment, just for doing their job.

While covering the riot, employees with The Associated Press had their equipment destroyed.

We as a nation owe our journalists better than this.

Jamal Khashoggi’s death

Jamal Khashoggi was a columnist for The Washington Post. He was in Istanbul at the Saudi consulate to obtain papers necessary for his upcoming marriage.

Khashoggi’s brutal killing was well-documented by the press at the time.

CNN reports that in November 2019, Biden said: “Khashoggi was, in fact, murdered and dismembered, and I believe on the order of the crown prince. And I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them the pariah that they are.”

It also reports that Biden added: “There’s very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia. They have to be held accountable.”

Last month, the government declassified an intelligence report showing that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman likely approved Khashoggi’s death. (You can find the CNN-annotated report here.)

“We assess that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman approved an operation in Istanbul, Turkey to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

“Assessing the Saudi government’s role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence

Biden had pledged to make the prince a “pariah.”

But last month, he made no move to take action.

We as a nation owe Jamal Khashoggi better than this.

Photo by Christian Bolt on Unsplash

What journalists are saying about Biden and the Jamal Khashoggi report

Journalists, outlets, press advocacy groups and human rights activists have been quick to condemn the lack of action.

“Many Americans have now read — and all should read — the four-page declassified intelligence report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” said Matthew T. Hall, SPJ national president. “Seeing its conclusions in print under government letterhead make me angry all over again. This reprehensible action needs a strong response from the Biden administration. We appreciate Biden Press Secretary Jen Psaki’s recent assurances that ‘a range of actions’ are ‘on the table.’ But we hope the president chooses one quickly and decisively to send the message to Saudi Arabian leaders and people everywhere that the killing of a journalist is unacceptable anywhere on this planet.”

Matthew T. Hall, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, in a statement through the SPJ on Feb. 26, 2021

In a piece titled, “If MBS Isn’t Held Responsible for Murder, He’ll Take It as Permission,” writer Joshua Keating interviewed Iyad el-Baghdadi. El-Baghdadi is described as an “exiled democracy activist” who has also been threatened by the Saudi government.

He spoke about what a lack of meaningful consequences could mean for the future of journalists working in Saudi Arabia.

During the Trump period, Trump actually denied that MBS did it at all, right? He covered up for him. And that was the basis upon which he said, “We don’t really have to respond, because he didn’t do it.” Now we’re in this weird situation where the crime is acknowledged, but then there’s no accountability.

In a sense, normalizing this was even worse than Trump, because this was kind of saying that these things can happen but there are certain people who cannot be touched. The best that we can do is punish his henchmen. As we all know, he can always get new henchmen…

… It’s very clear that he has not learned the lesson. It’s very clear that if you don’t hold him accountable, he’s going to take it as permission.

Joshua Keating quoting Iyad el-Baghdadi in “If MBS Isn’t Held Responsible for Murder, He’ll Take It as Permission,” Slate, March 2, 2021

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan wrote an opinion piece in the Post about Biden’s lack of action. He wrote: “President Biden is facing his first major test of a campaign promise and, it appears, he’s about to fail it.”

It appears as though under the Biden administration, despots who offer momentarily strategic value to the United States might be given a “one free murder” pass.

It’s not only American voters who are closely watching to see if Biden fulfills his promise. Friends and foes around the world are carefully monitoring his actions, judging the strength of his convictions and calculating the circumstances where expedience may cause him to waver and abandon our values…

… At this crucial moment, Biden and his team have the opportunity to send a strong message to our allies and to our enemies that they will stand up for American values. They can show the world that America is truly “back.“ This is not a time to show weakness and surrender on human rights to gain the support of a leader who is an increasing threat to regional stability. To the contrary, it is an essential time to show the world that enduring American values matter more than commercial and diplomatic short-term opportunities — and bring justice for Jamal.

Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan in, “Opinion: Say it ain’t so, Joe” on March 1

Justice for Jamal Khashoggi

We need justice for Jamal Khashoggi.

We need more than just promises to protect journalists going forward.

Journalists need confidence that those promises aren’t empty words.

We as a nation cannot send the message that it is okay for journalists to be arrested, harassed or assaulted for doing their job. We cannot send the message, to the Saudi government or anyone else, that the murder of a journalist will be tolerated.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that the Trump administration did not respond to requests in a timely or satisfactory manner. No action against the prince was taken during his administration.

The Biden administration has not yet taken any serious action against the prince.

The CPJ has called for #JusticeforJamal. It notes that Jamal Khashoggi’s killing will have “…broad repercussions for journalists not only in Saudi Arabia but around the world.”

Journalists protect democracy.

It’s time we protect them.

What do you think about the Trump and Biden administration’s responses to the killing of Jamal Khashoggi?