Top Armed Services Dem calls for international probe into missing Saudi journalist

Top Armed Services Dem calls for international probe into missing Saudi journalist
© Anna Moneymaker

The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday called for an “international investigation” into the disappearance of missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“It appears that this was a grotesque and obscene act by the elements within Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedDefense bill sets up next fight over military justice  Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE (D-R.I.) told journalists about the missing Washington Post columnist.

“So the first step, I think, is to determine exactly what happened. That, I believe, requires a thorough international investigation, not something that the Saudis will do.”

Speaking during a media breakfast in Washington, Reed disparaged the Trump administration for not leveraging U.S. arms sales to press the Saudis on Khashoggi, who is suspected to have been killed on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The reality is that the Saudis spend a great deal on our support and I don’t think they’re going to find anything comparable ... to replace their equipment with equipment from other countries. ... In terms of who has the leverage, we do, and that’s why it’s surprising the president is so accommodating to their point of view.”

President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dead at 77 Biden, Democrats losing ground with independent and suburban voters: poll Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law MORE this week has repeated that Saudi officials denied knowledge about Khashoggi's fate and expressed a reluctance to punish the kingdom by canceling or suspending a multibillion-dollar arms sales agreement. 

Reed said an international investigation, and “not an in-house review by the Saudis,” will “paint a very critical picture” of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is known by his initials "MBS."

The lawmaker also called out Trump’s seemingly warm relationships with other foreign leaders, including North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said that “sends a message" to the crown prince "that there’s a whole range of things they can do."

In addition, Reed labeled Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Pence to deliver keynote at fundraising banquet for South Carolina-based pregnancy center Russia suggests military deployments to Cuba, Venezuela an option MORE’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia a “photo op,” and called for filling ambassadorship positions still vacant under the Trump administration in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt.

Pompeo earlier this week met with the crown prince and other Saudi officials and said the leadership is committed to a “thorough, complete, and transparent investigation” of Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“We can’t let that area of the world be sort of a place where Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerDonald Trump slams Jan. 6 panel after Ivanka Trump interview request: 'They'll go after children' Kushner investment firm raises more than B: report Trump: Netanyahu 'never wanted peace' with Palestinians MORE and MBS are sort of plotting these grand schemes without any input from career professionals and thoughtful individuals,” he said.

“In a typical situation we would send a well-respected, well-regarded ambassador to deliver a very stern message about what we expect and what we had was a photo-op where the Secretary of State was smiling.”

Reed also called for some arms sales to be blocked as leverage against the Saudis. In the past, Reed opposed selling precision-guided munitions to the nation.

But the senator added that that the U.S. could still sell equipment for “legitimate defensive needs,” like Patriot anti-missile batteries.

The senator also said the U.S. “should terminate the aerial refueling” of Saudi warplanes in Yemen, regardless of what comes out of any investigation into Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“I don’t think it provides any controls over their behavior and I think what it does is involve us in activities and actions that we can’t control and we have no knowledge of, and that’s not a good position for us to be,” he said.

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of targeting civilians in strikes in the four-year Yemen civil war, which U.S. lawmakers have increasingly expressed concerns about.

The coalition was accused of bombing a school bus and killing 40 children in August. Reed said that lawmakers are “still waiting for sort of a transparent examination” of the incident.

Even before Khashoggi’s disappearance, lawmakers questioned the Trump administration on its certification that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are taking steps to protect civilians in Yemen and are complying with U.S. laws on arms sales.

Last month, two dozen House lawmakers officially introduced a War Powers resolution to end U.S. military involvement in the civil war.