Saudi Arabia must face the damage from the past three-plus years of war in Yemen. The conflict has soured the kingdom’s relations with the international community, affected regional security dynamics and harmed its reputation in the Islamic world. Saudi Arabia is in a unique position to simultaneously keep Iran out of Yemen and end the war on favorable terms if it change its role from warmaker to peacemaker. Saudi Arabia could use its clout and leverage within Western circles and empower international institutions and mechanisms to resolve the conflict.

– Jamal Khashoggi’s column lede, Washington Post, September 11, 2018

n October 2, three weeks after the Post published Khashoggi’s column, he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where unknown Saudis apparently rendered him an un-person. Why? No one knows with certainty, but the conventional wisdom is that he was terminated with prejudice for being too outspoken. He was a journalist in self-imposed exile for fear of losing his freedom if he stayed in Saudi Arabia. Some have referred to him as a “dissident,” but the evidence of his writing, especially his last column, reveals him as more of a lap cat whose purring is dissent only in the ears of a frightened listener.

Khashoggi treads very lightly in the piece quoted above. He does not call for anyone to take responsibility for what he fails to call a genocidal war started by the Saudis, unprovoked, but with US blessing and vital tactical support. Khashoggi frets about damage to Saudi reputation, not thousands of dead Yemenis, most of them non-combatants. He affirms the myth of Iranian responsibility for the Yemen civil war and the Saudi territorial dispute with Yemen. He invites a fantasy of Saudi leadership in peace-making, as if the Saudis were not the aggressors and as if the Saudis had not sponsored decades of international terrorism (including Saudi involvement in 9/11).

Saudi Arabia is a longstanding, well-oiled, totalitarian monarchy. Khashoggi writes like the classic courtier, trying to nudge his lord and master in the direction of a better way ever so tactfully. Khashoggi is a hat-in-hand near-apologist for the unacceptable. But even that limited suggestion of a better wardrobe for brutality was apparently too much for the naked emperors of the Saudi dictatorship.

Political assassination is a common and useful tool for tyrants. The US assassinates people all the time, most ruthlessly by remote drone killings with little care for collateral damage. US assassination teams have taken out Osama bin Laden and unknown others. That’s one reason the US has special forces deployed in more than a hundred countries. For decades US-trained monsters have run puppet tyrannies in places like Guatemala and, still, Honduras. There is a hidden interface between our professional military and the world of non-governmental black ops.

This was most recently illustrated by the BuzzFeed News report of American mercenaries assassinating “undesirables” in southern Yemen, the part of Yemen the Saudis are not bombing. There the UAE (United Arab Emirates), a titular Saudi ally, maintains repressive control on the ground behind a fig leaf of the “legitimate” Yemeni government that exercises no effective authority over anything. In this case, a US company, Spear Operations Group (a Delaware corporation) hires US veterans and contracts with the UAE to execute designated opponents, one of whom was a member of a group that had won the Nobel Peace Prize. Sometimes the contractor is the US itself, as with Blackwater in Iraq. Secret and private, operations like this are likely well-known to the US (on a need-to-know basis in places like the CIA or State Department), but remain unregulated and unacknowledged by Congress.

American assassination activities provide an especially bitter irony to those blathering US senators linking the Yemen war to the Khashoggi disappearance as a human rights violation to which the US must respond to maintain its credibility. Several senators, across the political spectrum (an indication of how narrow and shallow that spectrum is), tried to use the Khashoggi case as a wedge issue for ending the US support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. That is such a squishy, amoral position (almost prone), but passes in contemporary American politics for something like courage, not because it’s brave but because so few will go even that tiny bit of the way toward any truthfully principled stand, when in fact two such stands are needed here.

First, the principled stand on the Yemen war – once Obama’s war, now Trump’s war: this war is an unspeakable atrocity and has been since the US green-lighted it in 2015. This unjustified, undeclared war on the poorest nation in the region is a nexus of unrelenting war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Saudis and their allies daily bomb a defenseless country without regard for killing civilians in school buses, hospitals, bazaars. The Saudis and their allies, guided by the US and using US munitions, have bombed the country so intensely as to turn the environment itself into a biological weapon, spreading disease and famine to millions of people. There is no innocence here: the US, the Saudis, and all their allies have blood on their hands for which global decency demands a full accounting (perhaps in vain). The US should never have participated in this war and should end its participation yesterday.

Second, the principled stand on Khashoggi has nothing to do with Yemen or politics of any sort. The principled stand is simple: the Saudis have no right – none, under any principle of international, local, sharia, or any other law – they have no right to entice any victim into a lethal trap. That is not OK. So why is that so hard to say? Well, some equivocate, we don’t know exactly what happened, and our president smears those who see the obvious by claiming we are calling the Saudis guilty until proven innocent. Yes, there’s a sense in which that has a whiff of truth, but that whiff comes straight from the Saudi cover-up. The Saudis know what happened in the consulate, the Saudis know who did what to Khashoggi, the Saudis know where Khashoggi is now and what condition he’s in, and the Saudis are not telling what they know. The Saudis could make us all look like fools by simply producing and releasing a healthy, happy Khashoggi, maybe even giving him a wedding present. The president seems to think that might happen. What’s the matter with you?

The war in Yemen is criminal and unacceptable. The war in Yemen has been criminal and unacceptable since it began. Now, almost four years later, it’s ever more criminal and unacceptable and still few people understand that obvious horror. The war is morally abhorrent and should be rejected for that reason alone.

Luring an inconvenient journalist into your consulate and dismembering him while still alive – if that’s what happened – is criminal and unacceptable. Most people seem to get that, even if they don’t know what to do about it. State assassination is morally abhorrent and should be rejected for that reason alone.

Linking the assassination of one man to the deliberate slaughter of thousands and the onslaught against millions, as if they have any rational relationship, is an exercise in moral bankruptcy.

* * *

A priest, a rabbi, and a Muslim journalist walk into a Saudi Embassy.

The priest and the rabbi come out alive.

And Trump praises the Saudis for religious tolerance.