November 27, 2018 at 11:04 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Trump sides with murderous Saudi government

Jamal Khashoggi (Photo by April Brady of Project on Middle East Democracy via Wikimedia Commons)

There is rarely a day in the U.S. when a policy announcement, incendiary comment or tweet from President Trump does not instantly spark outrage. The White House’s response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is something entirely different.

Trump on Nov. 20 issued a statement with “standing with Saudi Arabia” in the headline. It went on to defend Saudi King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

“King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi,” said Trump. “Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event — maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”

Prince Mohammed likely directed what the Associated Press has described as “a 15-man team that was made up of (Saudi) negotiators, intelligence officers and logistics officials” to kill Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who lived in Virginia, inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. Reports indicate Khashoggi, who was a vocal critic of the Saudi government, was dismembered with a bone saw after his murder.

The State Department’s 2017 human rights report notes “the most significant human rights issues” in Saudi Arabia “included unlawful killings, including execution for other than the most serious offenses and without requisite due process; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention.”

“There were allegations the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings,” it reads.

The report notes one of these cases was the death of Mohammed Amin, a transgender person from Pakistan, who died in police custody after they and 34 others were arrested at a party in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Feb. 26, 2017. The report notes a trans activist in Pakistan claims Amin died after the police tortured them, but authorities said the cause of death was a heart attack.

Saudi Arabia is among the handful of countries in which those convicted of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual acts face the death penalty. The State Department’s 2017 human rights report also notes women and religious minorities face state-sanctioned discrimination in Saudi Arabia, but facts have never been important to Trump.

“Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Trump in his Nov. 20 statement.

Trump in the next sentence describes Khashoggi’s murder as “an unacceptable and horrible crime.” Trump in his statement also proclaimed Saudi Arabia “agreed to spend and invest” $450 billion with the U.S. after his trip to the country in 2017.

The accuracy of this $450 billion figure has been questioned, but it is far more important to note Trump’s statements about Khashoggi’s murder are a slap in the face to his family and colleagues. Trump’s statements about Khashoggi’s murder are also a slap in the face to journalists around the world, including those who contribute to the Washington and Los Angeles Blades from countries in which they face persecution from their own governments, and to anyone who believes in a free press.

Human rights have never been important to the Trump administration as myriad other examples have clearly demonstrated.

The July press conference in which Trump defended Russian President Vladimir Putin after their summit in Helsinki was an embarrassing spectacle. The White House’s policy towards migrants — separating them from their children once they cross the border and using tear gas and rubber bullets against migrants in the Mexican border city of Tijuana on Sunday — is a shameless betrayal of the values to which this country claims to uphold.

A sign in Tijuana, Mexico, tells pedestrians how to walk to the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Ysidro, Calif. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Trump in 2017 cited Cuba’s human rights record when he announced the reinstatement of trade and travel restrictions with the Communist island, even though reports indicate his company and four of his associates previously violated the U.S. embargo against the island. Trump throwing paper towels into a crowd of people at a Puerto Rico church after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. commonwealth in September 2017 was nothing short of sickening.

The U.S. under the Trump administration cannot claim with any credibility that it stands for human rights around the world, let alone in this country. Statements and platitudes from the State Department and other U.S. government agencies and entities that suggest otherwise are meaningless. And Trump’s response to Khashoggi’s brutal murder is all the proof that one needs.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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