“A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths a statistic,” Stalin is supposed to have said. The murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a sad reminder of this truth. The United States has long countenanced Saudi Arabia’s brutal oppression and human-rights violations at home and reckless behavior across the Middle East, but only with Khashoggi’s gruesome death has the U.S. media begun to ask questions about the cynical “strategic alliance” between the two countries.
On October 2 Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. He gave her two mobile phones and instructions to call a top aide to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan if he didn’t come back out. Several hours later, he still hadn’t. The next morning, there was still no sign of him. Immediately the worst was suspected. Though Khashoggi had once been an advisor to the Saudi government, he had grown concerned about thirty-three-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s consolidation of power. Last year he fled Saudi Arabia after being barred from writing there because of his criticisms of Donald Trump. In the year before his death, he was living in the United States and writing columns for the Washington Post. He told friends he still feared for his life.
Soon after Khashoggi’s disappearance, Erdoğan publicly accused Saudi Arabia of murdering him inside the consulate. Saudi denials were rebutted with increasingly detailed reports from the Turkish government, which claimed to have audio evidence of Khashoggi’s torture and dismemberment. It was revealed that, hours before Khashoggi’s disappearance, a team of Saudi agents—one toting a bone saw—had flown to Istanbul in two private jets chartered by a company with ties to the crown prince, and then left the country that evening. Further reports revealed they were members of the Royal Guard who answered directly to bin Salman. The clear implication was that Khashoggi was murdered at the crown prince’s behest.