Murder most foul
At this writing, no official expression of horror or outrage has been heard in these parts over the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in which Saudi Arabia’s crown prince is allegedly complicit. The silence is curious, as though the killing were mere par for the course, but then also understandable given the Philippines’ longstanding reputation as one of the most dangerous places on the planet for journalists.
Still, the barbarous manner with which Khashoggi’s life was snuffed out in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as leaked in dribs and drabs by Turkey’s authorities before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan directly accused the Saudi government on Tuesday of planning the “savage murder,” is shocking even in these savage times, as though in keeping with the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Civilized countries in this neck of the woods should add their voice to produce a global outcry against the vile deed, and not just leave it to the West to make noise.
In 2017, Khashoggi left his native Saudi Arabia for self-exile in the United States to be able to continue writing critically of governance in the kingdom and the rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It’s said that life has become infinitely difficult for critics of MBS, as the powerful young prince is known, and the harsh treatment is extended to their family members and friends whether in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere. Khashoggi wrote for The Washington Post; he settled in Virginia but apparently constantly longed to return to his homeland.
In September 2017, Khashoggi wrote in part: “It was painful for me several years ago when several friends were arrested. I said nothing. I didn’t want to lose my job or my freedom. I worried about my family.
“I have made a different choice now. I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot. I want you to know that Saudi Arabia has not always been as it is now. We Saudis deserve better.”
Past 1 p.m. on Oct. 2, Khashoggi went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to collect papers required for his impending marriage. He was never seen or heard from again. Within days, in well-timed disclosures and citing damning evidence, Turkish authorities said he was waylaid and killed in the consulate by a Saudi team with links to the crown prince, and that included an autopsy expert. The team arrived in Turkey in two separate planes on the same day and left hours later in a well-synchronized operation.
After weeks of denial and conflicting statements, during which US President Donald Trump took mincing steps and swung from finding credible the Saudi claim that Khashoggi had been killed in a fistfight to deeming it the worst cover-up, the Saudi government has admitted that the journalist’s death was a “huge mistake.” On Thursday, MBS himself pronounced it a “repulsive” murder and promised justice.
Repulsive it truly was, illustrating the depths of depravity to which men can descend. Claiming audio and other evidence in their possession, Turkish authorities issued details of a murder most foul: Khashoggi was killed within minutes of his arrival in the consulate. His fingers and head were cut off and his body dismembered using a bone saw apparently brought by the hitmen, one of whom advised another to listen to music during the grisly procedure. The woman Khashoggi was to marry, Hatice Cengiz, waited for hours outside the building, unaware that she would never see him again.
Here, the observer rendered despondent by this chilling brutality would be reminded of the brutality that occurred in the torture theaters of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law, seemingly forgotten now but etched in the memory of the victims and those who love them. Or the savagery that marked the end of the Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, who was murdered two years ago this month.
On Oct. 18, 2016, policemen took Jee by force from his home in Angeles, Pampanga, on accusations of involvement in the drug trade, along with his car and some pieces of jewelry. He was taken in the car to Camp Crame where, a short distance from the residence of the then PNP chief, he was strangled to death. His corpse was subsequently cremated — and the ashes flushed down the toilet.
The abductors demanded P8 million from Jee’s wife in exchange for his freedom. Choi Kyung-jin managed to offer P5 million to the abductors, who accepted it. She waited for his release, unaware that he had in fact been killed. Months later, with no proof of life, she went to the authorities and his murder came to light.
The PNP chief during whose tenure this unspeakable crime was committed is now seeking a seat in the Senate.