Jamal Khashoggi's fiancée to attend State of the Union as congressman's guest: 'Saudi Arabia must be held accountable'

Jamal Khashoggi's fiancée to attend State of the Union as congressman's guest: 'Saudi Arabia must be held accountable'
Jamal Khashoggi image via Shutterstock.

In an effort to pressure President Donald Trump to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the brutal 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Democratic congressman announced Monday that his guest for Tuesday night's State of the Union speech will be Khashoggi's fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, shared the announcement in a statement, noting that Khashoggi—a U.S. resident and Saudi national—was killed and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul while seeking documents to marry Cengiz, and that the CIA concluded his assassination was likely ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has denied any involvement.

"Hatice's courage to sit in the House Chamber Tuesday night should serve as a clarion call to the president that no matter how high it goes, Saudi Arabia must be held accountable for the murder of this loving father and fiancée, respected journalist, U.S. resident, my constituent, and reformer," Connolly said. "Congress has acted. Now too must the president."

Connolly has previously called for justice for the journalist's death and sought to curb the Trump administration's support for Saudi Arabia through legislation. In June 2019, he successfully put forth an amendment to the FY 2020 Appropriations Package barring Saudi Arabia from receiving assistance through the International Military Education and Training program.

A few months later, Connolly introduced the Protection of Saudi Dissidents Act. As the congressman's office explained, the bill would:

  • Prohibit arms sales—regardless of the amount—to Saudi intelligence, internal security or law enforcement for 120 days, and for every 120 days thereafter until Saudi Arabia meets certain human rights conditions;
  • Require a report on whether Saudi authorities engaged in intimidation or harassment of Jamal Khashoggi or any individual in the United States;
  • Require the review and potential closure of Saudi diplomatic facilities if they are being used to surveil Saudi nationals living in the United States; and
  • Require the Intelligence Community to report on whether it fulfilled its duty to warn Khashoggi of an impending threat against him.

While Congress hasn't passed Connolly's bill, the National Defense Authorization Act signed by Trump in December 2019 included a provision that gave the director of national intelligence 30 days to send an unclassified report naming those responsible for Khashoggi's death to the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees, and the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees.

Despite that NDAA provision, Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, missed the deadline, prompting an inquiry from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). A spokesperson for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence told BuzzFeed after the deadline last month that "as with all requests that come from Congress, we continue to work with them, with our oversight committees to respond."

Connolly's announcement about Cengiz came less than two weeks after the Berlin-based European Saudi Organization for Human Rights (ESOHR) released a report which declared that "2019 was the worst year in recent decades" for human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and that the kingdom "is being given cover by its political allies in both the U.S. and Europe, which benefit from the economic revenue."

"It appears that Saudi Arabia relies on the cover provided by these alliances, and it is emboldened in its viciousness by this cover," ESOHR said. "Thanks to these allies, who do not prioritize serious promotion of human rights, Saudi Arabia is able to engage in violations and crimes against humanity, while some of these countries even participate in and drive such abuses, as for example in the U.S. support for the war in Yemen."

The ESOHR report also specifically mentioned the murdered journalist, saying that "2019 drew to a close without any signs of improvement in 2020. Indeed, it concluded with a farcical scene in a ruling where senior officials responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul were acquitted, in a ruling that revealed still further disdain for human rights."

As Common Dreams reported in December 2019, while some Saudi officials were acquitted for Khashoggi's killing, others received death sentences, which also were condemned by human rights advocates worldwide.

As Agnès Callamard—United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions—summarized it: "The hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial."

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