It is unbelievable that the President of the world’s most powerful country, claiming to be the defender of universal human rights, would prevaricate on, what appears to be a clear case of murder of the dissident Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in its Istanbul consulate by a hit team that was despatched to do the dastardly job of killing and dismembering the victim, without leaving any trace of his body. The murder squad, experienced in the business, knew that if a murder were committed without any trace of a victim’s body, it would be well nigh impossible to prove the crime. And with all the resources of the Saudi state at their disposal, it seemed a usual day in ‘statecraft’ of the country. It was even more so in this instance, because Khashoggi was proving a terrible nuisance by his ‘high pitched’ criticism of the Saudi regime, particularly the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), through his column in Washington Post; having temporarily exiled himself from his country for fear of being done to him what eventually happened in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Why was Khashoggi visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in the first place? He was there to get relevant documents to proceed with his proposed marriage to his Turkish fiancé, and had apparently believed that no harm would come to him (or was so assured), which is the routine function of a country’s consulate — to issue documents to its citizens to authenticate their status for whatever be the requirement. The Saudi hit team, obviously waiting to execute him on a mission reportedly ordered by MBS, according to an intercept of a conversation between the Crown Prince and his brother, Saudi ambassador in the US. It seemed no big deal, as this ‘cretin’ of a journalist was seriously getting on MBS’ nerves, and no one doing that sort of ‘harm’ could escape the Saudi dragnet. Khashoggi was relatively safe in the US, despite needling the Crown Prince with his provocative columns. But the Turkish consulate in Istanbul was, in diplomatic terms, Saudi space not subject to Turkish jurisdiction. However, it would seem that the consulate was bugged/under surveillance and the Turkish government had virtual proof of the dastardly killing of Khashoggi within the consulate. When the Saudis found that they had been caught in the act — an intercept from one of the hit man informing an MBS’ confidant that the mission ordered by his boss had been duly executed — they scrambled to put together an innocuous explanation. Which suggested that there was an altercation of sorts between the Saudi team and Khashoggi and, in the process, he somehow choked or was strangled. The question is: how to imagine that one individual, gone to the consulate to collect some documents, managed to provoke 15 or so men to the point that he got strangled or chopped or whatever? It gets weirder to further imagine that this (dead) man somehow managed to walk out of the consulate and disappeared or simply vanished. Which brings us back to the moot question: where is the body? Even when the Saudis changed their version to concede that Khashoggi was murdered, the question that would arise is: who ordered his murder? The obvious pointer is the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Even President Trump at one time seemed to concede, though in a roundabout way, that nothing of substance, like say the murder of a high profiled dissident Saudi journalist, would happen without MBS’ knowledge/authorization. And now CIA has reportedly concluded with “high confidence” that MBS ordered the murder. Trump has tried to befuddle it by saying that full facts of the case may never be known, even though he had earlier been reported as saying that nothing of substance happened in Saudi affairs without the knowledge of MBS But Trump is now casting doubts on the veracity of CIA’s findings. According to 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 didn’t! ” Not denying that the killing was “an unacceptable and horrible crime’’, Trump has tried to befuddle it by saying that full facts of the case may never be known, even though he had earlier been reported as saying that nothing of substance happened in Saudi affairs without the knowledge of MBS. In any case, the US’ strategic and economic interests trump everything else. To quote Trump, “In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our important fight against Iran”, and for Israel. And in the process if they are committing the murder of a dissident journalist or whatever, it is not strictly our business, President Trump seemed to suggest. He said, “As President of the United States, “I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply, it is called America First!” Sad to say, this is what America has come to mean under President Trump. The writer is a senior journalist and academic based in Sydney, Australia Published in Daily Times, December 3rd 2018.