Dozens of countries took Saudi Arabia to task at the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier this month for its human rights violations, demanding accountability for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The rebuke came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump was revealed to have admitted on tape that he helped shield the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, from scrutiny by obstructing Congress’ inquiries into Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in October 2018. “I saved his ass,” Trump reportedly said of the crown prince in an interview with the journalist Bob Woodward.
Trump’s remarks were nothing less than an admission that he gave MBS, as the crown prince is widely known, a license to kill journalists with impunity. It fits with the broader message he’s sent to Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian countries in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder: Do business with us, and we’ll look the other way when you surveil, intimidate or murder critics of your government—even if they are U.S. residents. The Saudi government has responded, unsurprisingly, by intensifying its domestic crackdown on the press, arresting journalists and sentencing them to years in prison.
Now, as the second anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder approaches, U.S. policymakers and elected officials must take steps to send a different message: that the assassination of a journalist will never be tolerated.