A human-rights commission reporting to Saudi King Salman is investigating the alleged torture of detained women’s rights activists, including accusations of waterboarding and electrocution, according to government officials and other people familiar with the activists’ situation.
A top aide to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saud al-Qahtani, allegedly oversaw some aspects of the torture and threatened at least one jailed woman with rape and death, according to testimony before the commission, those officials and others said.
One activist told the commission that security officials electrocuted her hands. “My fingers resembled barbecued meat, swollen and blue,” the woman told Saudi investigators, according to a person familiar with her statement.
.. Some of the imprisoned women’s rights activists were labeled as traitors in pro-government media and accused by the government of conspiring with unnamed foreign entities and of spreading discord in society. None of them have been formally charged... Critics say the government targeted activists to send the message that change can only come from Saudi Arabia’s top leadership. Prince Mohammed has cracked down on internal opposition while he pushes through his agenda to liberalize Saudi Arabia’s conservative society and open up its oil-dependent economy to foreign investors... Saudi security officers physically abused them, including by electrocution, lashing and sexual harassment. Some of the most severe treatment was meted out to Ms. Hathloul, according to the Saudi officials and other people familiar with the women’s situation.Mr. Qahtani personally oversaw her interrogation, which included waterboarding, people familiar with her situation said. “Saud al-Qahtani threatened to rape her, kill her and to throw her into the sewage,” one of those people said... Mr. Qahtani, Prince Mohammed’s former media adviser and a top lieutenant, has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury over Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, has reported he played a central role in the operation that led to the journalist’s death. Before he was fired, Mr. Qahtani was in charge of the monarchy’s crackdown on those it viewed as dissidents.
Of the 18 detained activists, at least eight have been physically abused in custody, according to Saudi advisers, activists and others with knowledge of the prisoners’ treatment. Much of the abuse occurred in a government-run guesthouse in Jeddah in the summer months, before they were transferred to a regular prison, they said.
.. “The detainment and torture of women’s rights activists demanding equal rights in Saudi Arabia is another example of how the current Saudi leadership does not share our values,” Sen. Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, told the Journal. “This pattern of human-rights violations is unacceptable, and it very well may have consequences for the bilateral relationship.”
In the hours before and after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a senior aide who allegedly oversaw the assassination exchanged multiple messages, according to people familiar with the matter.
.. The CIA included the existence of the messages in its classified assessment that Mohammed is likely to have ordered Khashoggi’s death, a view that agency officials have shared with members of Congress and the White House.
.. Mohammed exchanged the messages on Oct. 2 with Saud al-Qahtani, one of his closest aides and a fierce public supporter who has kept a blacklist of those he deems disloyal to the kingdom.
.. Citing portions of the CIA’s written assessment, the Wall Street Journal first reported on Saturday that Mohammed had sent at least 11 messages to Qahtani before and after the killing.
.. The CIA has rated its assessment that Mohammed was involved in the killing at “medium-to-high confidence,” and privately, officials have said it is inconceivable that the prince, who exercises total authority over the government, could not have known about such an audacious operation. The Post had previously described officials as saying that the CIA had high confidence in its assessment... “They are a relationship that has mattered for 70 years across Republican and Democrat administrations alike,” said Pompeo, who previously served as the CIA director. “It remains an important relationship, and we’re aiming to keep that relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”.. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said the question of holding the killers responsible and the strategic importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship were separate issues.
“Accountability for the murder of Khashoggi stands alone. It is distinct from any other factor going on,” Mattis said in remarks at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
.. Qahtani has emerged as a key player in the killing and a compelling link to the prince. He shows up in another portion of the CIA’s assessment: An alleged member of the Saudi hit team that U.S. and Turkish officials said Qahtani oversaw, Maher Mutreb, called Qahtani from inside the consulate to inform him Khashoggi was dead, The Post has previously reported. Mutreb, a security official who was often at the crown prince’s side, is seen on security camera footage entering and leaving the consulate on the day Khashoggi was killed.
.. The U.S. intelligence community also has intercepts of communications before Khashoggi was killed that show Mohammed had ordered an operation to lure him back to Saudi Arabia. Friends of Khashoggi’s have said that Qahtani called the journalist and raised the potential of his working for the crown prince if he would end his self-imposed exile in Virginia and return to his native country.
.. Communications that the United States intercepted in July show that Mohammed had asked senior Saudi intelligence officials about the status of a plan to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia, according to one intelligence official.
.. President Trump, who also has been briefed on the CIA’s findings, has been equivocal in assigning blame to the crown prince, who works closely with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner on Middle East issues.
“Maybe he did or maybe he didn’t!” Trump said in a statement last month, adding that the true culprits might never be known. The president has said that the strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia and the benefit to the U.S. economy from Saudi arms purchases are too important to rupture over the killing of Khashoggi, which he has condemned.
.. But the latest revelation of intelligence connecting Mohammed and his aide Qahtani to the killing may increase pressure on the administration to take more punitive steps.
.. Last week, in a rebuke of Saudi Arabia and the administration’s handling of the Khashoggi case, a majority of the Senate voted to advance a measure to end U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen against Iranian-backed militants.
THE NEW account of Jamal Khashoggi’s death offered by Saudi Arabia on Thursday was shocking in its audacity. Having previously acknowledged that the journalist was the victim of premeditated murder, authorities in Riyadh reverted to an earlier, discredited tale: that Mr. Khashoggi was killed spontaneously inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul by a team sent to return him to Saudi Arabia.
.. By offering up this incredible account, the Saudi regime is baldly defying all those, including leading members of Congress, who called for full disclosure and accountability. Yet the Trump administration appears ready to accept its stonewalling.
.. Accepting the Saudi story means ignoring a number of well-established facts. An audio recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s last moments, which Turkish officials shared with CIA Director Gina Haspel, indicates he was attacked and strangled immediately after entering the consulate. The Saudi version claims he died only after a quarrel and a struggle that prompted the head of the “negotiation team” to decide to murder him by injecting him with drugs.
.. The Saudi account says the operation was ordered by the then-deputy chief of intelligence, Ahmed al-Assiri, and advised by Saud al-Qahtani, a court propagandist. Both are close to Mohammed bin Salman. The two aides, so Riyadh’s story goes, were not complicit in the decision to kill Mr. Khashoggi and were fooled by their team’s claim that the journalist had left the consulate alive.
.. That doesn’t explain a portion of the audio recording reported by the New York Times, in which Maher Mutreb, a close associate of the crown prince, instructs an official by phone to “tell your boss” that the mission was accomplished. As the Times reported, U.S. intelligence officials believe the “boss” is “almost certainly Prince Mohammed.”
.. Other contradictions and improbabilities abound. It’s known that a forensic expert who specializes in autopsies was on the Saudi team; the Turks said he arrived with a bone saw for dismembering Mr. Khashoggi’s body. Yet the Saudis would have the world believe that the specialist was recruited only to clean up any evidence of an abduction, and that officials in Riyadh didn’t know about him.
.. This all-too-transparent tissue of lies only underlines the need for a genuinely independent international investigation led by the United Nations
.. Instead, the Trump administration is abetting the Saudi coverup; the new sanctions do not even cover Mr. Assiri, the official who Riyadh says ordered the Khashoggi mission.