Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said an international treaty half a century old will help investigators unravel the carefully orchestrated killing of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations “cannot allow the investigation of this murder to be concealed behind the armor of immunity," Erdoğan said, contradicting Saudi Arabia's explanation that Khashoggi was accidentally killed in a fist fight inside the Saudi consulate at Istanbul.
"It is clear that this savage murder did not happen instantly but was planned," Erdoğan told lawmakers in parliament. “This murder might have been committed at a consulate building which may be considered Saudi Arabian land, but it rests within the borders of Turkey."
Erdoğan, however, offered scant new details, and little more than strong accusations and a chronology of events, after saying for days he would reveal “the naked truth” about Khashoggi’s death. Saudia Arabia and Turkey are regional and religious rivals.
The Turkish president said he would contact King Salman of Saudi Arabia to have the Khashoggi case tried in Istanbul. The Saudi government initially maintained that Khashoggi left the consulate alive, then admitted more than two weeks later he was killed at the consulate on October 2.
“All evidence gathered shows that Jamal Khashoggi was the victim of a savage murder. To cover up such a savagery would hurt the human conscience,” Erdoğan said. “We’re seeking answers. When the murder was so clear, why have so many inconsistent statements been made? Why has the body of someone, the killing of whom has been officially admitted, not been found?"
Ahead of Erdoğan's speech, U.S. President Donald Trump sent C.I.A. Director Gina Haspel to Turkey to help with the investigation. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin met in Riyadh with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who some U.S. lawmakers suspect ordered the killing.
The Saudi kingdom said the crown prince was not involved. Erdoğan refrained from mentioning by name the heir apparent to the throne of the world's number one oil exporter and country with the largest amount of oil reserves.
“To blame such an incident on a handful of security and intelligence members would not satisfy us or the international community,” Erdoğan said.
Later in the day, Trump called Saudi Arabia’s account of the killing “the worst coverup ever.” He told reporters in the Oval Office that "somebody really messed up" but he would reserve final judgment until Haspel and other American officials returned from Turkey within a few days.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced at a news conference that the Trump administration would revoke the visas of some Saudi officials implicated in Khashoggi's death. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the death “will not go without an American response.”
The crisis gave Erdoğan a chance to appease Trump and alleviate Turkey's economic crisis. The country has had annual inflation of almost 18%, its highest rate in more than 15 years, and a 40% collapse in the Turkish lira's value against the dollar this year, causing prices to skyrocket.
Erdoğan blamed the economic crisis on hardships caused by Trump’s sanctions and tariffs on Turkish metals. The tariffs were imposed amid a diplomatic spat over Turkey's jailing of Americans, including North Carolina pastor Andrew Brunson, who lived for two decades in Turkey and was arrested in 2016 and charged with having terrorist connections.
International observers said they saw irony in the Turkish president's stance towards Khashoggi. In July, international organizations welcomed the end of Turkey’s two-year state of emergency rule while calling on the government to restore its adherence to human rights and legal standards.
The state of emergency, introduced after a failed military coup attempt in 2016, ended on July 19, offering what international organizations such as the United Nations, Council of Europe and International Commission of Jurists called a chance to return to accepted norms on basic rights.
More than 75,000 people were arrested for alleged ties to Fethullah Gulen, a cleric based in the United States who Erdoğan blames for the failed coup attempt. Some 130,000 civil servants were accused of having links to terror organizations. They were fired under the emergency rule, in what opposition lawmakers said was a pretext for Erdogan to crack down on political dissenters.
Erdoğan’s victory and an earlier parliamentary election and voter referendum last year prompted Turkey’s transition away from a parliamentary system and towards a presidential one. Erdoğan took on sweeping new powers that critics said he could use to set himself up for a system of one-man rule.
"The murder of Jamal Khashoggi was barbaric, and an assault on the free press and free speech. But, the irony of Erdoğan taking the moral high ground on the treatment of journalists isn't lost on anyone," said Christian Christensen, a professor of media studies at Sweden's Stockholm University.
Calls for U.N. investigation and immunity waivers
Since foreign embassies and consulates remain under the jurisdiction and laws of host nations, Turkey has the primary responsibility for investigating Khashoggi’s disappearance, said Scott Anderson, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. State Department legal adviser.
The Vienna treaty offers only "a limited set of legal protections" to consular staff, he wrote in a Lawfare blog post. It extends rights, privileges and immunities to government diplomats and officials that work in foreign nations. The treaty took effect in 1967 and has been ratified by 180 nations.
Consular staff must "respect the laws and regulations" of where they work and agree not to "interfere in the internal affairs" of host nations or to use the consulate "in any manner incompatible with the exercise of consular functions," according to a U.N. text of the treaty.
International organizations that promote human rights and press freedoms have called for a United Nations-led independent investigation into Khashoggi's disappearance and probable murder.
Saudi state television and the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported 18 Saudi suspects were in custody. The Saudi attorney general said Khashoggi had gotten into “a brawl and a fist fight” that “led to his death,” contradicting Turkish media leaks that he was tortured, killed and dismembered.
The organizations, however, said Turkey should ask U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to launch “a timely, credible and transparent” investigation into what appears to be the likely extrajudicial execution of Khashoggi, who vanished after entering the consulate.
“U.N. involvement is the best guarantee against a Saudi whitewash or attempts by other governments to sweep the issue under the carpet to preserve lucrative business ties with Riyadh,” said Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.
A U.N. investigation, free from government involvement, should determine Saudi Arabia’s role in Khashoggi’s probable murder and the identities of everyone who ordered, planned and carried it out, according to CPJ, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders.
Their calls added to U.N. human rights chief Michele Bachelet’s view that an independent, U.N.-led investigation might be needed if Turkey and Saudi Arabia fail to reveal the facts.
Bachelet, who heads the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said such acts would be “very serious crimes” that should compel Saudi Arabia and Turkey to waive immunities.
She urged Saudi Arabia and Turkey to reveal everything they know. Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who was an outspoken critic of his government, had taken up residence in the United States, where he was a columnist for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section.
He went to the Saudi consulate to obtain a document showing he was divorced so he could marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, a doctoral student at a university in Istanbul. He was told to return October 2.
When he returned later with her, he gave her two mobile phones and told her to wait outside. He instructed her to call an adviser to Erdoğan if he did not come back out. She waited more than 10 hours outside the consulate and returned the next morning when he had still not reappeared.
The European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also called for a thorough investigation and reaffirmed E.U.'s support for press freedoms and protections for journalists.
"The European Union, like its partners, insists on the need for continued thorough, credible and transparent investigation, shedding proper clarity on the circumstances of the killing and ensuring full accountability of all those responsible for it," she said in a statement.