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Opinion ‘Enemy of the state’: The chilling and familiar term for Jamal Khashoggi in Trump’s statement

Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks at a news conference in Manama, Bahrain. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

The White House is calling it a “statement,” though “confession” may be a better term for this abominable collection of words from President Trump. It’s a confession that Trump rejects the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman orchestrated the brutal murder of Post columnist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. It’s a confession that money matters more than humanity. It’s a confession that Trump, or whoever was the author, cannot write.

It’s also a confession — right there in black and white — regarding the criminal power of Trump’s very own rhetoric against journalism. Have a look:

The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body.
Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that — this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. 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 he didn’t!

Bolding inserted to highlight an assertion replete with circuitous and weaselly slander. Note how Trump repeats the Saudi “position” on Khashoggi without refuting it. He seems to be saying that even though Khashoggi may indeed have been an enemy of the state, his killing was “unacceptable and horrible.”

The merits here have been addressed by The Post, which cited experts as indicating that Khashoggi was once sympathetic to Islamist movements but evolved later in life toward “a more liberal, secular point of view.” David Ignatius, a Post columnist, traced Khashoggi’s early flirtations with the Muslim Brotherhood and his subsequent disenchantment with it. “Khashoggi’s path took him through risky territory,” Ignatius wrote. “He was friendly with Osama bin Laden in his militant youth; his patron in midcareer was Prince Turki al-Faisal, the longtime Saudi intelligence chief; he traveled sometimes to Qatar in the past decade, as a poisonous feud grew between Riyadh and Doha. But his public writings and private messages show that in his head and heart, he was always a Saudi patriot.” And in a Brookings piece, Tamara Cofman Wittes points to this dynamic while also reminding everyone: “[E]ven if you believe that Jamal Khashoggi was a full-bore Brotherhood member with an agenda of Islamization for the Arab world, you should still condemn his apparent assassination for the crime of speaking his mind.”

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It’s a short walk from “enemy of the state” — Trump’s description of the Saudis’ position on Khashoggi — to “enemy of the people,” Trump’s very own moniker for the allegedly “fake news media” that churns out so much (deservedly) negative coverage about him. Nor does Trump stop and scold the Saudis for deploying such a term against a journalist/dissident.

The rhetorical connection isn’t hard to trace: “What’s truly chilling about that is it’s the same language that Donald Trump uses to describe American journalists. So he just described a journalist who was literally chopped into pieces in a third country in the same way that he describes people who sit in the briefing room and ask him questions,” said former Obama White House official Ben Rhodes on MSNBC on Tuesday afternoon.