Rather than answer those questions, the Saudi government — and its de facto accomplices in the Trump administration — have gone silent, evidently hoping that demands for accountability will fade away now that the story has been pushed from the front pages. That should not be allowed to happen.
What occurred inside the Saudi Consulate on Oct. 2 is not a mystery. The basic facts are well known to senior Turkish and U.S. officials. The Turks have an audio recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s final moments that they have shared with CIA Director Gina Haspel, who, in turn, has briefed President Trump.
The Turkish account, leaked to the media, is that the veteran journalist and Post columnist was immediately assaulted upon entering the consulate. His fingers were severed, and he was injected with a drug before being dismembered by an autopsy specialist who arrived in Istanbul with a bone saw. What the Turks still don’t know has been publicly voiced by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Where is Mr. Khashoggi’s body? And who ordered and oversaw this grisly operation?
The Saudis know the answers to both those questions, and Mr. Trump might, too. Experts on Saudi Arabia are virtually unanimous in saying that such an audacious mission must have been known about, and most likely was ordered, by the kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. U.S. intelligence intercepts indicated that the crown prince ordered a plot to lure Mr. Khashoggi, a persistent if mild critic, to Saudi Arabia from exile so that he could be silenced. Two of Mohammed bin Salman’s closest aides and five probable members of his security detail already have been implicated.
Yet the Saudis are deflecting questions by pretending to investigate what happened; the kingdom’s chief prosecutor traveled to Istanbul on Monday to meet his Turkish counterpart. Worse, rather than demand a genuinely independent investigation, the Trump administration is playing along. It has withheld its own conclusions about the murder while pretending to believe that the Saudis can conduct a credible probe — even though a chief suspect is the kingdom’s own autocratic ruler.
Asked about the Khashoggi case on Sunday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he and the Saudi foreign minister were “very collaborative, in agreement” on the need for “a full and complete investigation.” When asked how a regime completely controlled by the crown prince could do that, Mr. Mattis pointed to the separate Turkish probe. But as Mr. Erdogan has made clear, he can’t answer the crucial question of who in the Saudi government ordered or backed the murder. That, of course, suits both the Saudis and Mr. Trump, who are doing their best to shield the crown prince.
Congress should not permit this travesty to continue. It should summon Ms. Haspel and other senior U.S. officials and determine what they know about the killing. Then it should take decisive action to impose sanctions on those responsible — including, if the available evidence points to him, Mohammed bin Salman — and reshape U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia.