I have been thinking about this idea since the shocking disappearance last week of Saudi reporter Jamal Khashoggi, a Post Opinions contributor. Amid the allegations of what happened to Khashoggi after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul — which, if true, would constitute a grotesque form of clandestine brutality ripped from the Kremlin’s playbook — I pray for his family and reiterate my commitment to international press freedom.
More than prayers and words will be needed, however, to pursue justice and accountability, and to send a message to the perpetrators that such gross human rights violations have consequences.
A full investigation must occur without delay, with transparent support from all involved parties. Concurrently, the United States — the historic standard-bearer for human rights and press freedom — should ready action in response.
Anyone who would perpetrate blatant violations of human rights and international law should recall that the United States has a number of tools to use to stand up for the values and norms that underscore our common humanity.
Three years ago, I worked with my colleague and friend, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), to author a bill to hold accountable human rights abusers and individuals who engage in corrupt practices — by seizing any assets they have placed in U.S. financial institutions and by banning their travel to the United States. In a world of limited diplomatic options to counter some of the worst crimes against humanity, such actions are effective because people of means want to bank in the financial powerhouse that is the United States and want to travel to our diverse, beautiful country.
President Barack Obama signed our Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Accountability Act into law in December 2016. The Trump administration, to its credit, promulgated an expansive executive order to implement the law and has employed it in several important cases.
If the men who have now been identified publicly are found to be complicit in a crime against Khashoggi, Global Magnitsky sanctions can be applied to them and, importantly, to any higher-ups in Saudi Arabia who directed their actions.
What is effective about Global Magnitsky is that it allows for targeted sanctions against individuals without going directly at the larger, important bilateral relationship between the United States and another country, whether ally or adversary.
Let me be clear, Saudi Arabia is a key partner of the United States in many regards. But that does not absolve it of responsibility for its actions. Were concrete evidence to emerge that senior government figures in Riyadh were involved in Khashoggi’s disappearance or death, the United States should take forceful steps beyond Global Magnitsky.
Congress could consider the outcome of ongoing investigations when debating future U.S. arms sales to the kingdom, future International Military Education and Training assistance, and future U.S. support to the Saudi coalition’s role in the Yemen conflict — one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. We should also weigh the kingdom’s support for a truly transparent investigation when considering potential U.S.-Saudi nuclear power cooperation.
Friends must be able to have frank conversations with one another, and the United States cannot be silent or remain inert in the face of an insidious assault against universal values. I am relieved that senior White House officials have spoken directly to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about this situation. Still more effective would be public words of concern and condemnation from the president. His voice could have a powerful impact both on the Khashoggi case and on an increasingly oppressive crackdown underway inside the kingdom — during which dissidents and critics from across the political spectrum have been detained without trial.
So far during 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 43 journalists have been killed worldwide, in almost every corner of the globe, including a mass shooting at my home state’s Capital Gazette newsroom. I am holding out hope against hope that Khashoggi will not become the 44th name on that list.
But if Khashoggi does end up on that tragic list of intrepid people, I will work to ensure that the perpetrators and their benefactors end up on the next Global Magnitsky list — and that Congress does not stop there.