WASHINGTON – The Trump administration should condemn Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for orchestrating the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a group of congressmen and the publisher of The Washington Post said Thursday, 100 days after Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents in Turkey.
The lawmakers, journalists and press freedom activists gathered at the Capitol to commemorate Khashoggi’s death and highlight the importance of global press freedom.
Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., hosted the event and joined Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan in condemning what he called “an escalating attack against press freedom that is being waged by tyrants all around the world.”
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said the Trump administration’s response to the killing was too weak.
“It was such a despicable act,” she said. “And yet, the condemnation of that act by the Congress of the United States or the President of the United States has yet to take place.”
Contrary to Speier’s statement, in December the Senate passed a resolution unanimously condemning bin Salman for Khashoggi’s murder.
However, the White House has yet to issue a similar condemnation, and the president has stood by the crown prince. In an interview with Fox News on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship without speaking specifically to bin Salman’s culpability.
Other speakers criticized the U.S. for still pursuing commercial and strategic interests with Saudi Arabia.
“We should not allow the size of a tyrant’s checkbook to blind us as to the importance of standing up for America’s values,” Ryan said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed Ryan’s sentiments, saying the U.S. has a moral responsibility to safeguard the lives of journalists globally. “If we decide that commercial interest should override the statements that we make and the actions that we take,” she said, “then we must admit that we have lost all moral authority to talk about all atrocities.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the lack of advocacy for a free press in the White House puts journalists around the world in danger.
“Copycats, authoritarian leaders around the world,” he said, “quote the expression ‘fake news’ and ‘enemy of the people’ and use that as an excuse to lock up journalists in their country.”
New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright described freedom as precious to Khashoggi, and called for attendees to support Khashoggi’s fight to bring that freedom to his people.
“We commemorate his sacrifice for truth, human dignity and freedom. May he long be remembered,” Chabot, co-chair of the Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, said.