Finally, Saudi Arabia admits what was clear for almost three weeks: it killed Jamal Khashoggi.
The self-serving admission is calculated to get the United States off its back and bring an end to the damaging coverage about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and any Game of Thrones inclinations he may harbour.
It might achieve the first aim.
US President Donald Trump has described Saudi Arabia’s claim that Khashoggi died during a fight with his killers as credible, although the US President later declared himself “not satisfied”.
But this new story is another misstep by the Crown Prince and his court, and is only prolonging the chorus of international condemnation — the UN Secretary-General has described himself as “deeply troubled”, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has demanded full “transparency” from the Saudis.
Here’s the statement: “Preliminary investigations carried out by the Public Prosecution Office into the disappearance case of the citizen Jamal bin Ahmad Khashoggi revealed that the discussions that took place between him and the persons who met him during his attendance in the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul led to a quarrel and a brawl with the citizen Jamal Khashoggi, resulted in his death, may his soul rest in peace.”
A brawl? A 59-year-old newspaper columnist took on 15 Saudis flown in to Turkey to deal with him, including four members of the Saudi royal bodyguard and a forensic specialist armed with a bone saw?
As Khashoggi’s friend, the Washington Post Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah tweeted: “Utter bullshit”.
The columnist had infuriated a glass-jawed Prince with measured analysis of his mistakes, like the disastrous war in Yemen, and his hypocrisy, as a would-be reformist who imprisons reformers.
The Crown Prince wanted to be seen in the West as a reformer determined to bring Saudi Arabia out of the darkness — and Khashoggi wasn’t letting him get away with it.
The alternative to killing Khashoggi — a rendition — was impossible.
Turkey was watching the Saudis closely and would never have allowed them to take a drugged or detained dissident out of the country.
The Turks were all over the hit squad from the moment they came into the country aboard two private jets.
The drip feed of information has included CCTV at the airport, the hotel, and the consulate, and leaks revealing the background of the assassins.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
If the Turkish security sources leaking to the local press are right, and so far they’ve been right about everything else, there’s even an audio recording of the murder.
That tape makes Saudi Arabia’s statement even more outrageous. If the tape exists, everything they’ve said in their statement about the “brawl” can be disproved, and I bet we’ll see more leaks out of Turkey this week.
The statement disobeys the basic rules of crisis management: Come clean. Do it early. Fill the void with your own information before it’s filled by someone else’s.
Instead, the Saudis denied Khashoggi was dead, pretended they didn’t know what had happened to him and then finally tried to pretend he was somehow to blame for his death.
The far-fetched statement shouldn’t be that surprising, I suppose.
Which Saudi official is going to tell the Crown Prince that he’s getting it wrong?