Mike Pompeo has been strongly condemned after claiming murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi was an “activist who supported the losing team” and whose killing received too much media attention.
The former CIA director and secretary of state says in a new memoir that the 59-year Washington Post columnist did not deserve to be killed by the Saudi authorities, but that his murder did not surprise him.
“To be clear, Khashoggi was a journalist to the extent that I and many other public figures are journalists,” Mr Pompeo writes in Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love.
“We sometimes get our writing published, but we also do other things. The media made Khashoggi out to be a Saudi Arabian Bob Woodward who was martyred for bravely criticising the Saudi royal family through his opinion articles in the Washington Post.”
Mr Pompeo, 59, a pugilistic former congressman and Donald Trump loyalist who is considered a potential Republican candidate for 2024, has been strongly condemned for the comments, and accused of spreading lies in order to further his political ambitions. Excerpts of the book were published by NBC News.
“This is shameful. I want to ask Mr Pompeo did he ever meet my husband? Did he ever talk to him? Where is he getting this false information,” Khashoggi’s widow, Hanan El-Atr, told The Independent.
She said Mr Pompeo was making the claims to help him “rise the steps of political power”.
Asked if she felt Mr Pompeo owed her an apology, she replied: “Yes, he should apologise to me, and to the soul of Jamal.”
Mr Pompeo was also criticised by the publisher of the Washington Post, where Khashoggi had written about Saudi Arabia and the Middle East.
“His only offence was exposing corruption and oppression among those in power — work that good journalists around the world do every day,” said publisher and CEO Fred Ryan.
“It is shameful that Pompeo would spread vile falsehoods to dishonor a courageous man’s life and service — and his commitment to principles Americans hold dear — as a ploy to sell books.”
Khasoggi, who had left Saudi Arabia after becoming more critical of the government, was murdered in October 2018 after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, apparently to obtain a visa to allow the travel to the kingdom.
An investigation carried out by the UN concluded he had been murdered and his body had been disposed of by use of a bone-saw. His remains have never been found, and his phone remains in the possession of the Turkish authorities.
In the aftermath of his death, a fuller picture of the journalist’s somewhat complicated life emerged. When he traveled to the Saudi consulate, he was accompanied by Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish student to whom he had apparently proposed.
Even later, it would emerge he had been married to Ms El-Atr in a Muslim ceremony in northern Virginia, a few months before his murder.
An investigation by US intelligence concluded that Khashoggi had been murdered on the orders of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, something the Saudis have denied, saying instead he was killed by rogue agents.
In his podcast series “The Secret Lives and Brutal Death of Jamal Khashoggi”, investigative reporter Michael Iskikoff covers the complicated life and career of Khashoggi, pointing out that he had once worked to improve the kingdom’s image abroad.
He also pointed out that Khashoggi had indeed met Osama bin Laden, but that had been in the 1980s when bin Laden, backed by Saudi Arabia and the CIA, was part of the anti-Soviet fight in Afghanistan.
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Ms El-Atr said her late husband had no connections with the Muslim Botherhood, as Mr Pompeo claimed and had “always condemned” the 9/11 attacks.
The New York-based group, Democracy for the Arab World Now, which Khashoggi had helped establish, said Mr Pompeo appeared to be covering up criminality that he himself had sought to push under the table
“Pompeo’s crass and craven comments appearing to justify Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by disparaging his political views and falsely associating them with terrorism mirror the same justifications Mohammed bin Salman and other tyrants use to excuse their crimes,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group’s Executive Director.
“It is despicable that a senior American official is suggesting that it’s OK to kill a journalist if his political views are ones he doesn’t like.”
She said Mr Pompeo “further appears to excuse the murder of Khashoggi by saying that such crimes are “routine” in the “ruthless” Middle East, embracing a narrative that is often utilized by regional autocrats to support their repressive policies.
She said that following the murder, Mr Pompeo went to Riyadh to meet with the Saudi crown prince.