Jamal Khashoggi was many things to many people. To Hatice Cengiz he was, simply, the man she loved.
She was the last person to see him alive before he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul one day last October to get papers related to their planned marriage. He left some belongings —including his phone — with her, but never gave any indiction that he thought his life was in danger.
Khashoggi — a Saudi columnist employed by the Washington Post —walked inside the building unaware that a team of assassins was waiting for him. He was brutally murdered and dismembered by his killers. His body – or more precisely, the severed body parts —has never been recovered.
Cengiz says while he showed no fear that day before entering the diplomatic compound, Khashoggi had voiced concerns in the past that Saudi Arabia might retaliate for columns he had written that were critical of the government in Riyadh. He thought the Saudis might take his passport… but never mentioned the possibility that he might become the target of a hit squad.
But he did.
His fiancé gave some thought to moving to the United States after he died. After all, that was where he found a home in exile and a new career with the Washington Post.
Instead, she moved to London to pursue a doctoral degree, noting her decision was also driven by the fact that “the U.S. is going through a difficult political time.”
Truer words were never spoken.
Khashoggi’s editors and friends at the Post have been working to keep his story alive — to seek answers to the myriad of questions surrounding his murder. They want to know if Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the “hit” and they are demanding answers from the Trump administration.
So is Hatice Cengiz.
She came to Washington recently for a brief visit, stopping at the Post’s newsroom before heading to Capitol Hill, where she testified before a congressional committee.
Cengiz told reporters at the Washington Post that Khashoggi championed the United States as the place you went “to speak truth to power. She then added “Jamal would have been most disappointed of all to see the U.S. response” to his murder.
That response has been, at best, lukewarm, giving the impression that President Trump would like nothing better than to see the whole mess just go away. Trump has questioned the official CIA conclusion that the Saudi Crown Prince ordered the killing. He has also resisted imposing any sanctions on the Saudis for an act that many consider not just a brazen assassination, but an attack on press freedom.
Human rights activists in Congress from both political parties have expressed outrage that Jamal Khashoggi was murdered for reporting on human rights in his homeland, and they have implored President Trump to do something about it.
They listened intently as Cengiz — speaking through an interpreter — told her story to members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“If Jamal’s murder passes with impunity, then me speaking here today puts me in danger,” she said, adding, “it places everyone who shares these universal values in danger.”
Among the other witnesses at the hearing was Joel Simon, the head of the Committee to Protect Journalists. He said until those responsible for Khashoggi’s death are brought to justice ‘journalists around the world, particularly those covering human rights, will continue to work in an environment of uncertainty and vulnerability.”
And then Simon said something that sent chills down my spine as a journalist living in a country where the president has declared the mainstream news media to be “the enemy of the people.”
“Murder,” Simon told the assembled members of Congress, “is the ultimate form of censorship.”
Or as Hatice Cengiz put it in her written testimony: “Jamal’s killing was a violation of the most basic, universal human right: the right to live.”
She clenched her hands at the witness table as she sat before the congressional panel. Clearly, this was a role she never imagined for herself.
“If someone had told me seven months ago I would come here without Jamal, to ask about justice for him, I would not believe it… I still can’t understand the world hasn’t done anything about this,” she said.
More than six months after his death, there is still no real accounting of what happened… no truth… no justice.
“Every day I have nightmares thinking of Jamal’s suffering,” Cengiz said, adding “Is it not natural for me then to demand that those responsible for his death are held accountable through the proper channels?”
She urged the legislature to push for an international investigation into the murder, and called for sanctions to punish Saudi Arabia.
Now, the fact is, any sanctions passed by Congress are likely to be vetoed by President Trump, who considers the young Saudi Crown Prince a valuable ally.
Still, Cengiz — and for that matter, Khashoggi’s colleagues at the Post — are refusing to give up.
“I think we choose between two things,” she said on Capitol Hill. “We can either go on as if nothing has happened… or we can act, we can leave aside all interests, international interests and politics, and focus on the values for a better life.”
Strong words… words from the heart.
Let the record show there was no response from the White House.