“Saudi Arabia, too, has worked with us to counter Iranian expansion and regional influence,” said Pompeo, who has planned a stop in Saudi Arabia in the coming days. “We, the United States, commend each of these efforts, and we seek for all nations to continue the work to constrain the full array of the regime’s malign activity.”
At the memorial, Pelosi questioned the administration’s logic. “If we decide that commercial interest should override the statements that we make and the actions that we take, then we must admit that we have lost all moral authority to talk about any of the atrocities anywhere anytime,” she said.
Lloyd Doggett, the Democratic congressman from Austin, Texas, offered a more acerbic rendition of that same sentiment.
“When those murders [of journalists] or torture or imprisonment are ignored, whether they’re directed by a supposed ally or an obvious adversary, whether by a crown prince or the Kremlin or the Burmese military or an ayatollah or an Egyptian dictator or some tyrant who purports to be a left-winger or any other third-rate thug,” Doggett told the room, “… the world becomes a little less safe for journalists. And indeed it becomes a little less safe for the rest of us.”
Despite a bitter January chill and unrelenting winds, the memorial drew a crowd. A hundred chairs were not enough, not with 15 cameras hugging the back and sides of the room. About two dozen stood for the proceedings, organized and emceed by the journalist and author Lawrence Wright—a friend of Khashoggi’s who interviewed him for his book on al-Qaeda, The Looming Tower (Wright’s heartfelt tribute in The New Yorker, where he works as a staff writer, was published Wednesday night and previewed the memorial). The documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney and the former FBI special agent Ali Soufan were also behind the event, which was formally hosted by Warner, Schiff, and Chabot.
In addition to the members of Congress, speakers included press-freedom advocates and the Washington Post publisher, Fred Ryan. They called for those responsible to be held accountable for killing Khashoggi. It’s a new year, and if the Saudis thought Washington would move on by now, it seems they are mistaken.
But the state of affairs seems bleak: Congress says it wants action, but does not take action; the White House absolves the Saudi crown prince of any and all guilt; and Secretary of State Pompeo has also chosen to ignore the CIA consensus rather than publicly contradict the president.
While follow-up action is not typically the byproduct of a memorial service, this memorial service was different. It transpired to say, We’re still here. We’re still demanding answers.
“[Khashoggi’s] daughters probably said it best,” said Klobuchar, “and I quote, ‘This is no eulogy, for that would confer a state of closure. Rather this is a promise that his light will never fade, that his legacy will be preserved within us.’ That’s our job right now in Congress, not only for what’s going on around the world but what’s going on in our own country.” If nothing else, the memorial was a reminder that we are far from closure.