Jamal Khashoggi's Last Column Before Disappearance Calls For Free Expression

Oct 18, 2018
Originally published on October 19, 2018 10:47 am

The Washington Post has published the last column Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote before he disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul.

"We held on to this column he filed the day before he entered the consulate in the hopes that we could edit it with him, as we normally did," Fred Hiatt, who runs the Post's Opinions section, told NPR.

"And we waited, and we waited, and I think the fact that we published today is kind of an acknowledgement to ourselves, as well as to the world, that we don't have much hope that we're going to be able to edit this one with him or that we'll ever be getting another column from him," Hiatt said.

Khashoggi's disappearance has ignited a diplomatic crisis between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. On Thursday, when President Trump was asked whether he thought Khashoggi is dead, he said it "certainly looks that way to me." He said the administration was waiting for multiple investigations to conclude and that potential consequences would be "very severe."

Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi policy, issued a passionate call for free expression in the Arab world in what may be his final column.

He reflected on the hope that many in the region had in 2011, as uprisings swept through the Middle East, in what has widely been called the Arab Spring.

"Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries," Khashoggi wrote. "These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before."

Khashoggi spoke about increasing crackdowns on journalists by Arab governments. He called for a "platform for Arab voices."

"Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face," he wrote.

Karen Attiah, the Post's Global Opinions editor, told NPR that publishing this column now was a way to get "away from sort of the geopolitics and just back to the humanity of it, about his thoughts, his words and his ideas."

Khashoggi's column was also published in Arabic, and Hiatt noted that it is currently one of the most read in the Opinion section.

"As Jamal said, people want to debate. And one of the most heartbreaking things about this is, he was a patriot. He supported a lot of the reforms that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia says he's for," Hiatt said. "But he believed that the best way to accomplish them was to allow people to debate them and to express opinions and that in the long run, that's the way his country was going to succeed."

Hiatt says that he and other Post staff are demanding a "full accounting" of what happened to Khashoggi.

"We are all, in the Post newsroom, on the opinion side and the news side, I think everybody is feeling this very personally and I think we're all determined to show that you can't do this to one of ours," said Hiatt.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that the U.S. was reserving judgment until investigations are complete, including one by Saudi Arabia. "It's not about benefit of the doubt, it's reasonable to give them a handful of days more to complete it, so they get it right," he said.

Hiatt expressed skepticism about the length of time it is taking to determine what took place.

"This is a mystery, but one that could be easily solved. Somebody knows what happened, and they should come clean and it doesn't require a lot of investigation," he added. "Once there's a full accounting there has to be real accountability for whoever is responsible for this. And until we have that, you can't have business as usual with the regime."

Attiah said she is inspired by Khashoggi's "unwavering commitment to not only, you know, having freedom for himself but trying to extend that to his fellow Arab writers and voices. ... He just wanted the world, the Arab world, to be a better place. And I'll never forget that."

Hiatt described Khashoggi as an "extremely warm and generous" man who "helped innumerable journalists who wanted to understand the Mideast. ... If this could happen to Jamal, it can happen to any journalist and that's, to my mind, not the kind of world any of us want to live in."

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

On page A23 of today's Washington Post you can find the last column Jamal Khashoggi wrote before he disappeared. Khashoggi went missing on October 2. It looks increasingly likely that he is dead, a reality President Trump acknowledged this afternoon. Which means, as his editor writes in the note accompanying the column, today likely marks Khashoggi's last piece. Well, Fred Hiatt runs the Post's editorial page. And when I reached Hiatt at the newspaper today, he told me what happened to Khashoggi is a mystery but one that could be easily solved - no need for a huge, long investigation.

The Post, the reporters at The Washington Post, have been out front on investigating this story in terms of trying to piece together what may have happened. Based on information available to you, I have to ask. Do you believe he is dead?

FRED HIATT: You know, we held onto this column that he filed the day before he entered the consulate in the hopes that we could edit it with him as we normally did. And we waited, and we waited. And I think the fact that we published today is kind of an acknowledgment to ourselves as well as to the world that we don't have much hope that we're going to be able to edit this one with him or that we'll ever be getting another column from him. From everything we know, it seems as if he was a victim of a monstrous crime.

KELLY: I want to ask about the dual role that The Washington Post is playing here. There is of course a firewall between the newsroom and reporters and the editorial page, which you run, a firewall that's always there. But in this case, has it been tricky with Post reporters trying to aggressively investigate what happened even as your editorial page is calling on the Trump administration to do more to investigate what happened?

HIATT: No, I don't think so. I mean, you know, on the editorial side we're often taking positions.

KELLY: I know, but is it different when it's a position on one of your own?

HIATT: You know, we are all in the Post newsroom - the opinion side and the news side - I think everybody is feeling this very personally. And I think we're all determined to show that you can't do this to one of ours. This can't be a world where a government can lure a journalist to their own diplomatic compound in a foreign country and then, if the worst is true, dismember him and have him disappear.

KELLY: You just spoke there about feeling this personally. How has his disappearance affected your team and affected you?

HIATT: You know, it's very painful. First of all, he was well-loved by many people. You know, if this could happen to Jamal, it can happen to any journalist. And that's to my mind not the kind of world any of us want to live in.

KELLY: Of the many things that struck me about his last column that you published today, one is that he thanks the Post for publishing his work not only in English but in Arabic to reach obviously a Arabic-speaking and reading audience. And I want to ask how common a practice that is and why you chose to do that in his case.

HIATT: Because we see our mission as presenting a range of opinions across a wide ideological, diverse landscape, especially in countries where people can't get it from their own media. And Jamal was - you know, the reason he left Saudi Arabia was he felt he could no longer do it at home and that a lot of people who wanted to express themselves in Saudi Arabia were muzzled or imprisoned. And so he was willing to take some risks to do what they couldn't do. And if we can do it in their own language as well as in English, all the better.

KELLY: He writes in this last column about the regime in Saudi Arabia clamping down on the Internet. Do you have any way of tracking how widely read his columns have been either in English or Arabic in his home country in Saudi Arabia?

HIATT: So we have certainly seen when we translate our editorials or Jamal's pieces or other pieces into Arabic we get a big spike in readership from the region. One of the most heartbreaking things about this is that he was a patriot. He supported a lot of the reforms that the crown prince of Saudi Arabia says he's for. But he believed that the best way to accomplish them was to allow people to debate them and to express opinions. And in the long run, that's the way his country was going to succeed. And I think we're trying to contribute in that same vein.

KELLY: Fred Hiatt - he's the editorial page editor of The Washington Post and a colleague of Jamal Khashoggi. Thank you.

HIATT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.