Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent journalist who worked for the Washington Post; on October 2nd, he walked into the Saudi consulate in Turkey and he never walked out. At first, he was thought to be missing. Then, Turkish officials acknowledged that he was dead and claimed to have audio tapes proving that he was murdered by a Saudi hit squad sent from the highest levels of the Saudi government.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for weeks denied the fact that Khashoggi had disappeared or died, calling these reports "completely false and baseless." But eventually, the Saudi government under pressure from several countries acknowledged his death but still insisted that the government had nothing to do with it. They claimed his murder was a rogue operation and promised to punish those involved. But as the New York Times reported, several of the suspected agents have ties to the Crown Prince.
Khashoggi was a famous dissident, known for criticizing the Crown Prince in his column for the Washington Post over Saudi Arabia's economic policies, the war in Yemen, and the government's intolerance of dissent. His public and constant criticism of the Saudi regime would surely have made him a target. But the fact that the Saudis thought they could murder a journalist in cold blood and get away with it shows how dire the situation has become under the Trump Administration.
The Trump Administration has had a cozy relationship with Saudi Arabia since coming into power, focusing on their oil exports and their strategic importance as a counter-balance to Iran in the Middle East. But the government of Saudi Arabia seems to have gotten the impression that with Trump as a partner, they can get away with anything and escape punishment. Looking at the record, Trump has consistently supported them. He supported their diplomatic isolation of Qatar. Under him, the US government has quietly escalated US involvement in Yemen, military intervention that I would argue is unconstitutional because it hasn't been approved by the Senate, the body whom the Constitution grants war-making powers to (Republican Sen. Mike Lee agrees with me). The war in Yemen, a proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has led to the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet.
Just days ago, Trump took the astonishing step of believing the Crown Prince's story over the determination of the CIA that the Crown Prince had orchestrated the murder. Trump faced sweeping criticism from members of Congress over his statement, Even Mitch McConnell publicly disagreed with Trump's assessment, saying the CIA "basically certified" the involvement of the Saudi government. Sen. Bob Corker tweeted, "I never thought I'd see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia".
It seems that Trump is placing Saudi Arabia First instead of defending the American values of freedom and support for human rights across the globe. When defending his decision, Trump referred to oil prices and arms agreements. So Trump is willing to tolerate the flagrant violation of fundamental human rights, the freedom of a journalist to criticize another government, because of these transactional interests which he apparently deems more important than basic human freedom and dignity. It's worth noting that Trump also has deep financial ties to Saudi Arabia, providing an incentive for him to look the other way. But regardless of whatever rationale Trump invokes, his blatant disregard for human rights and his willingness to embrace the Saudi regime is disgraceful and unjustifiable.
For decades, the US government made some pretty terrible foreign policy decisions (Vietnam, Iraq, etc.), but at least we attempted to promote freedom, democracy, and human rights abroad. We sought to lead the world and show people in every country a vision of the form of government where they could be truly free to speak their minds and choose their leaders, where there could be freedom of religion and government could be held accountable to their people. This idea of liberal democracy is one the West has always defended, and the United States as the world's superpower has borne the primary responsibility for this defense. In denying the truth about Khashoggi's murder, Trump is abandoning this duty and compromising the moral leadership of the United States around the world. Shame on you, Mr. President.