Saudi agents involved in the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi received training in the United States under a State Department-approved contract that lasted from the Barack Obama administration through 2017 under President Donald Trump.
The New York Times revealed that after being trained in the United States, Khashoggi’s killers participated in a campaign of kidnapping and torture of dissident Saudi citizens that was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The NYT explains that “the training was provided by the Arkansas-based security company Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management.”
“The State Department initially granted a license for the paramilitary training of the Saudi Royal Guard to Tier 1 Group starting in 2014, during the Obama administration. The training continued during at least the first year of former President Donald J. Trump’s term,”, the NYT says.
According to the company the training included “safe marksmanship” and methods for “countering an attack” of a defensive nature; it also included work in surveillance and hand-to-hand combat.
“There is no evidence that the American officials who approved the training or Tier 1 Group executives knew that the Saudis were involved in the crackdown inside Saudi Arabia. But the fact that the government approved high-level military training for operatives who went on to carry out the grisly killing of a journalist shows how intensely intertwined the United States has become with an autocratic nation even as its agents committed horrific human rights abuses,” the article notes.
Louis Bremer, a senior executive at Cerberus, the parent company of Tier 1 Group, confirmed that four members of the extermination team had received training in 2017, and two of them had participated in earlier training given from October 2014 to January 2015.
“The training provided was unrelated to their subsequent heinous acts,” Bremer told the Times, who further blamed the State Department and other intelligence agencies as the ones responsible for investigating foreign forces trained in the USA.
In a statement, Bremer said the training was “protective in nature” and that the company did not provide further training to the Saudis after December 2017.
The Times is not the first to reveal the Khashoggi killers’ connection to the United States; a 2019 column by David Ignatius in The Washington Post first reported that members of Khashoggi’s assassination team had received training in the U.S.; he wrote that the CIA had “warned other government agencies” that Tier 1 Group may have conducted some special operations training under a State Department license.
Khashoggi, a columnist for the Post, was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, and his body was dismembered. The murder sparked widespread condemnation of Prince Mohammed, who has publicly denied any knowledge of the operation. However, reports state that every action was under his consent.
Eight defendants were sentenced to up to two decades in prison last year, but human rights advocates criticized the punishments for targeting lower-level agents while pardoning their leaders.