Home Opinion Op-Ed Don’t be surprised if Saudis get away with murder

Don’t be surprised if Saudis get away with murder

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Jacob G Hornberger |

While many people are decrying the possibility that the Saudi regime orchestrated and carried out the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, they are limiting their analysis to whether the U.S. government should “punish” Saudi Arabia by cancelling weapons contracts and other related things. Unfortunately, they are not thinking at a higher level, one that would entail recognizing the role that Saudi Arabia’s governmental structure plays in affairs such as this, a structure known by the name “national security state.”

What is a national-security state? It is a type of governmental structure that is based on a vast, powerful military-intelligence establishment, one that is charged with the solemn responsibility of protecting “national security” and that is vested with omnipotent powers, oftentimes exercised in secret, to fulfil that responsibility. Such omnipotent powers include the power to assassinate people who become threats to national security.

North Korea is a national-security state. So is Egypt. So is Pakistan. And Saudi Arabia. China and Russia. And so is the United States, as reflected by the Pentagon, the vast military-industrial-congressional complex, the CIA, the NSA, and, to a certain extent, the FBI.

That’s not to say that anyone in the CIA or the rest of the U.S. national-security establishment was ever arrested, prosecuted, or convicted of Schneider’s murder. That rarely happens under a national-security state.

It wasn’t always that way. The United States was founded on the concept of a limited-government republic, a type of governmental structure that is the opposite of a national-security state. No vast military-intelligence establishment. No Pentagon. No CIA. No NSA. No FBI. No power to assassinate. That’s the way things were for the first 150 years of U.S. history.

Then came the Cold War, the “war” that U.S. officials used to justify converting the federal government into a national-security state. The communists were coming to get us, U.S. officials said, principally those in Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union, but also ones from China, North Korea, North Vietnam, Cuba, and elsewhere.

Read more: Lessons from Khashoggi’s disappearance – Jacob G. Hornberger

Since the communist regimes were national-security states, U.S. officials said, it was necessary for the U.S. government to become a national-security state too. A limited-government republic, they said, could not stand up to a communist national-security state. The idea, later discarded and now long-forgotten, was that as soon as the Cold War was over, the American people could have their limited-government republic back.

That’s how the United States ended up with the Pentagon, the military-industrial-congressional complex, a vast array of domestic and foreign military bases and installations, the CIA, and the NSA, not to mention wars in faraway places like Korea and Vietnam. That’s also how the United States ended up with a government wielding the omnipotent power to snuff out people’s lives through assassination.

Unfortunately, they are not thinking at a higher level, one that would entail recognizing the role that Saudi Arabia’s governmental structure plays in affairs such as this, a structure known by the name “national security state.”

The original idea was to limit the CIA to gathering intelligence and presenting it to the president. But someone inserted a provision in the law that established the CIA which also empowered the CIA to assassinate people and do whatever else was necessary to protect national security. In 1953, the CIA began developing an assassination manual as part of a regime-change operation that the CIA was carrying out against the democratically elected regime of President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.

The manual shows that the CIA was specializing not only in the art of assassination but also in the art of falsely denying and covering up the CIA’s role in its assassinations. As part of that regime-change in Guatemala, the CIA came up with a list of Guatemalan officials who were to be assassinated. While the CIA will still not reveal to us the names of the people on that assassination list, it is a virtual certainty that Arbenz was at the top. Luckily for him, he was able to escape the country before his life could be snuffed out.

The justification for the coup in Guatemala and targeting Guatemalan officials with assassination? National security. Arbenz was a socialist who favored friendly relations with Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union. That made him a grave threat to U.S. national security.

Read more: Saudi alliance doesn’t mean US ‘downplaying’ Khashoggi question: official

In 1970, the people of Chile delivered a plurality of votes in their presidential election to a physician named Salvador Allende, who, like Arbenz, was a socialist who favored establishing friendly relations with Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union. U.S. officials deemed Allende a threat to U.S. national security and decided to block his ascendancy to the Chilean presidency.

At the time, Chile, like the United States, was also a national-security state. U.S. national-security state officials spent a considerable amount of time and energy trying to convince their national-security state counterparts in Chile that it was the solemn responsibility of a national-security establishment to remove all threats to national security, including domestic ones like a democratically elected president. (It was a position that obviously has serious ramifications with respect to the assassination of President Kennedy.

The idea, later discarded and now long-forgotten, was that as soon as the Cold War was over, the American people could have their limited-government republic back.

The commanding general of the Chilean armed forces, a man named Gen. Rene Schneider, took the opposite position. His position was that the Chilean constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, provided only two ways to remove a president from office, and a national-security-state coup was not one of them. The two ways to which Schneider was referring were elections and impeachment.

Since Schneider was an obstacle to the national-security-state coup that U.S. officials deemed was necessary to protect both Chilean national security and U.S. national security, he himself was deemed to be a threat to national security. Thus, in a conspiracy based at CIA headquarters in Virginia, U.S. national-security officials targeted Schneider for kidnapping and assassination.

Read more: The state of journalists in today’s Middle East-James M Dorsey

After Schneider was shot dead on the streets of Santiago, CIA officials vehemently claimed their innocence. When evidence surfaced that the CIA had smuggled high-powered weapons into the country under diplomatic pouch, had actually hired Chilean military personnel to kidnap Schneider, and then paid hush money to the kidnappers-assassins after Schneider’s murder, the CIA’s fallback position was to claim that it only wanted to kidnap Schneider, not assassinate him. Of course, that position was ridiculous given that once Schneider was kidnapped and removed as the obstacle to the coup, what else could be done with him except to kill him? In any event, under the long-established felony-murder rule, the CIA was guilty of having killed an innocent man whether CIA officials planned to limit the operation to a kidnapping or not.

That’s not to say that anyone in the CIA or the rest of the U.S. national-security establishment was ever arrested, prosecuted, or convicted of Schneider’s murder. That rarely happens under a national-security state. And when the Schneider family sued U.S. officials in federal court for the wrongful murder of their husband and father, the federal courts dutifully deferred to the supremacy of the national-security branch of the federal government and dismissed the suit.

Thus, don’t be surprised if no Saudi official is ever brought to account in the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi, who Saudi officials clearly believed was a threat to Saudi Arabian national security given his public criticisms of the regime. The power of a national-security state to protect national security and get away with murder is, for all practical purposes, supreme and invincible.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. This article was first published in The Future of Freedom Foundation and is republished here with permission. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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