By Alireza Hashemi

FACT CHECK: All misleading claims by Saudi Arabia’s MBS in his CBS interview

October 9, 2019

TEHRAN - Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sat down with CBS’s Norah O’Donnell on September 24 to give his first interview since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

Bin Salman talked about the slain journalist, September attacks into Aramco facilities, the Saudi intervention in Yemen and the case of arrested female activists.  

Over the course of the extensive interview aired late September, he made a number of misleading claims that aren’t backed up by the facts. 

The Saudi prince, or Mr. Everything, who runs the absolute monarchy day-to-day on behalf of his father, seemed clueless about what goes on in and around the kingdom. 

During the interview, MBS presents himself as a young, progressive leader who might oppose some existing “laws” and is unaware of his government’s torture of female activists and who authorized Khashoggi’s slaughter. 

The Saudi prince, or Mr. Everything, who runs the absolute monarchy day-to-day on behalf of his father, seemed clueless about what goes on in and around the kingdom

Mohammed also portrays himself as a peace-loving ruler who is hard-pressed by an aggressive Iran through a wide array of methods. 

Overall, the interview showed once again MBS is a man of contradictions. 

Here’s a closer look at MBS’ claims:

 Denying responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder

The claims: He said he takes “full responsibility as a leader” for the slaughter but is not directly responsible for it, since he cannot control all actions by “three million people working for the Saudi government”. 

The facts: MBS is entitled to his own views. But those who murdered Khashoggi - a prominent critic of the crown prince - inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey by no means could have been ordinary employees. 

The claims: He also said, “there isn’t clear information or evidence that someone close to me did something to that effect”. 

The facts: The MBS is flatly wrong on this notion. Maher Mutreb, an intelligence officer who was a bodyguard to MBS in several trips abroad, notably his US trips, was part of the 15-man squad in Istanbul. Former deputy intelligence Chief Major General Ahmed al-Assiri has also been formally charged in an investigation by Saudi prosecutors. Saud al-Qahtani, the prince's right-hand man who is believed to have led the operation, has been implicated but not formally charged.

The claims: The crown prince said he “must take all actions” to prevent a repeat of Khashoggi’s slaughter and that “our role is to work day and night to overcome this”. Moreover, he said “investigations” into the case are still ongoing and all verdicts will go into effect “with no exception”.

The facts: Almost a year has passed since Khashoggi’s murder. The official line on the case has been shifting rapidly but currently, the Saudi officials claim the journalist was murdered by what Saudi officials describe as “rogue” elements. Why it took so long for the Saudi judiciary to investigate the gruesome murder? Aren’t they waiting for things to calm down and then acquit the perpetrators of the murder?

 Blaming Iran for Aramco attacks

The claims: He said he agrees with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo that the September attacks into Aramco facilities were “an act of war” by Iran. He also said that the world will see “further escalations” threatening “world interests” if it does not take firm action to deter Iran.

The facts: MBS twisted the facts. No compelling evidence suggesting Iran’s role in the attack has yet been publicized. 

Read More: Reuters scraping the barrel implicating Iran in Yemeni drone attacks

The claims: The MBS said the attacks that targeted “the global energy industry” had no strategic goal and were a move out of mere “stupidity”. 

The facts: MBS mischaracterized the Aramco attack. In the eyes of many Yemenis, this was a legitimate strike to push Saudi Arabia to end its five-year invasion of Yemen. 

Read More: Reuters seems the frustrated U.S. not striking Iran for Aramco attacks

The claims: MBS urged the West to put stronger pressure on Iran, but said Saudi Arabia believes “political and peaceful solution” to problems with Iran is much better than a “military response”. 

The facts: Saudi officials have long been advocating attacks on Iran, with the deceased King Abdullah once urging the US to “cut off the head of the snake”. In 2017, fresh off a debut audience with the newly elected

Trump, MBS had ruled out dialogue with Iran, framed differences in sectarian terms and asserted he had the willingness and ability to make war inside Iran. 

Whitewashing Saudi role behind Yemen crisis

The claims: Asked about the solution to the Yemen war, the Saudi prince, the architect of the kingdom’s brutal war on Yemen, said the political resolution in Yemen would be much easier if “Iran stops its support of the Houthi militia”. 

The facts: This is only half the story, and it is a very misleading representation of the Yemen conflict. The claim that Iran provides major support for the anti-Saudi forces is Yemen are widely suspected. And the current conflict has nothing to do with Iran. The crisis in Yemen has its roots in the 20th century when Saudi Arabia staged efforts to dominate its southern neighbor. The differences between Yemen and Saudi Arabia date back to the 1930s when the kingdom was formed and conquered three of Yemen’s northern provinces. 

By the way, the “Houthi militia” are in fact a wide array of anti-Saudi forces including Ansarullah and more than half of the Yemeni Army. 

The claims: He said Saudi Arabia is “open to all initiatives for a political solution in Yemen”. 

The facts: MBS omitted the part that Saudi Arabia has rejected many initiatives by the UN and other countries – including Iran - to end the Yemen war during the past five years. And they are yet to meaningfully respond to the Yemeni announcement of the ceasefire and the unconditional release of 350 prisoners. Of note, the change in MBS’ tune comes following five years of fruitless efforts to retake Sana’a from the Yemeni forces.

Legitimizing the arrest of women rights activists 

The claims: Asked about the reason behind the arrest of a dozen female activists over a year ago, bin Salman touted Saudi Arabia as a country governed by “laws” and said the public prosecutor independently takes decisions on them. 

The facts: MBS’s language downplays the graveness of the detentions.  The Saudi activists were abruptly rounded up by security forces just before Saudi Arabia allows women to drive in June 2019. 
By the way, there are doubts that Saudi Arabia is a lawful country. Critics wonder which law authorized the detention of hundreds of Saudi princes in Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel in 2017.

The claims: Asked to comment on claims by Al-Hathloul’s family that she has been tortured in prison, bin Salman said it would be “heinous” if the claims are correct and that he will “personally follow up on this matter”. 

The facts: Al-Hathloul was not an unknown prisoner. She is a well-known women rights activist and torture claims have long gone viral on the internet. Can we believe the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia is so unaware of what goes on inside the country? 

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