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U.S. Sen. John Boozman seeks answers in Saudi case

by Frank E. Lockwood | October 19, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman is expressing concern about the disappearance of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it's a mystery that must be solved.

The Republican is joined by Arkansas Democratic candidates for Congress, who say it's time for answers.

Other members of the Arkansas congressional delegation are declining to weigh in, more than two weeks after the Virginia resident and Saudi citizen vanished.

Turkish officials allege Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was seized and slaughtered inside the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul more than two weeks ago.

Saudi officials say Khashoggi exited the building shortly after arriving Oct. 2, but they have released no videos or other evidence to support that claim.

Shortly before traveling to Montana for a campaign rally, President Donald Trump told reporters Thursday that "it certainly looks" like Khashoggi is dead. If so, there could be "very severe" consequences, Trump said; he had previously spoken of "severe punishment" if Saudi Arabia is to blame.

In an Oct. 11 tweet, Boozman said the disappearance of Khashoggi can't be ignored, writing:

"This is a disturbing situation that, in the interest of human rights, must be accounted for and the truth made known."

In a statement released Thursday, Boozman reiterated the need for answers.

"It is imperative that the Saudis continue to cooperate with the investigation so we can get answers. Those responsible must be held fully accountable for their actions," he said.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sought reactions from all of the delegation members, asking how they thought the U.S. should proceed.

In written statements, they warned against a rush to judgment or opted not to comment.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, who met with the crown prince in March, said a lot remains unknown.

"There's been a lot more speculation than facts in this matter. Until we know more, we ought not jump to conclusions," the Dardanelle Republican said through a spokesman.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman also declined to weigh in.

"I have no comment because I have not had an official briefing and have had no information beyond what is in the media," the Republican from Hot Springs said. "We don't know the accuracy of those reports at this time."

U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, a Republican from Rogers, wouldn't address the disappearance or the administration's response.

"Proper authorities are working to gather all the facts related to the case, and the congressman respects that process. With differing media reports and information yet to be verified, we have no comment beyond that," spokesman Alexia Sikora said.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, a Republican from Jonesboro who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, also declined to answer questions.

"We do not have a comment at this time but have been actively reviewing all incoming reports on the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi," Crawford's spokesman, Sara Robertson, said.

U.S. Rep. French Hill, a Republican from Little Rock, is taking a similar stance.

"We do not have all the facts on the alleged killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and until we have accurate, substantial information, Congressman Hill does not have a comment at this time," Hill's spokesman, Caroline Thorman, said.

Democrats, on the other hand, say enough is known to draw some disturbing conclusions.

"The government of Saudi Arabia murdered a U.S. resident and is now concocting numerous false stories to cover their crime and the Trump administration is falling for their lies," said Josh Mahony of Fayetteville, Womack's opponent in the 3rd Congressional District. "There must be swift consequences for murdering any U.S. resident. By doing nothing, the Trump administration makes our country weaker because it signals to the world that you can literally murder U.S. residents and the United States will just shrug their shoulders in resignation."

Hayden Shamel of Hot Springs, who is trying to win Westerman's 4th District seat, said U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin shouldn't attend next week's investor conference in Riyadh "until we know exactly what happened to Khashoggi. This is a human-rights issue and the U.S. must stand firm in its response."

(Thursday, Mnuchin, like other leaders around the world, announced that he is canceling the trip.)

Chintan Desai of Helena-West Helena, who is challenging Crawford in the 1st District, said he's puzzled by Crawford's silence.

"I would expect that the congressman would be outraged by the fact that an American resident was likely tortured, brutally tortured, and murdered," he said.

"It's important that we hold the individuals who are responsible for this accountable and we simply haven't seen that from this administration or from folks on Capitol Hill," he said.

State Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, who is challenging Hill in the 2nd District, said a "full and immediate investigation" is needed, "not only of what happened with Mr. Khashoggi, but also what has happened in the days since."

"Saudi Arabia has been an important partner for the United States for security and stability in the Middle East for decades, but the United States must insist on this investigation and needs to be prepared to take severe and swift action to ensure that those at home and abroad know that human rights are paramount for the American people," he added.

Metro on 10/19/2018

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