Editor’s Note: Nic Robertson is CNN’s international diplomatic editor. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
In the 100 days since Saudi officials brutally murdered Jamal Khashoggi in their Istanbul consulate, there has been a massive international outpouring of condemnation. Yet the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body remains unknown.
It’s hard to believe, considering his suspected killers are already behind bars and an audio recording of his barbaric murder and dismemberment exists.
The Saudis say they handed his body to “local accomplices” but refuse to name them, and Turkish investigators who have pieced together his final hours from closed-circuit TV footage have failed to fully investigate where the trail finally leads.
These are not far-fetched Middle East conspiracy theories; these are the facts more than three months since Khashoggi was killed for doing what thousands of journalists the world over do every day: report the facts as they understand them.
Jamal Khashoggi is being denied the respect most of us would hope is given in death. He is being intentionally diminished and turned in to a political commodity at the expense of his legacy and his family.
The latest clues in his killing to be made public came via a video published in pro-government Turkish media.
Its reporters have been routine recipients of reliable leaks from a variety of government sources in what over the months is hard to interpret as less than a controlled drip-feed of details to keep Khashoggi’s plight – and Saudi’s malfeasance – in the headlines.
Yet this latest video, which could be of evidence of Khashoggi’s dismembered body being hauled into the Saudi consul general’s residence hidden in several heavy bags, was reported by the paper at the same time the journalists were releasing their new book on Khashoggi’s murder.
Regardless of whether they had just been given the video by officials or had been sitting on it for some time, it is beyond doubt that Turkish investigators have had access to it for almost as long as Khashoggi has been dead.
The closed-circuit camera that shot the video was mounted on the wall of the consul general’s residence, pointed and focused on the front door. The video picks up where previously leaked closed-circuit video left off, according to a running time stamp on the video.
Within days of Khashoggi’s death, Turkish officials leaked closed-circuit footage clearly showing Khashoggi’s final few steps as a free man, walking in the front door of the Saudi consulate.
The digital clock embedded in the surveillance video shows the time as “1.14pm 2nd October 2018.”
A little less than two hours later, that camera and others nearby recorded a number of vehicles, including a large black van with Saudi diplomatic plates and Saudi officials departing the consulate arriving at the nearby consul general’s nearby residence. The large black van was swiftly driven inside the compound out of the view of the surveillance cameras.
Turkish officials believe Khashoggi had been killed and cut up inside the consulate and his remains smuggled into the consul general’s residence.
But far from feeling like a leap forward in the public’s perception of what happened, it seems to throw even greater doubt over investigative efforts since the murder.
Almost two weeks after Khashoggi was killed, Saudi authorities finally relented – but not before sending in cleanup crews – and opened the consulate’s doors to Turkish investigators.
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused the Saudis of cleaning up the crime scene with chemicals and painting over it.
Several days later, the nearby consul general’s residence was also searched. However, unlike the thorough search of the consulate, the Turkish investigators hit an unforeseen snag.
The carefully prepared Turkish investigators were not aware the residence, built on a steeply sloping hillside, had a large underground well, local media reported at the time.
To search the well, they needed fire crews with special equipment, which the Saudis allegedly refused to give access to because they were not on a pre-approved list of Turkish officials cleared to set foot on sovereign Saudi territory, according to Turkish media.
Turkey does not appear to have made significant efforts to get back in.
If, indeed, this is the last place to reasonably suspect Khashoggi’s remains were hidden, it would – given the paucity of information we have so far – seem to be exactly the location that investigators would once and for all want to rule out.
Khashoggi’s body, of course, won’t just provide much-needed solace and a small amount of closure for his family but will likely give prosecutors vital information about precisely who killed him and how – details the Saudis, despite having the alleged killers in their hands, won’t disclose.
For example, among the Saudi officials in the consulate when Khashoggi was killed was one of the Kingdom’s top forensic pathologists, who is widely suspected of wielding a bone saw to dismember Khashoggi. He has even been reportedly picked up on audio recordings, telling his colleagues to put in earphones and listen to music during the dismemberment.
With a body, prosecutors will have a wealth of evidence. But without a way to find that evidence, judgments might easily be tarnished.
Just last week, Saudi prosecutors put 11 people it accuses of Khashoggi’s murder on trial, demanding the death penalty for five of them. (However, UN officials say the trial falls short of their call for an independent and international investigation, and US officials say it has not reached the “threshold of credibility and accountability” they expect.)
Regardless of US or UN grandstanding, without meaningful action, the status quo won’t change.
In the meantime, Saudi and Turkish officials exchange barbs.
Saudi says Turkey refuses to hand over all the evidence it has: Turkey demands the accused, of which they say there are at least 18, are extradited to them for trial.
One hundred days since his death, the dust has well and truly settled on Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. The CIA believes it knows who is responsible. How far of a stretch should it be for good people to come together and, if nothing else, find a body for his family to grieve over?