Advocacy letter

Joint Letter to DNI Nominee Haines on Accountability for Khashoggi Murder

Ahead of Avril Haines' confirmation as Director of National Intelligence nine human rights organizations requested that she commit to releasing an unclassified report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

The Honorable Avril Haines

January 7, 2021

Accountability for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi

Dear Ms. Haines,

Congratulations on your nomination to serve as Director of National Intelligence. Recognizing that many important matters are sure to fall on your plate if you are confirmed, we, the undersigned organizations dedicated to the promotion and protection of universal human rights, write to direct your attention to a continuing lack of meaningful accountability for the premeditated murder of Saudi national, Washington Post columnist, and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi, which at present implicates the rule of law in the United States. We respectfully request that during your confirmation process you commit to bring the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) into compliance with U.S. law related to Mr. Khashoggi’s murder, and that, if confirmed, you make good on such a pledge within your first month in office.

As you are aware, Mr. Khashoggi’s murder and dismemberment, committed October 2, 2018 in a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey at the hands of Saudi operatives, shocked the conscience of many around the world, including U.S. lawmakers from both major political parties. Given the appalling nature of the crime and contradictory statements proffered by Saudi officials in the immediate wake of the murder, members of Congress and the American people
rightfully demanded information from the U.S. government, including the U.S. intelligence community, on who ordered or was otherwise aware of the plot.

In this environment, credible media outlets soon reported that the CIA had assessed with “high confidence” that “Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) ordered [Khashoggi’s] assassination.”1 On December 4, 2018, following a classified briefing by CIA Director Gina Haspel, multiple U.S. senators indicated publicly that the CIA’s findings constituted overwhelming evidence of MBS’s central role in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.2 Following that briefing, on December 13, 2018, the Senate unanimously passed a non-binding resolution finding MBS “responsible” for the killing.3

In light of these reported findings, we were pleased to see that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20 NDAA), which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 20, 2019, included two provisions (Sections 1277 and 5714) that directed the ODNI to submit to Congress, within 30 days of the NDAA’s enactment, one or more unclassified reports identifying those who carried out, ordered, or were otherwise complicit in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.4 Sections 1277 and 5714 were based on bills that enjoyed broad bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The House bill that formed the primary basis for the NDAA’s reporting requirements, H.R. 2037, passed that chamber’s floor in July 2019 by
the overwhelming vote of 405-7.5 That outcome, and the bill’s ultimate inclusion in the NDAA, reflected a bipartisan view that the American public should be provided with a complete and accurate description of the role that Saudi leaders played in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.

Despite Congress well-founded desire for transparency, the Trump administration has refused to comply with the FY20 NDAA’s disclosure requirements. Rather than producing the unclassified report(s) required by law, in February 2020 the administration delivered to relevant congressional committees only a classified report. This action led to bipartisan calls, including from the then-Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, that the administration’s report be declassified.6 The administration’s lack of compliance with the NDAA’s requirements also spurred an ongoing lawsuit from the Open Society Justice Initiative.7

On October 2, 2020—the second anniversary of Mr. Khashoggi’s murder—then-presidential candidate Joe Biden issued a statement indicating that “Jamal Khashoggi and his loved ones deserve accountability,” that the U.S. government “will reassess our relationship with the Kingdom…and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.”8 We welcome this statement of intent, and expect that the Biden administration will implement policies in line with the President-elect’s commitment.

Such a process begins by establishing basic facts with the public. Mindful of the intelligence community’s need to protect sensitive sources and methods, it is therefore in keeping with President-elect Biden’s pledge that we ask you, if confirmed, to produce the unclassified report required by the FY20 NDAA.

Please note that we intend to share a copy of this letter with relevant congressional offices.

We would welcome the opportunity to speak to you in greater depth concerning accountability for Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. Again, congratulations on your nomination, and thank you for your attention to this matter.


Committee to Protect Journalists
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Freedom House
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
James W. Foley Legacy Foundation
PEN America
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights