Ohio lawmakers reacted with fury to reports that Saudi agents may have murdered a Saudi columnist who has written for the Washington Post, with some suggesting the U.S. retaliation against senior officials of Saudi Arabia.
In a major breach between Washington and its longtime ally in Riyadh, Ohio lawmakers from both parties urged the Trump administration to use a 2012 federal law to financially punish senior Saudi officials if they orchestrated the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who has not been seen since entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last week.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, joined 20 other senators in saying Khashoggi’s disappearance “suggest he could be a victim of a gross violation of internationally recognized of internationally recognized human rights.”
The senators, who included both Democrats and Republicans, called on the administration to consider “the imposition of sanctions” for any “foreign person responsible” under a 2012 law named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian who was tortured, denied medical attention, and died in a jail cell in Moscow in 2009.
Those sanctions could include freezing any U.S. assets held by foreign officials and preventing them from entering the United States. Khashoggi has been a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the major power in Saudi Arabia.
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the Trump administration “must send a clear message to the Saudis that we will not tolerate the kidnapping or killing of journalists. Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, and possible murder, needs to be investigated by an independent organization, not the Saudi government.”
Brown called on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin not to attend an international economic conference next month in Riyadh, saying “his attendance would send the wrong message to the Saudis and to other global leaders regarding internationally recognized human rights.”
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Upper Arlington, called reports of Khashoggi’s death “tragic and extremely concerning. We cannot tolerate this behavior, and if the facts show Saudi Arabia was responsible, I would support a response.”
Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, expressed willingness to scale back the billions of dollars in arms sales by the U.S. to Saudi Arabia.
Ryan said “instead of upholding America’s values by cracking down on Saudi Arabia, the president instead wants to give them more weapons. It’s a betrayal of our global reputation.”
But in an interview on CNN, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, was cool to the idea of curbing arms sales, saying the United States should be focused on individuals linked to the apparent murder and have them “held accountable.”
“We can’t allow what is happening (with) nations feeling comfortable going into another nation and taking this type of brazen human rights violation,” Turner said.
Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, said the “media reports are deeply disturbing,” and was open to “possible actions authorized under the Magnitsky Act. The allegations are serious, and if true, so should be our response.”
(Jessica Wehrman of the Washington bureau contributed to this story.)
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