Committee to Protect Journalists to Join Knight Institute in Seeking Release of Khashoggi Documents

January 17, 2019

The Knight First Amendment Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists today asked a court to force five federal agencies to disclose documents showing whether they fulfilled their “duty to warn” reporter Jamal Khashoggi that he was in danger before he was lured to his death in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

Today’s filing follows news reports detailing a transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi’s murder, a New York Times report describing contacts between senior White House official Jared Kushner and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the killing, and a unanimous Senate vote condemning the crown prince for Khashoggi’s death. Citing the urgency of the public debate surrounding the U.S. government’s response to the murder, the lawsuit seeks to compel the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Department of Justice, the State Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to release documents under the Freedom of Information Act about whether and how they responded to intelligence reports that the Saudi government was planning to capture Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.

“One of the core purposes of the Freedom of Information Act is to ensure that government agencies carry out their duties under the law, and one of the most consequential is the U.S. intelligence agencies’ duty to warn a person if they gather intelligence that his or her life or safety is threatened,” said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “As Congress continues to debate how the U.S. will respond to Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, the public needs to know what the U.S. knew about threats to his life and whether that foreknowledge was acted upon as required.”

Intelligence Community Directive 191 provides that, when a U.S. intelligence agency acquires information indicating an impending threat of intentional killing, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping directed at a person, the agency must “warn the intended victim or those responsible for protecting the intended victim, as appropriate.” The directive further obligates the agencies to “document and maintain records” on any actions taken pursuant to that duty. After the initial reports of Khashoggi’s death, the Knight Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists each filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking these documents on an expedited basis. Agencies have failed to produce documents in response to these requests. In November 2018, the Knight Institute sued to enforce its requests, and today’s filing seeks to add the Committee to Protect Journalists to the lawsuit.

“The United States government has a duty to inform individuals when it learns of threats to their life or liberty. We need to know if the U.S. government fulfilled its obligation in this case," said Joel Simon, the Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “With the Saudi government engaged in a campaign of lies and deceit, the U.S. can advance the cause of justice for Jamal Khashoggi by making these crucial documents public."

Download the motion here.

Download the amended complaint here.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, lorraine.kenny@knightcolumbia.org, 646-745-8510.

About the Knight Institute

The Knight First Amendment Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization established by Columbia University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to defend the freedoms of speech and press in the digital age through strategic litigation, research, and public education. Its aim is to promote a system of free expression that is open and inclusive, that broadens and elevates public discourse, and that fosters creativity, accountability, and effective self-government.

About the Committee to Protect Journalists

The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal.