The Saudis on Monday wrapped up their farcical internal “investigation” into the murder of dissident journalist (and Washington Post columnist) Jamal Khashoggi.
Five men were sentenced to death and three to prison for their alleged role in the October 2018 incident, in which Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he (mistakenly) believed he could safely obtain papers he needed to marry his fiancée, Hatice Cengiz.
Following his disappearance, a steady leak of information about the 15-man “hit squad” responsible for his death was leaked to Turkish media and, ultimately, the international press, which was eager to pounce on the glaring contradiction between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman portraying himself to the world as a reformer, even as he ordered the extrajudicial execution of a prominent critic.
Read more in our Jamal Khashoggi archive
It’s hard to get away with something as heinous as Khashoggi’s murder was on Turkish soil. After all, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan runs a police state, which means he had the consulate bugged for sound, and promptly used the evidence against the Saudis in a spitefully hilarious effort to exact revenge for the quashing of the Arab Spring and score one for Ankara’s ally in Doha, following the Saudi-led blockade that threatened to spark an economic crisis in Qatar in the summer of 2017.
Fortunately for Riyadh, Prince Mohammed has friends in high places, where that means that between the Saudis’ traditional alliance with Washington, their relationship with Trump and the Crown Prince’s bromance with Jared Kushner, the Trump administration not only looked the other way amid the international outcry around Khashoggi’s murder, but actually went so far as the essentially claim that the CIA was lying about the prince’s culpability.
The US did sanction more than a dozen Saudis, but that announcement came in conjunction with the announcement from Riyadh of a probe into those same people, which means the whole thing was obviously coordinated. Trump insisted throughout that there was no proof that Prince Mohammed ordered the killing, despite the fact that there was proof and even if there wasn’t, common sense was all you needed in this case.
In June, Agnes Callamard, a special rapporteur for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, released a 101-page report on the killing. The report called on the UN to “demand” a criminal investigation into Prince Mohammed and Saud al-Qahtani, the senior advisor who played prominently in the drama.
Not surprisingly, al-Qahtani was not tried by the Saudis due to a “lack of evidence”, an absurd contention for reasons you can read all about here.
Mohammed al-Otaibi – who was told to “be quiet if you want to live” when, during the murder, he suggested that Salah Muhammad al-Tubaigy was causing too much of a stir at the consulate – was found not guilty, as was Ahmed Asiri, the deputy head of Saudi intelligence.
The condemned can appeal their sentences, apparently, but considering that would entail trying to convince a Saudi “court” that they were in fact just acting on the orders of the Crown Prince, it’s unlikely those appeals would be successful.
As The New York Times dryly notes, “death sentences in Saudi Arabia are usually carried out by beheading in public squares”.