Saudi Death Sentences in Khashoggi Killing Fail...
Saudi Arabia sentenced five men to death and three to prison terms over the killing of the Saudi dissident writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, a ruling widely dismissed as punishing low-level agents while protecting their leaders.
The sentences reflected the Saudi argument that the killing was not ordered by the royal court, but was instead a last-minute decision by agents on the ground — a narrative that contradicts ample indications that the agents arrived in Istanbul last year with an intent to kill and the tools to do so. The kingdom has denied any involvement by its crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, and his top aides, who foreign analysts say were probably behind the killing.
The trial, held in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, was shrouded in secrecy. The kingdom did not reveal the suspects’ names, and foreign diplomats who attended sessions of the trial were sworn to silence.
A United Nations expert who investigated the killing dismissed the verdicts as “a mockery.” Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said they were part of a Saudi effort to distance the Saudi leadership from the killing. “It is inconceivable that such activities would be conducted without the direction or blessing of the crown prince given that he effectively controls all levers of power in Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island said in a statement. Adam Coogle, who researches Saudi Arabia for Human Rights Watch, said that the opaque trial and the kingdom’s overall treatment of the case showed the need for an independent investigation.
Mr. Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia, entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, to obtain paperwork he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. Inside, he was confronted by Saudi agents, who killed him and dismembered his body. His remains have yet to be found. A spokesman for the kingdom’s public prosecutor told reporters in Riyadh that no evidence had been found that the killing had been planned ahead of time.
But investigations by the Turkish authorities and a United Nations expert found vast evidence of premeditation, such as the arrival of 15 Saudi agents in Istanbul in the hours before Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. They included a body double who sought to leave a false trail of surveillance video indicating that Mr. Khashoggi was still alive, and a forensic doctor who the Turks say arrived with a bone saw that was used to dismember Mr. Khashoggi’s body. Recordings captured by Turkish intelligence inside the consulate before, during and after the killing, and shared with the United Nations investigator, revealed the agents discussing how to fit Mr. Khashoggi’s body into suitcases. It is thought by Turkish investigators to have been dissolved in acid.
An investigation by Agnès Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions for the United Nations human rights agency, concluded that there was “credible evidence, warranting further investigation, of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the crown prince’s.” “The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of justice. It is a mockery.”
On Twitter, one of Mr. Khashoggi’s adult children, Salah Khashoggi, who lives in Saudi Arabia, praised the Saudi judges as fair. “We confirm our faith in the Saudi judiciary at all levels and in its giving us justice and ensuring fairness,” he wrote. Months after the killing, he and Mr. Khashoggi’s other children received tens of thousands of dollars and millions in real estate from the government to compensate for their father’s murder.
Responding to the sentencing Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director, said “This verdict is a whitewash which brings neither justice nor the truth for Jamal Khashoggi and his loved ones. The trial has been closed to the public and to independent monitors, with no information available as to how the investigation was carried out. “Saudi Arabia’s courts routinely deny defendants access to lawyers and condemn people to death following grossly unfair trials. Given the lack of transparency from the Saudi authorities, and in the absence of an independent judiciary, only an international, independent and impartial investigation can serve justice for Jamal Khashoggi.”
“The fact that important issues like the location of the late Khashoggi’s body, the identification of the instigators and, if there are any, the local co-operators, are still in the dark is a fundamental shortcoming to justice being served and accountability,” Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said . “The prosecutor sentenced five hitmen to death but did not touch those who were behind the five,” said Yasin Aktay, a member of Turkey’s ruling party and a friend of Khashoggi. “These are people who cannot even use the bathroom without the permission of their superiors. The verdict neither meets the expectations of the public conscience nor the feeling of justice.”
The court ruled that the Saudi consul-general in Istanbul at the time, Mohammed al-Otaibi, was not guilty. He was released from prison after the verdicts were announced. Otaibi has also been sanctioned by the US due to his “involvement in gross violations of human rights” and his family is under a travel ban.
Donald Trump, who has made Saudi Arabia a keystone of his Middle East policy, condemned the killing but has staunchly defended his ally Prince Mohammed. His administration has sanctioned 17 Saudis suspected of being involved in Khashoggi’s death, though not the crown prince. Trump has steadfastly resisted calls by Congress and members of his own party for a tougher response, defending maintaining good relations with the kingdom because of its importance as a trade and diplomatic ally.