The recent announcement by the Saudi Government about the sentencing of eight men on allegations of murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi has caused global outrage among legal experts and human rights activists who have come out to criticize the Saudi judicial system. Five of the men were sentenced to death while three were jailed for a combined 24 years. Three other men were let off the hook.
Why Is The Saudi Verdict Causing Outrage?
The anger among many who viewed the ruling as a mockery of justice was because the main culprits alleged to have organized and ordered the killing were not convicted. These included Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, Major General Ahmad Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Intelligence Chief and Saud Al Qahtani, the advisor to the Crown Prince.
“Under international human rights law, the killing of Khashoggi was an extrajudicial execution for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible. Bottom line: the hit men are guilty sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free, they have been barely been touched by the investigations and the trial,” explained Agnes Callamard the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killing.
‘This Is The Antithesis Of Justice’
Callamard went on to express the view that Saudi Arabia’s legal system is a sick joke.
“The Saudi Judicial system and judicial culture does not allow them to ensure accountability. Even with all pressure from around the world , the system is unable to deliver anything else than full protection of the powerful at the expense of the small and powerless. This is the antithesis of justice. It is a mockery.”
Both Qahtani and Asiri were close confidantes of the Crown Prince at the time of the killing. The two men were mentioned by various sources as the key planners of the execution of Khashoggi, including in the report compiled by Callamard. According to a secret source Qahtani was never even tried, after the prosecutor decided that there was not enough evidence to charge him, while Asiri was acquitted due to a supposed lack of evidence.
Verdict Ignored Western Intel Agencies
The verdict contradicted Western intelligences services including the CIA which concluded that the two men organized the execution of Khashoggi on the orders of the Crown prince. In reaching their conclusion, the CIA examined various sources of intelligence including a phone call the Crown Prince’s brother Khalid bin Salman—who is the current Saudi ambassador to the US—made to Khashoggi, the Washington Post reported.
In addition to calls and audio recordings, CIA analysts also linked some members of the Saudi hit team directly to the Crown Prince himself. According to WaPo, “some of the 15 members had served on his security team and traveled in the United States during visits by senior Saudi Officials, including the crown prince, according to passport records reviewed by the Post.”
The CIA’s assessment of the involvement of the Crown Prince and his confidantes Asiri and Qahtani in the assassination of Khashoggi concurred with the findings of other foreign intelligence services, especially in Europe.
Also lending credence to the findings of the intelligence services was a report issued by the Saudi prosecutor in November 2018, one month after the murder of Khashoggi. According to the prosecutor, Asiri directed that Khashoggi should be brought back to Saudi Arabia by means of persuasion and in case this failed then force was to be used. Asiri further requested al-Qahtani to allocate one of his subordinates to a team that was to head to Turkey for the mission. Following the request Al-Qahtani assigned Mutreb to the team as its leader.
According to the prosecutor, before members of the hit squad left for Turkey, Qahtani held a meeting with them informing that that Khassoghi was a threat to national security and therefore should be returned to Saudi Arabia. As soon as the team arrived in Turkey, Mutreb held a meeting with Saudi Consulate staff to discuss Khashoggi’s visit. A call examined by the CIA just after the killing of Khashoggi inside the consulate indicated that Mutreb called his boss al-Qahtani back in Saudi Arabia and informed him that the operation had been completed.
Al-Qahtani: ‘Bring Me The Head Of The Dog’
A Turkish intelligence source would later tell Reuters that al-Qahtani upon receiving the information that the mission was complete told the hit squad to dispose of the body of Khashoggi and remarked, “Bring me the head of the dog.”
In December 2018, a Turkish prosecutor working with the collected intelligence issued arrest warrants against Asiri and al-Qahtani for planning the murder of Khashoggi. The prosecutor took the action due to the view that the Saudi authorities wouldn’t take formal action against the two individuals owing to their powerful positions and the Crown Prince’s involvement.
One private source familiar with the operations of the Saudi royal family said al-Qahtani’s role as a confidante of the Crown Prince was to silence the dissidents through brutal means. He masterminded the arrest of the Crown’s Prince’s business rivals, critics and journalists. He was also reportedly instrumental in the detention of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri. An American official also confirmed to the New York Times that al-Qahtani was behind a rapid intervention force that worked to forcibly repatriate Saudi dissidents hiding in other countries.
US Sanctions On Al-Qahtani
Following his implication in the murder, the US government imposed sanctions on al-Qahtani, stating that “Saud Al Qahtani is a senior official of the government of Saudi Arabia who was part of the planning and execution of the operation that led to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul Turkey on October 2, 2018. This operation was coordinated and executed by his surbordinate Maher Mutreb and involved the participation of at least 14 other Saudi government officials.”
What About Asiri?
Asiri on the hand was a high-ranking advisor to the royal court who often sat in closed door meetings between the Crown prince and foreign dignitaries. Before his promotion as the deputy intelligence chief, he served as the spokesman for the Saudi-led military alliance in Yemen battling the Houthi rebels, which has led to thousands of Saudi-caused civilian deaths. However, despite the overwhelming evidence putting the two at the center of Khashoggi’s murder none of them was found guilty by the Saudi courts.
The Truth About Saudi Arabia’s Khashoggi Verdict
The truth is that those sentenced were just executing the orders from the masterminds who were never tried because of their powerful positions. It was a cynical show trial whose aim was to please the West but not to expose the truth surrounding the murder of Khashoggi. Despite many condemning the Saudi judicial system for exonerating powerful individuals, the US State Department expressed its satisfaction with the verdict saying, “today’s verdicts were an important step in holding those responsible for this crime accountable.”
This proves once again that for Trump business interests come first over human rights. Saudi Arabia provides the biggest foreign market for America’s weapons and military equipment. That’s why Trump has continued to embrace the Crown Prince despite America’s own CIA implicating bin Salman in the murder. The downside of this is that the Crown Prince will even be more emboldened in cracking down on dissidents and abusing human rights, since he knows he has the full support of Big Brother America.