The criminal trials of the 11
scapegoats men formally accused of participating in the killing and dismemberment of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi are now over, and the end result was exactly what most expected. That is, several royal aides implicated in the killing were let go without punishment, while five others who are probably only tangentially related to the case (if at all) have been sentenced to death.
As a reminder, in Saudi Arabia, a death sentence means one thing: A very public beheading.
According to Bloomberg, the Saudi court said it didn't have enough evidence to convict two top officials who are close to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of any involvement in the crime.
Meanwhile, three of the 11 men were given a total of 24 years in prison, according to a statement from the Saudis that was read out loud at the public prosecutor's office on Monday after the sentences had been handed down.
Two senior figures who were fired from their posts in the wake of the scandal, which briefly strained Saudi Arabia's relations with allies around the world, but particularly in the West (and prompted Wall Street and corporate America to skip MBS's "Davos in the Desert" conference in 2018, though they returned the following year) were cleared of all wrongdoing.
Saud al-Qahtani, removed from his role as a top adviser to Prince Mohammed after the killing, was interrogated by Saudi investigators, but no evidence was ever found against him, according to Deputy Attorney General Shalaan Shalaan. Ahmed Alassiri, a top intelligence official, was also removed from his position. Both men were found not guilty by the court.
Most of those arrested in relation to Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul will eventually go free, but most members of the global community expected that, as the process was seen as tainted from the beginning, and those men truly responsible for masterminding Khashoggi's murder would eventually walk free.
After all, the CIA is reportedly convinced that MbS himself ordered Khashoggi's killing, and that members of the "death squad" who carried it out were hand-picked by some of the Crown Prince's closest aides.
A UN special report even claimed that Saudi agents were recorded by Turkish intelligence discussing how to dismember Khashoggi's body, and even referred to Khashoggi as a "sacrificial lamb" before he entered the consulate, undermining the kingdom's claims that the murder wasn't part of the original plan. Though most doubted that explanation from the beginning.
What did Khashoggi do to make MbS so angry? Other than writing his moderately critical if largely ignored op-eds, it's not exactly clear.
Khashoggi was once a government insider, but he became a staunch critic of the royal family after leaving the country and settling in Virginia back in 2017, where he began occasionally writing columns for the Washington Post, where he was edited by Karen Attiah.
According to the FT, the trial began in January, and nine sessions were held before Monday’s sentencing. Representatives of the Turkish government, Saudi human rights groups and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council were allowed to attend the trial, which was otherwise closed to the public.
It's not clear when the death sentences will be carried out.