News ID: 263554
Published: 1135 GMT December 27, 2019

The Khashoggi cover-up goes on

The Khashoggi cover-up goes on

By NYT Editorial Board

The death sentences handed down by a Saudi court to five anonymous men in the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul only add another level of infamy to the foul murder. The claim by the Saudi prosecutors, who report directly to the royal court, that Mr. Khashoggi was killed in a “spur of the moment” decision defies all the evidence that points to a premeditated extrajudicial assassination — the bone saw the assailants brought along, the gruesome chitchat taped by Turkish intelligence, the Khashoggi look-alike who was filmed walking out of the consulate after the killing.

The court was closed to all outsiders save a few diplomats sworn to secrecy, and the identities of the five condemned men and three others sentenced to prison were not made public. But all the evidence unearthed since Mr. Khashoggi, who was living in self-imposed exile in the United States, was throttled and dismembered inside the consulate leaves little doubt that the powerful crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the hit, and that a team of operatives flew to Turkey to carry it out. The fact that two organizers of the execution, Prince Mohammed’s close adviser Saud al-Qahtani and the former deputy head of intelligence, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, were acquitted for lack of evidence serves only to make the convictions less credible.

But then it is reasonable to assume that the goal was not to put on a convincing trial, much less a fair one. Prince Mohammed knows what really happened and who did it, and after the storm of international censure and revelations since Mr. Khashoggi’s death on Oct. 2, 2018, he must understand that beheading the executioners — if that’s who have been sentenced to death — will not make his culpability go away. “Mockery,” “laughable lies” and “a sham” are only a few of the reactions from human rights experts and the Turkish government that followed the sentences.

There is nothing to show that Prince Mohammed has been humbled by the global outcry over the murder, as he has continued to crack down against any sign of dissent in his kingdom. The cynical conclusion is that he staged the trial and threw a few underlings to the dogs to give friendly foreign leaders — including President Trump and Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has a chummy relationship with the prince — a pretext for carrying on with business as usual.

The sentences were announced shortly after Mr. Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, in which Congress included a directive to the director of national intelligence to provide a list of officials complicit in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder within 30 days.

It’s doubtful that any such report will change Mr. Trump’s approach to the crown prince, especially given the disdain he has exhibited for the intelligence services, or dissuade businesspeople from seeking lucrative Saudi deals.

But the pretense that justice has been even remotely served must not be given any credence, at any level. And nobody should mistake Prince Mohammed for the benign reformer he once pretended to be, or to let him believe he has closed the chapter on the barbaric extermination of a troublesome critic.





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