The Saudi public prosecutor is seeking the death penalty for those involved in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. If the punishment is carried out, we might never know who ordered the killing.
By executing Khashoggi’s killers, is Saudi Arabia burying the truth with them?
First there came denial and now there comes contradiction and deflection. These are the necessary components of covering up murder, which is precisely what Saudi is doing in front of an entirely sceptical, yet apathetic, world.
It’s extremely hard to fathom what the Saudis thought would happen after the premeditated and savage assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in their consulate in Istanbul.
What we do know is that their tactic now is to kill or lock the truth away, forever.
Access to it will either be impossible or impenetrable. Obfuscation and contradiction is the order of the Saudi ‘investigation’ into, and reaction to, their culpability in Jamal’s murder.
The first purpose of any Saudi manoeuvre here is to protect Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) from any connection to the crime.
The latest development is that the Saudi public prosecutor released a statement saying that they would be seeking the death penalty for five people involved in the killing of Khashoggi at the consulate.
The statement claims that the Saudi investigation found that Jamal’s murder was carried out ‘after a physical altercation with the victim where he was forcibly restrained and injected with a large amount of a drug resulting in an overdose that led to his death’.
The prosecutor’s statement then claims that ‘the leader of the mission’ conspired to ‘write a false report’ claiming Khashoggi had left the building.
A spokesman for the public prosecutor confirmed, after the statement, that the Saudi story was that the 15-man team had been sent to ‘confront’ Khashoggi with the express orders to return him to Saudi. But, after the journalist ‘resisted’, they ended up killing and then dismembering him.
This explanation sounds like something out of an episode of The Sopranos, but the reality is even worse – Khashoggi was murdered very deliberately in the consulate by a 15-man death squad. Not a 15-man ‘confrontation squad’, but a hit team assembled by MBS’ with the express aims of torture and murder. His body was then dismembered and dissolved in acid.
Guilt, when it comes to any crime, is almost always determined by a contradiction in narrative and a lack of evidence to back up the guilty party’s side of events. Saudi’s latest version of the story, as espoused by the prosecutor, contradicts its earlier acknowledgement, backed by the US in the face of Turkish evidence, that the murder was a premeditated assassination.
Turkey has audio recordings of one of the assassins, namely Maher Abdelaziz Mutreb, who is a known security officer close to both Crown Prince and his chief enforcer Qahtani, saying over the phone to an unknown superior to ‘tell your boss’, with the boss in question very likely being MBS.
Mutreb is also heard saying something along the lines of ‘the deed is done’, which is a confirmation that he was following orders given to him from top brass.
The former CIA officer Bruce O. Riedel, now at the Brookings Institute, told the New York Times that these audio recordings are “as close to a smoking gun as you’re going to get.”
Even Donald Trump, one of MBS’ closest allies and brother-in-arms, called Saudi’s explanation of the murder as an ‘accident’ ‘the worst cover-up ever’.
It was after this, and consultation with US officials, that Saudi momentarily admitted premeditation, but now they’ve lunged back to their previously absurd line.
And as bad as their cover up has been, it’s a necessary one, no matter how absurd it might seem.
For the alternative to the cover-up of the events that everyone knows took place is to implicate MBS in the murder. If he’s implicated, not only does Saudi potentially lose its ‘chosen one’ – the young, hip ‘reformist’ frontman who’ll lead Saudi through the Arab spring and the changing socioeconomic realities of the world (of course, he’s no more of a reformist than any other Saudi autocrat), but they also risk exposing the entire ruling wing of the royal family to culpability in this crime.
That is exactly why these executions are being pushed through in the Kingdom. Far from it being about even haphazard justice, the point of executing these men is to kill the truth. And, in Saudi’s autocratic royal family, no one is safe when it comes to doing whatever is necessary to protect the bosses.
Much is made of Saudi’s status as a theocracy, but its practice ever-more resembles that of Stalin’s USSR – nothing is sacred in defence of the leadership. Now, Saud al-Qahtani—who is used to meting out repression within the Kingdom and was the ‘mastermind’ behind the assault on Qatar—has every right to be uneasy.
Qahtani was fired from his official position as ‘royal court adviser’ in the wake of Jamal’s murder, which, in typical bungling fashion, essentially proved that he had some hand in it.
But, if need be, Qahtani will be sacrificed – it won’t be due to an even accidental form of justice, but rather due to what he knows, namely his potential to implicate MBS in the murder.
In addition to this, casting the blame fully onto someone like Qahtani would serve to bolster the Saudi line that this was simply a rogue hit on a dissident, far removed from MBS’ knowledge or wishes.
Though Qahtani is not one of the 5 people who now face execution, the Saudi public prosecutor said that Qahtani had been due to meet the team that murdered Jamal and that he is under official investigation, unable to leave the country.
Whatever Qahtani’s fate, the entire point of the executions and the public naming of someone as high profile as Qahtani has the express purpose to make sure that while we all know that Jamal was deliberately assassinated by the Saudi state, we can never prove it conclusively.
There will be no justice regarding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, only more obfuscation, brutality and repression to bolster an injustice and save those who are truly guilty of perpetrating it.
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