Five Sentenced To Death In Khashoggi Murder, But The Coverup Continues

Five men have been sentenced to die by a Saudi Arabian court for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but the parties who are really responsible are getting off scot-free.

Saudi Arabia has sentenced five men to death for the murder of journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but the parties who are truly responsible are walking away scot-free:

ISTANBUL — Five people have been sentenced to death in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor announced Monday, but the two most senior officials implicated in the case, including an adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, were cleared of wrongdoing.

The slaying of Khashoggi in October 2018 sparked a global outcry against Saudi Arabia and led to greater scrutiny of a crackdown on dissidents pursued by the crown prince. Khashoggi, who contributed columns to The Washington Post, was one of Mohammed’s most prominent critics.

Khashoggi, a Saudi national who lived in Virginia, was killed soon after he arrived at the Saudi consulate to obtain documents that would allow him to remarry. Turkish and Saudi prosecutors say he was killed by a team of agents who had flown to Istanbul from Saudi Arabia. His body was dismembered; his remains have not been found.

The verdicts came after a trial in Riyadh’s criminal court that lasted nearly a year and was largely shrouded in secrecy, with sessions closed to the general public. Human rights groups warned that the lack of transparency made the proceedings unfair, and increased the likelihood that senior officials could escape justice.

Diplomats from the United States, Turkey and several other countries were allowed to attend but told not to reveal details of the trial. Members of Khashoggi’s family also attended, according to Shalaan al-Shalaan, a spokesman for the Saudi public prosecutor.

In addition to the five people who received the death penalty, three more people were sentenced to jail terms totaling 24 years, Shalaan said. He did not name any of the convicted defendants. The death sentences must be confirmed by higher courts before they may be carried out, he said.

The CIA concluded last year that the crown prince had ordered Khashoggi’ s assassination, contradicting Saudi Arabia’s insistence that Mohammed had no knowledge of the plot. However, Saudi authorities said they were investigating the roles played by two senior aides to the crown prince in organizing and dispatching the team of agents who killed Khashoggi.

Shalaan said Monday that the two senior aides — Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed al-Assiri — had been exonerated.

Qahtani, a media adviser to the crown prince and one of the kingdom’s most strident defenders, was “investigated by the public prosecutor and was not charged because of lack of evidence against him,” Shalaan said.

Salah Khashoggi, the eldest of Jamal’s four children, called the findings “just.”

“The fairness of the judiciary is based on two principles: justice and the speed of litigation, so that there is no injustice or procrastination,” he said on twitter. “Today the judiciary was just to us the sons of Jamal Khashoggi. … And we affirm our confidence in the Saudi judiciary on all its levels, in it being fair to us, and achieving justice. Thanks be to Allah.”

It’s no coincidence that those who were closest to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto rules of the country at this point, have been acquitted. Since the beginning, the Kingdom and its government have engaged in an unrelenting effort to shield “MBS,” as he his properly known from any indication of liability in this crime notwithstanding the fact that he was clearly involved in the murder.

American Permanent Resident, and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. It would be the last building that he would enter alive. Khashoggi, who had been living outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for years in no small part due to his criticism of the current regime, was visiting the embassy purportedly to obtain a document he needed to marry his fiance in Turkey. While his fiance waited outside, it is believed that he was murdered in cold blood by a security team sent from the KSA specifically for the purpose of killing him, under the direction and with the approval of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Indeed, the evidence establishing the guilt of the man known popularly as “MBS” is rather overwhelming.

We know for a fact that Khashoggi entered the consulate thanks to photographic evidence showing him walking into the evidence shortly after 1:00 p.m. on that fateful day. Additionally, Khashoggi’s fiance was waiting for him across the street and saw him walk into the building. There is, however, no record of Khashoggi ever leaving. Despite that, the Saudis initially took the position that this is exactly what happened at the same time they made the absurd claim that they could not provide evidence to support the claim that he left the building because they did not keep recordings from their security cameras. In the weeks that followed, the evidence against the Saudis continued to mount, and the Saudi denials became even more ridiculous.

Once it became clear that the Saudi lies and evasions were not holding up to scrutiny, the government in Riyadh became scrambling to put forward a new series of explanations for what may have happened to Khashoggi, all of them obviously designed to shield the Crown Prince from culpability in the matter. First, the government put forward the theory that Khashoggi’s disappearance was due to an operation by what President Trump described as ‘rogue killers’ who acted without the knowledge or consent of their superiors. This hard-to-believe explanation was being circulated at the same time that evidence was being released, including the fact that Khashoggi had died inside the consulate and revealed certain facts surrounding his death, and the details surrounding the arrival and departure of a team of fifteen Saudis linked to the Crown Prince, military, and intelligence services who allegedly were involved in whatever happened to the Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident. Among these revelations was the fact that nearly all of the members of the aforementioned fifteen person team, including the alleged leaders, were linked in some way to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,  Despite all of this, the Saudis continued to assert that bin Salman knew nothing about what had happened to Khashoggi. This was an entirely implausible explanation that required one to forget everything we know about how things actually operate in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Finally, after it was clear that they were looking to pin responsibility for Khashoggi’s fate on a fall guy, the Saudis put forward an explanation claiming that Khashoggi’s death was the result of an operation that was carried out by people close to the Crown Prince but done entirely without his knowledge or authorization. They also claimed that the original intent of the operation had been to question Khashoggi and/or return him surreptitiously to the KSA. This story was no more credible than previous explanations, of course, but that is precisely the position that the Saudis took when they finally released an official “explanation” for Khashoggi’s disappearance and death that acknowledged that he was, in fact, dead and that his death had occurred when he was inside the consulate.

This explanation, though, maintained the hard to believe a claim that the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death, which Riyadh maintained at the time was due to a rendition (a/k/a kidnapping) operation gone awry was not authorized at the highest levels before being carried out. Eventually, the Saudis acknowledged that it was the intention of the operation to kill Khashoggi, although they continue to maintain the increasingly implausible claim that the Crown Prince knew nothing about what was being carried out in the name of the country he leads.

Throughout all of this, the Trump Administration has stood steadfastly behind our so-called “allies” in Riyadh. As noted above, President Trump himself was the first person to publicly suggest the utterly ridiculous idea that the team sent to kill Khashoggi was acting without authorization from the highest levels of the Saudi government.

In the time that has followed since roughly the end of November 2018 when the Khashoggi matter largely disappeared from the news, the Trump Administration has not wavered in its support for the Saudi regime in general and Crown Prince bin Salman specifically. Instead, they have continued to coddle him and his family, to provide material and other support for his regime’s genocide in Yemen, and to take advantage of the United States at every turn.

It’s quite probable that the five men sentenced to death were involved in Khashoggi’s murder. It is quite improbable, though, that they were the only people involved or that they would have been able to pull off an operation of this kind without the approval and knowledge of the leadership of the KSA. They are being killed to keep them silent and to divert attention from the truth of what actually happened in October 2018.

As this latest development in what was clearly a blatant coverup, there is absolutely no evidence that Mohammed bin Salman feels threatened in any respect. His efforts to cover up Khashoggi’s murder and essentially pin responsibility for his death on a group of fall guys have proven to be largely successful. The genocidal war on Yemen continues to move forward with the support, and active assistance, of the United States and United Arab Emirates, and shows no sign of ending notwithstanding the horror it inflicts on the Yemeni people on a daily basis. He remains the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and still on course to become King on the death of his father. And, most important, he continues to enjoy the obsequious support of the Trump Administration. As long as all of that is true he has nothing to worry about. Finally, as the arrogance he displayed during his 60 Minutes interview this past Sunday revealed, he has no qualms about continuing to act in the manner that he has ever since Khashoggi turned on the regime in Riyadh to become a strong critic. As long as all of that continues to be the case, there will sadly be no justice for Jamal Khashoggi.

FILED UNDER: Saudi Arabia, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Gustopher says:

    Saudi Arabia has sentenced five men to death for the murder of journalist and regime critic Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, but the parties who are truly responsible are walking away scot-free

    Worse than scot-free, they are tying up loose ends.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Raises the meaning of taking one for the team to a new level. Of course they haven’t been executed, yet.

    I wonder if MBS offered the 67 virgins in death?

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    How very Christian of them. They’re dying for MBS’s sins.

  4. CSK says:

    Probably the five guys sentenced to death are guilty. But I wouldn’t be overly surprised if they were just some saps dragged off the street to take the fall.

  5. Teve says:

    There were eleven sacrificial plebes in Abu Ghraib. 5 seems weak.

  6. inhumans99 says:

    Geez, imagine you are part of the group that answered the call to dispose of Jamal…a guy shows up at your door and you are told that you are about to get to do what you enjoy (because you are a sadist and like torturing and dismembering folks) but the head of the Kingdom has your back so no worries about any reprisals.

    Something in the back of your mind says hey, what if the Americans really insist that someone goes down for killing the journalist, but you are again told…chillax dude, the Kingdom has your back, you at least trust me right…you are good, do the job, get in, get out, then take a nice long vacation without having to worry about how to pay for it.

    Months go by, heck more than a year passes since that fateful visit from the dude who asked you and a small group of loyalists to the Kingdom to take care of a little, but admittedly very dirty piece of business…as promised you were able to take that vacation and life since has been a bit better than it was for you pre-job, but then you get a knock on your door.

    You answer it and see the dude and are all hey. what’s up, it’s been awhile. Do you need another favor, I thought I was done with that part of my life but I am willing to listen. Oh…I just noticed your friends standing behind you, uh….they have guns, dude, I thought we were good, what’s going on, and are told well Abdul…about that job, it turns out that you were right and the Americans need someone, well, not just someone but the folks who are actually on-camera, to be punished so you will have to come with me. Dude who held a bone saw not all that long ago…gulp!

    Attempts at levity aside…it gives me the willies to think about those poor saps totally getting screwed by their bosses. I do not wish that fate on even my worst enemy.

    I wonder when the folks who revel in the capacity of our current President to hate on libera…I mean libtards will wise up that anytime someone does something for him he does not have your back and you will be screwed. It looks like MBS is another President Trump, anything he had a hand-in either turns to crap or gets screwed while the top dog continues to enjoy the golden life.

    It is a bit surreal that I genuinely feel sorry for this unlucky group of schmucks, they may be amoral a-holes but even a-moral a-holes deserve a better fate than what they are about to experience from their friends in the Kingdom. I am going to stop thinking about what will happen to these poor souls, say a prayer for them and get back to watching the Lifetime Christmas themed film I have teed up on tv to put me back in a happy place.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @inhumans99: A phrase soon to be heard echoing down the empty halls of the palace: “Hey, where did all the henchmen go?”

  8. Kathy says:


    The thing to keep in mind is that a man who uses you to commit a murder to advance his interests, won’t hesitate to murder you to advance or protect his interests.

    I’d bet all the condemned have families, who’ve been threatened should they speak out against MBS.

  9. dazedandconfused says:


    It’s usually a bit sweeter than that. They have all but certainly been told that if they go stoically to their beheadings their families will be not only left alone, but left alone rich. They are probably already rich, much of it in Swiss bank accounts, and been allowed to communicate this to their relative in prison. A very fair bargain for people who make their living sawing other people to bits.

  10. gVOR08 says:


    “Hey, where did all the henchmen go?”

    Given the wealth, power, and corruption of the Saudi royal family I doubt they’ll have any difficulty recruiting/coercing henchmen.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: How’s about “Where did all the good henchmen go?” Jeebus, it’s a joke.

  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Thank you for bringing that up. I’d give it a thousand thumbs up if I had a thousand different places from which to log on.

  13. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Sadly, as long as there are people who need a hand up for their kids–or for themselves as far as that goes–there will always be henchmen.