MBS Officially Vindicated: What’s Next?
Saudi Arabia announced today, in what has been dubbed as a “mockery” of a trial, that it convicted eight men charged in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi — a court handed 20-year sentences to five Saudi nationals charged in the murder case, and three others were sentenced to between 7 to 10 years.
Khashoggi who fled the kingdom to the U.S. in 2017 fearing arrest for revealing the truth about Saudi Arabia’s government-sponsored atrocities — he became a permanent U.S. resident — went missing in October 2018 while visiting the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish authorities later dsiclosed he was murdered and dismembered inside the consulate by a Saudi hit squad.
All Fingers Point to MBS
In a November 2018 CIA investigation it was determined that crown prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) — the kingdom’s de facto ruler — ordered the killing. This conclusion was backed up by Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who found “credible evidence” that MBS and other senior Saudi officials were liable for the killing in an investigative report published in June 2019.
According to a New York Times report, this hit was in the works for some time. A year before Khashoggi was murdered, MBS told an aide, Turki Aldakhil who serves as Saudi ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, he would use “a bullet” on the journalist if he did not return to the kingdom and end his criticism of the government — the comments were reportedly intercepted by American intelligence agencies.
A Mock Trial
In the words of Hatice Cengiz, Khashoggi’s fiancée: “The Saudi authorities are closing the case without the world knowing the truth of who is responsible for Jamal’s murder. The international community will not accept this.”
We must keep in mind that in line with the country’s human rights violations, the trial in Riyadh was not transparent, despite trying to exult Saudi Arabia’s ability to deliver accountability. The judicial process was nothing other than a cover-up to divert attention away from MBS’s implication in the murder.
According to Rami Khouri, from the American University of Beirut, the Saudi trial went against internationally acceptable standards of justice.
“The issue of who actually ordered it [the murder] is still a big question. The crown prince has been implicated — that’s a very serious accusation when it comes from the investigator at the United Nations and the CIA. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” said Khouri.
Khouri also noted the Khashoggi case was not the only one with other governments in the Middle East region accused of “following, tormenting, and terrorizing” critics living around the world.
Khashoggi not the Only Target of MBS
Interesting enough, MBS was expected to travel to Washington, DC on August 31 after the end of the Republican Convention, but he canceled his trip at the last minute. According to reports, four houses had been purchased at a secret location just for his stay as he did not want to stay in the embassy or the ambassador’s residence, which are known locations to attract demonstrations against him and the Saudi family.
Having foreseen that he was going to dodge legal responsibility in the death of Khashoggi, the crown prince was facing a serious legal threat in the U.S.
MBS was issued a summons by the U.S. District Court on August 7, 2020, after Saad al-Jabri filed a lawsuit accusing Prince Mohammed of sending a Saudi death squad to Canada to kill him in Canada on October 15, 2018, less than two weeks after the murder of Khashoggi.
Saad al-Jabri was a former senior Saudi intelligence official working under the former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was then Minister of the Interior. Al-Jabri was well known as the key link between Saudi intelligence services and their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe — the regime has detained members of Jabri’s family with the hope he will be coerced to return to Saudi Arabia.
Had MBS traveled to the U.S., it would have perhaps required personal interjection by President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to save him from facing a judge in the federal court at the nation’s capital. That being said, the Trump administration will not reprimand, let alone impose sanctions against MBS.
Disturbing Rapport with Trump and Reason to Worry
President Trump, despite initially being lied to by Saudi officials, thereafter saying he was “extremely angry and very unhappy” about the Khashoggi murder, indicated that the benefits of good relations with the kingdom, specifically the selling of arms, outweigh the possibility its crown prince ordered the killing. Trump had also approved six authorizations for U.S. companies to conduct nuclear-related work with Saudi Arabia.
“The alarming realization that the Trump administration signed off on sharing our nuclear know-how with the Saudi regime after it brutally murdered an American resident adds to a disturbing pattern of behavior,” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said in a statement that condemned “President Trump’s eagerness to give the Saudis anything they want, over bipartisan congressional objection.”
What perhaps is more disturbing is not just the fact that the latter part of the nuclear deal was reached four months after the killing, but that it was never disclosed to Congress by the president. Nowithstanding both Republicans and Democrats publicly questioning America’s relationship with the Saudis and passing legislation to blame MBS for Khashoggi’s killing, Trump reiterated his support for the Saudi prince — Pompeo dismissed congressional concern as “Capitol Hill caterwauling” and a “media pile-on.”
Reports of how MBS has gone so far as to separate his own mother and father highlight the depth of his power, and willingness to wield it even over his own parents, also revealing the profundity of his paranoia about challenges to his authority. It is true that Saudi Arabia, as a state does not sponsor terrorism like Iran — it does not mean that the Saudis do not engage in terrorism; there is plenty of evidence to prove they do. MBS, nevertheless, has shown he is just as bad as the jihadist in an Afghan cave. And this is what truly makes him dangerous.
The shortsightedness of the Trump administration to simply “hand over” substantial technology that could be used to develop a nuclear weapon is reckless. To think that the Saudis under MBS have no aspirations to develop a nuclear bomb with all of their human rights violations is puerile.
Regardless who wins the U.S. presidential elections in November, it is doubtful America would manage to exert pressure on Saudi policymaking. The horse is out of the stable and he will be unstoppable so long as the leader of the free world continues to support him.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is author of Islam: Religion of Peace? – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.