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Saudi investigation into Khashoggi killing leaves ‘full truth’ unknown, says UN official

A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced five people to death for their involvement in the killing of columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The proceedings lasted nearly a year and were shrouded in secrecy, with only a select group of diplomats in attendance and no press. William Brangham reports on Khashoggi's brutal murder, and Agnes Callamard of the United Nations joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the ruling.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A court in Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death for their involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The proceedings took nearly a year, were shrouded in secrecy, closed to the press and the public, and only open to a select group of diplomats.

    The "NewsHour"'s William Brangham has details on the proceedings and a review of Khashoggi's murder.

  • Shaalan Al-Shaalan (through translator):

    In the case of the killing of the citizen Jamal Khashoggi, may he rest in peace, the attorney general has finished its investigation.

  • William Brangham:

    The announcement came nearly 14 months after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and journalist. A spokesman for Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor read out the guilty verdict and the punishments on state TV. No names were released.

  • Shaalan Al-Shaalan (through translator):

    The death penalty for five, and they are those who directly participated in his killing.

  • William Brangham:

    Three others received a total of 24 years in prison for covering up the killing, one that sparked a global outcry.

  • Woman:

    Chilling new developments in the disappearance of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi,

  • Man:

    Saudi Arabia has admitted that the missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi died during his visit to the country's consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.

  • William Brangham:

    In October of last year, the Washington Post columnist walked in the consul in Turkey to pick up documents for his planned marriage, but he never came out.

    Security camera footage leaked by Turkey showed the team of Saudi agents who allegedly killed Khashoggi and then reportedly dismembered his body inside the consulate using a bone saw. Those team members worked for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    The Saudi leader has denied any direct involvement, though, in September, he signaled for the first time some accountability.

    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (through translator): When a crime is committed against a Saudi citizen by officials working for the Saudi government, as a leader, I must take responsibility. This was a mistake.

  • William Brangham:

    The kingdom maintains the murder was part of a rogue operation to bring Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia. The court said his killing wasn't premeditated, but rather a — quote — "snap decision."

    That conclusion directly contradicts a United Nations report released in June, which found Khashoggi had been a victim of a deliberate, premeditated execution. The Saudi court also cleared two of the crown prince's senior aides of organizing the murder.

    Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan called it a sham trial. He criticized the kingdom's lack of transparency in its months of closed-door court proceedings.

    Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, also rejected the verdict as — quote — "unacceptable."

    But Khashoggi's son Salah, who lives in Saudi Arabia, said justice had been served.

    For the "PBS NewsHour" I'm William Brangham.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Joining me now from France is Agnes Callamard. She is the United Nations special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings. She is the author of that June report which found Saudi Arabia responsible for the premeditated execution of Mr. Khashoggi.

    Dr. Callamard, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    First of all, when you — we saw your reaction right after this verdict was announced. You called it the antithesis of justice, a mockery. Why?

  • Agnes Callamard:

    Well, there are several factors.

    The most important one is the fact that only the henchmen have been the object of the trial. The masterminds have not been included in the proceeding. And, therefore, the outcome of the trial is that we have the lowest level of the chain of command to be sentenced to death, while those that ordered them, those that commissioned the crimes, those that turned a blind eye to the crimes, none of those people have been concerned, worried or indeed indicted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The judge found that it was a spur-of-the-moment thing and not premeditated. How do you know that's wrong?

  • Agnes Callamard:

    The killing of Mr. Khashoggi included a dismemberment. That cannot be done on the spur of the moment. It requires planning, if only to clean up the crime scene and to determine what to do with the body parts.

    Two hours before his killing, the forensic doctor and the head of the team, Mr. Mutreb, discussed the dismemberment. And it happened two hours later.

    It cannot be coincidental. It cannot be an accident. The forensic doctor was included in the team — in the killing team at least 24 hours before the murder.

    That, too, I think, is indicative of a fair high level of planning and organization.

    Witnesses to the killing had been asked to leave the consulate before — before the people could be present. There is absolutely no indication that, when Mr. Khashoggi was killed, that those present attempted to revive him, as you would expect if indeed it had been an accident.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you have any idea what happened to that evidence and why it wasn't considered, not presented, evidently?

  • Agnes Callamard:

    Well, I don't know if it wasn't presented.

    I do know that the prosecutor argued, at least for the first eight hearings, that the crimes had been premeditated. You know, there was a team of 18 Saudi officials that came after the killing, supposedly to investigate the killing.

    In fact, we know now that what they did was to clean the crime scene. But, presumably, they would also, in the context — in the process of cleaning of the crime scene, gathering some form of evidence.

    None of that was presented at the trial, as far as I am aware.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So — and that gets to my question. Who should have been held responsible who wasn't?

  • Agnes Callamard:

    Well, look, at the minimum, those that were implicated and directly involved in the team. That includes Assiri, who was the deputy director of intelligence and who was present and who was a member of the team.

    It includes Saud al-Qahtani, the personal adviser to the crown prince, who was known to have incited, to have spoken to the killing team just before he left — it left for Turkey.

    Those two individuals, one of them was initially charged, but found not guilty. The other, Saud al-Qahtani, wasn't even charged.

    The prosecutor apparently attempted to interview him, but was never able or willing to proceed with that interview.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you believe there was ever a chance that justice would be done in Saudi Arabia?

  • Agnes Callamard:

    Look, it — you know, I'm not naive. It's not going to happen overnight. It's not even going to happen over a few years, probably.

    That means that we need to look for justice elsewhere. We need to look for justice in the United States, where the FBI has a mandate to undertake an investigation.

    We look for justice with the U.S. Congress that has made that specific request last week for the director of the national intelligence services to issue a report on who ordered the killing.

    That will be a very important test for the independence of that director and his ability to provide us with the full truth of who at ordered the crime.

    So, I think there are other ways for the truth to be delivered and for some form of justice to be rendered.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Agnes Callamard, thank you very much, U.N. special rapporteur for extrajudicial executions.

    We thank you.

  • Agnes Callamard:

    Thank you.

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