There was finally a trial held in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, though most people probably weren’t aware of it. The entire thing was done in secret, with only a handful of people being allowed to attend. Despite this complete lack of transparency, their business concluded today with a number of guilty verdicts and five people being sentenced to death. Of course, if you were expecting any sort of punishment for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman or the members of his inner circle, I’d like a double shot of whatever you’ve been drinking. (NY Post)

A court in Saudi Arabia on Monday sentenced five people to death for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last year by a team of Saudi agents.

Saudi Arabia’s state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV channel reported that three others were sentenced to prison. All can appeal the verdicts.

The crown prince drew international condemnation for the killing because several Saudi agents involved worked directly for him. The kingdom has carried out the trials of the accused in near total secrecy.

So what about the alleged ringleaders in the plot? Turns out that through some terrible misunderstanding (I’m sure) the Prince’s chief advisor, Saud al-Qahtani, was fully investigated, found not guilty and released. The same goes for the Saudi consul-general in Istanbul, Mohammed al-Otaibi, despite previously having been identified as being directly involved. Add to that list nine other people who were not named, all of whom were released.

It’s not difficult to imagine that at least some of the other nine were members of MBS’s personal bodyguard and/or their associates. It’s simply amazing that all of these innocent souls were mistakenly implicated in the gruesome murder initially, isn’t it? But at least the wheel of justice has finally turned.

So who are the five people who will be executed? The Saudis aren’t releasing that information either. One possibility is that these are simply “disposable people” who have offended the crown at some point and who won’t be missed by anyone in power. The Crown Prince is generally free to do as he pleases, but he’s clearly smart enough to recognize the level of international outrage that’s been festering since Khashoggi was murdered. Perhaps he simply felt that some scapegoats would need to be tossed under the bus to calm down the furor.

Of course, the other facet of the story to keep an eye on is that both the five men sentenced to death and the three others who received prison terms are allowed to appeal the verdicts and sentences. For all we know, the Saudis plan to just keep them on ice for a while until the media loses interest and moves on. Then they can quietly “win” their appeals and be released.

Saudi Arabia remains a power player in that part of the world and a valuable ally. But we should never allow ourselves to be disillusioned into thinking that they operate some sort of free, democratic state. The House of Saud rules that nation with an iron grip and any freedoms or benefits the citizens may enjoy are always conditional. Sadly, we don’t always get to pick and choose who we do business with in the cold light of reality.