The American public got a brief, sensationalized glimpse of Saudi Arabian justice in the public television docudrama, "Death of a Princess."

What few Americans realize, though, is that similar draconian justice is being meted out to U.S. citizens accused of violating one or another of the desert kingdom's strict rules of behavior. Those who tansgress the puritanical Moslem code are held for months without trial, housed in unspeakable filth and tortured into confessions of guilt.

To make matters worse, the U.S. government, apparently fearful of offending a dependalbe ally and oil supplier, tolerates the situation without complaint. Some of the U.S. companies for whom the accused work also acquiesce in the brutal treatment of their employes. Indeed, there is evidence that the companies willingly cooperate with local authorities in the enforcement of the Saudis' religion-based social strictures.

At last count, 45 U. S. citizens were languishing in the squalor of Saudi prisons. Of these, 26 were still awaiting trial; four have been held for more than a year awaiting a trial date.

U.S. consular officials in Saudi Arabia say there is nothing they can do.

One vice consul, in fact, reportedly can't even get an audience with the local prince -- because the vice consul happens to be a woman.

In the absence of a consular agreement between the two countries, Saudi officials don't even have to notify the U.S. authorities when a U. S. citizen is arrested. Meanwhile, the suspects are subjected to beatings, deprivation of sleep, and primitive sanitary conditions.

Peter Jellaba, a one-time All-America high school football player, spent six months in a Saudi prison awaiting trial for possession of four grams of marijuana. He was not allowed out for exercise for that period. "Imagine it, not one ray of sunshine for six months," Jelleba told my reporter Ali Webb. "I would have said anything to get out."

He described the toilet facility for 189 prisoners as a hole in the concrete floor. "And when the showers ran, the toilet would back up, forcing the person showering to dance around in the human garbage."

Jelleba was relatively lucky. When finally tried, he was sentenced to two years in prison, but released the next day through the help of influential friends. Those without friends in high places are stuck.

Craig Stevens worked for eight years for the Morrison-Knudsen construction company in Saudi Arabia. But he apparently irked company officials by accusing them of covering up millions of dollars' worth of fiscal irregularities and inventory shortages. Company security personnel raided his living quarters in the middle of the night, and turned him in to the Saudi for possessing one gram of marijuana.