Abdullah Alaoudh is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
In the wake of the gruesome killing of Saudi veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi, there remains a crucial question: Who ordered it?
Prince Turki al-Faisal, former director of Saudi intelligence, stressed that the Khashoggi case will be under “Saudi investigation” and that “the Saudi judicial system is sound, it is up, it is running, and it will take its course." His statement overlooks the constant infringement on the judiciary from the crown prince and his team. Last month, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir promised a “thorough and transparent investigation,” by the Saudi attorney general, who is controlled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (also known as MBS), according to one judge close to the matter. On Nov. 15, Jubeir reiterated that Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor is still seeking answers to a number of questions in the investigation and that the kingdom is committed to holding those involved in the murder accountable through the judiciary. The emphasis on the role of the Saudi public prosecutor (the attorney general) hides the crown prince’s unprecedented and blatant control of that office.
It did not come as a surprise when the attorney general on his statement on Nov. 15 exonerated the crown prince. A few days later, Jubeir said: “If you think our investigation is a Mickey Mouse one, criticize us, but wait until it is done.”
Well. I am a Saudi academic who graduated from a Saudi college, studied Saudi law for a long time and have been observing the Khashoggi case play out as well as the role of current attorney general. The Saudi investigation so far into Khashoggi’s murder is a total “Mickey Mouse” probe.
Back in February, I wrote on the Saudi attorney general and referenced the Royal Decree on July 17, 2017, that transformed the office of Commission of Investigation and Prosecution into the office of the attorney general and noted the promise of “complete independence” that was never fulfilled. From the beginning, despite his lack of any experience in criminal investigation of criminal cases, Saud al-Mojab was appointed as an attorney general just a few days after MBS became crown prince. Mojab was chosen probably because he proved to be a yes man during his time as a member of the Supreme Judicial Council, the highest judicial body that controls administrative affairs of judges.
The climax of the crown prince’s infringement on the independence of the position of prosecution was back in November 2017 when the crown prince personally headed a committee that should have been the purview of the attorney general in investigating corruption cases, Instead, the attorney general was just a member of the committee reporting to his boss, MBS.
The attorney general who is investigating the death of Khashoggi, who was likely killed because of his peaceful activism, is the same one that is seeking the death penalty against my father, prominent Saudi scholar Salman Alodah, and others, for similar activism. According to President Trump, “representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Thus, if Khashoggi had been abducted alive and tried in the Saudi courts, he would probably have faced the death penalty through a totally controlled attorney general, and vastly intimidated and threatened judges. The judges who are supposed to oversee the Khashoggi case are under enormous pressure from the crown prince.
Just this week, two judges were released after a few months of extrajudicial detention over their refusal to stand for the royal anthem, according to another judge I spoke to. Six other judges from the very same court that is supposed to be responsible for trying the Khashoggi case were themselves arbitrarily detained for several months. The motive appears to be decisions in which those judges declined to follow the recommended penalties suggested by the attorney general. I was told this by a judge who is close to the situation, and who also expressed that judges newly appointed to this court fear incurring the same fate.
A culture of fear is haunting governmental institutions in Saudi Arabia, especially the judiciary. Saudi Arabia is moving further and further away from having any semblance of rule of law and due process.