For months, the Saudi regime has been stiffing the administration on a promise to end its groundless prosecution of Walid Fitaihi, a physician who frequently provided care to U.S. diplomatic personnel stationed at the Jiddah Consulate. Dr. Fitaihi was arrested and tortured in November 2017, during one of the sweeping domestic crackdowns launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He was held for 21 months without charge, and when his sham trial finally began he and seven members of his family — all U.S. citizens — were banned from leaving the country.
U.S. officials were promised that Dr. Fitaihi would finally be cleared at a hearing on Dec. 9, according to Mohamed Soltan, who leads the Washington-based Freedom Initiative. Instead, the proceedings were delayed for two months — and then delayed again on Feb. 2. Such gross disrespect for an American interest might seem remarkable, considering that President Trump has recently deployed thousands more troops and U.S. assets to the Persian Gulf to defend Saudi Arabia against Iranian attacks. But then, Mohammed bin Salman no doubt has concluded that he can persecute journalists, dissidents and even American citizens without consequences to his relationship with Washington — because there have been none to speak of.
Take the case of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Post columnist who was murdered 16 months ago by an official Saudi hit team. Mr. Pompeo has said repeatedly that the United States was investigating the case and would hold accountable those responsible. Yet apart from denying visas to 21 people who would be unlikely ever to travel to the United States, the administration has done nothing. Last month, it failed to comply with a congressional mandate, included in defense legislation passed in December, that it submit a report to Congress identifying any Saudi implicated in “the directing, ordering or tampering of evidence” in the Khashoggi case. That, of course, would necessarily include the crown prince, whom the CIA concluded ordered the hit.
U.S. officials have repeatedly pressed the regime to take action against Saud al-Qahtani, who directed the operation against Khashoggi and also is believed to be responsible for the arrest and torture of a number of leading women’s rights activists. Yet Mr. Qahtani remains immune. A closed Saudi trial of 11 people charged with Khashoggi’s death concluded in December with death sentences for five scapegoats and prison sentences for three, based on the demonstrably false conclusion that the murder was not premeditated.
Last week, a senior State Department official briefing reporters on U.S. human rights advocacy was asked what had become of the Khashoggi investigation touted by Mr. Pompeo. With perhaps unintentional irony, the official responded: “We continue to dig into the facts of the case. It’s a never-ending process.” So, too, it seems, is the Saudi response to Mr. Pompeo’s requests for the release of Dr. Fitaihi and other imprisoned Americans.