Tuesday, September 17, 2019

That ‘secret’ Saudi trial in the Khashoggi case? Read all about it in a Turkish paper

  • >>Carlotta Gall, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-09-12 13:10:33 BdST

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A symbolic funeral prayer for the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in 2018. The New York Times

In a courtroom in Saudi Arabia, the trial of the men accused of killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi has been playing out under a cloak of secrecy, invisible to the world since it began in January — unless you happen to be a Sabah reader.

On Sunday, Sabah, a Turkish newspaper, released tidbits from the trial that no one else has, naming the five men who face execution if found guilty and giving details about their testimony. That kept the story alive, even if it did not greatly advance what was already known.

In the three days since, the newspaper has released further details, including new excerpts it says are from the transcripts of audiotapes recorded inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where Khashoggi was killed and dismembered.

The Saudis, their reputation battered by the case, have kept the trial closed to the public. That is the usual practice in Saudi Arabia, but in this case many also see an attempt to prevent further scrutiny — and scepticism — once official conclusions are reached.

As the anniversary of the journalist’s death approaches, Turkey has sought to return the assassination to the forefront. Its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is expected to repeat demands for an international investigation when he appears before the United Nations General Assembly. Erdogan appears determined to maintain pressure on Saudi Arabia and to keep the moral high ground over a regional rival.

Sabah is well known as being close to Erdogan and as his government’s favourite conduit for leaks. It has frequently published explosive new details about the Khashoggi case and, later, a book, often to heated denials from the Saudis.

Much of the information has been confirmed by Western officials to The New York Times and other media, and was included in a report on the killing by Agnes Callamard, the UN expert on extrajudicial killings, who called for an international investigation into Saudi officials’ role in the murder.

Khashoggi, 59, entered the Saudi Consulate on Oct 2 to obtain papers that would allow him to marry. He was killed, Saudi officials later said, by a group of Saudi officials after a scuffle.

Turkish officials insist that the group arrived with the intent to kill Khashoggi. Saudi officials claim a plan to make him return to Saudi Arabia went wrong.

His body has never been found.

Sabah’s latest series of articles appears aimed at undercutting testimony from the trial that seemed to exonerate senior officials close to the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and lay blame solely on the men who carried out the killing.

In particular, Sabah questioned the reported testimony of one of the most senior Saudi officials on trial, Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri, a high-ranking adviser to the crown prince. Al-Assiri, the newspaper reported, testified that he had asked the leader of the operation to persuade Khashoggi to return to Saudi Arabia.

“Asiri’s testimony is aimed at hiding Prince Salman’s responsibility in the events,” the newspaper wrote, using a different spelling of his name.

The testimony of other officials at the trial indicated that the killing was premeditated, the newspaper said.

It said a Maj Gen Mansour Abu Hussein had admitted that he was the overall man in charge of the operation and confessed in his testimony that he had been authorised by al-Assiri to use force if necessary to bring Khashoggi back. He also said he had arranged for the operations team to meet Saud el-Qahtani, the crown prince’s powerful social media czar, before their departure, it said.

The newspaper did not say how it came by its information about the trial. The first hearing, which took place Jan 3, was attended by diplomats from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — but no other outside observers or journalists, it said.

Another Saudi security official, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, testified that Khashoggi had been killed by a lethal injection, the newspaper reported.

On Monday the newspaper published details of conversations of Saudi officials before and during the killing and said they reinforced claims that the murder had been planned. The excerpts were from transcripts of audiotapes widely reported before to have been compiled from listening devices inside the consulate.

Turkish officials could not be reached to confirm or deny the details published by Sabah.

© 2019 New York Times News Service