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A year after Jamal Khashoggi's murder, Saudi trial veiled in secrecy

Photo of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a memorial service
Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The men accused of murdering and dismembering journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, have been on trial for his murder since early January, but Saudi Arabia is keeping the proceedings secret.

Why it matters: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has consistently denied ordering the killing, though media reports and a UN investigation have raised serious doubts about that claim. The Trump administration insisted after the murder that it was waiting for more information before assigning blame, but has neither accused nor absolved the crown prince.

  • The official Saudi story changed several times in the aftermath of the murder, and the government has never offered a full accounting of how and why the crime was carried out, or who gave the order.

Where things stand:

  • 11 unnamed Saudis face criminal charges and 5 could be executed if found guilty, per the NYT.
  • Khashoggi's body has yet to be found and was likely burned, reports Al Jazeera.
  • The slain journalist's children have received millions in real estate and tens of thousands of dollars in compensation from the Saudi government, according to the New York Times.
  • The CIA warned Kashoggi's friends that the Saudi government might target them for their pro-democracy work, reports Al Jazeera.
  • MBS said in a PBS "Frontline" interview — taped in December, but newly released — that he accepted "responsibility" for the murder because it "happened under my watch." But he continues to claim it was a tragic mistake of which he had no advance knowledge.

The identities of several individuals accused of being involved in the murder have been made public through media reports and sanctions the U.S. Treasury announced on 17 Saudi nationals last November.

  • Maher Mutreb, a former member of the crown prince's security team, was selected to be part of the Istanbul operation because he already knew Khashoggi, reports Reuters. He has been described as the leader of the operation.
  • Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic expert, is believed to have dismembered Khashoggi's body, per the Washington Post.
  • Ahmed al-Asiri, the former deputy head of General Intelligence, is one of the highest-ranking officials on trial, according to the Post. He was fired from his position, per Al Jazeera, but was not sanctioned by the U.S.
  • Moustafa al-Madani led intelligence efforts for the team, according to Reuters.
  • Meshal Saad al-Bostani is believed to have been responsible for logistics, Reuters reports.
  • Saud al-Qahtani, formerly a close aid to MBS, isn't on trial but has been fired, according to Al Jazeera. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on him.
    • Between the lines: "His absence has led to accusations that Saudi Arabia is throwing mostly lower-level soldiers to the wolves rather than aggressively pursuing justice in the case," writes the Washington Post.

The big picture: Saudi Arabia has effectively blocked news of the trial in Riyadh from leaking to the rest of the world — just as it does with most legal proceedings.

But Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper closely linked to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, consistently brings attention to the murder with fresh stories about the trial, NYT points out.

  • The paper's latest reporting undermines "testimony from the trial that seemed to exonerate senior officials close to the Saudi crown prince ... and lay blame solely on the men who carried out the killing," the Times wrote.
  • Daily Sabah recently published transcripts detailing the planning of Khashoggi's murder.
  • A search for "Jamal Khashoggi" in Sabah's archives yielded 517 results as of Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, Erdoğan wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post this week describing Khashoggi's murder as one of the most significant events of the 21st century and insisting Turkey was committed to uncovering the truth.

  • He said he drew a line "between the thugs who murdered Khashoggi and King Salman." He didn't mention MBS further.

Between the lines: The Trump administration has prioritized its relationship with Saudi Arabia rather than imposing costs or pursuing investigations, Axios' Dave Lawler notes.

  • What to watch: Jared Kushner, who has a personal relationship with MBS, is expected to attend the so-called "Davos in the Desert" conference later this month in Saudi Arabia along with senior executives from blue-chip U.S. firms, the Washington Post reports.

Go deeper: UN report says Khashoggi killing was "deliberate, premeditated execution."