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5 People Sentenced To Death In Saudi Arabia For Khashoggi Killing


Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was executed and dismembered at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul a little more than a year ago. Saudi Arabia sentenced eight men for his killing yesterday. Five of them got death sentences. The UN called those verdicts a, quote, "mockery," and it questioned the integrity and the independence of the Saudi courts. The Trump administration says the verdict is, quote, "an important step in bringing Khashoggi's killers to justice." Aaron David Miller was a friend of Jamal Khashoggi. He's on the line now. He's a former State Department official working on the Middle East peace process. And he served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Good morning, Mr. Miller.

AARON DAVID MILLER: Good morning, Noel.

KING: Jamal Khashoggi was a friend of yours. What did you think when you heard these verdicts handed down yesterday?

MILLER: Saddened and dismayed, outraged. I think I'm beyond that point, that a year after Jamal Khashoggi's murder, a cruel and barbaric murder and dismemberment, that there's still no accountability and no real accounting for his death. And while the Saudis are responsible for this at the highest levels, I believe, I'm also dismayed in the acquiescence and enabling of my own government. And I worked 25 years under Republican and Democratic administrations. This is not a Republican comment. I've worked and voted for Republicans and Democrats that this administration has given the - created for the Saudis a sort of zone of immunity which essentially has reinforced bad behavior.

And Jamal deserved much better than this. He admired America. And he deserved an administration that was prepared to take his death seriously and the complicity of senior Saudi officials in that death, rather than to be greeted with a sort of cold, callous material calculation that Saudi oil and money is much more important than the life of a journalist who had enormous integrity.

KING: Let me ask you about the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The State Department had called for full accountability for this murder. And then yesterday it called the verdict an important step. You're obviously very critical of that, but I wonder, why is the United States saying this was an important step? What do you think is going on?

MILLER: I think from the beginning - and I think this predates the administration - there was a feeling among the incoming administration that the - its predecessor had badly mishandled both the Saudi and the Israeli relationships. And there was a determined effort by the president and his son-in-law, Mr. Kushner, to willfully and comprehensively improve the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

And while the Arab world melted down in Egypt and Syria and Iraq in the wake of the Arab Spring, the Saudis became a kind of hook on which the Americans decided to hang their hat, both in terms of promoting Arab-Israeli peace, confronting Iran and, of course, the advantages of selling weapons on the reality that the Saudis are an important swing supplier. But along with that, I think the administration turned a blind eye to the emergence of a reckless and impulsive Saudi crown prince who, yes, he was a reformer and has brought important reforms to Saudi Arabia, but he's also a represser. And he emerged as perhaps the most authoritarian leader the Saudis have ever had.

KING: What does this mean for him? Because you're making a point here which is the CIA, our intelligence agency, concluded that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, ordered this killing. He does deny that. But what does this verdict mean for him ultimately? Is he completely off the hook now?

MILLER: No, I don't think so. I think there's a process of normalization underway. And I think that is - you see that in response to the verdict, certainly by this administration. You know, the Saudis are due to host the 5-20 in November of 2020. And I think, in part, this is an effort to get back to business with Saudi Arabia. The media won't buy it. I think large percentages of the American public won't buy it. But the business community and those who wanted to do business with Saudi Arabia, I think, would probably welcome this verdict as a sort of first step in getting to ultimate justice, which will never happen.

KING: Right after the murder, there were many lawmakers who said, OK, the U.S. - you know, we've seen what happened with Jamal Khashoggi. At this point, the United States needs to start pushing Saudi Arabia much harder on its human rights record, on the war in Yemen. Did any of that happen? Did the United States use - lawmakers outside of the Trump administration, did they use this death as leverage in a sense to push Saudi Arabia on human rights?

MILLER: I mean, I think half of the U.S. Congress - the Democratic half and some Republicans - made a judgment that this, in combination - the murder of Khashoggi in combination with Saudi human rights abuses in combination with Saudi Arabia's disastrous war on Yemen, which has also been a catastrophe - not that the Saudis are totally to blame. The Houthis, backed by the Iranians, play their own role in this as well.

But I think it's been very difficult to create veto-proof majorities. And while there has been some constriction in U.S. policy in support for the Saudis in the Yemeni war, I think the response by and large of the Congress and not by the U.S. Senate has been wholly inadequate. It should have been an FBI investigation. The Global Magnitsky Act should have been triggered, but it wasn't.

KING: OK, that was my last question to you, which is, what would justice look like at this point for Jamal Khashoggi?

MILLER: An FBI investigation and the United States essentially taking seriously the fact that, when its own intelligence organization says medium-to-high confidence that the crown prince was involved, we should take that seriously and make it clear as well.

KING: Aaron David Miller is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and he was a friend of Jamal Khashoggi. Mr. Miller, thanks so much.

MILLER: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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