Justice for Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident journalist who was slain and dismembered in an Istanbul consulate in 2018, proves elusive.
That's the case even after a Saudi court last week sentenced five of eight defendants to 20-year terms, two to 17-year-terms, and one to a 10-year sentence. Those found guilty can't be named, because their identities were never revealed.
But what matters most is that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was not among the defendants, even though the CIA, the U.N., and any objective observer concluded that he likely knew about, or was complicit in, the brutal, brazen slaying — of a U.S. resident, no less.
The trials were a "parody of justice," tweeted Agnes Callamard, who led the U.N. investigation into Khashoggi's killing. Callamard added that the verdicts "carry no legal or moral legitimacy. They came at the end of a process which was neither fair, nor just, or transparent."
Indeed, it is an "incomplete" justice, Simon Henderson, director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Peace, told an editorial writer. "This was by our standards an inadequate trial."
Our standards have fallen, however.
Rather than heed U.S. intelligence, President Donald Trump bragged about protecting the Saudi prince in an interview with journalist Bob Woodward, saying, "I saved his ass" and "I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop."
The admission is in Woodward's new book "Rage" — and that's the emotion those who seek a world in which journalism isn't a deadly profession should feel. Trump, and those in Congress complicit with the president's protection racket, betrayed that value.
Riyadh's incomplete jurisprudence "shows that the people behind it have impunity," Sabrina Bennoui, head the Middle East desk at Reporters Without Borders, told an editorial writer. Bennoui warned that beyond press repression, "there will be more self-censorship," which can be just as corrosive.
Saudi Arabia is already among the worst places in the world for a free press, let alone free people. The kingdom is ranked 170th out of 180 countries surveyed by Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, and not just because of the crime against Khashoggi. According to the report, "the number of journalists and citizen-journalists in detention has tripled since the start of 2017. Most are being held arbitrarily and are likely subjected to torture, which is almost systematic for prisoners of conscience."
The State Department's most recent report on human rights further details the grim fate some Saudis face. It's hardly a place for world leaders to gather this November, yet the Group of 20 Nations (or G-20) Summit is set for Riyadh. The coronavirus crisis may be used as a face-saving excuse to not attend, but world leaders should instead be up front that Saudi Arabia will continue to face consequences for Khashoggi and human-rights abuses.
"Saudi Arabia cannot be a normal country and host the G-20 because the kingdom has to respect human rights — especially press freedom," Bennoui said in words Trump should channel.
Instead, it's now America's reputation that needs to be saved.