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Does Saudi Arabia have a double standard on beheadings?

From Brian Todd

Saudi Arabia

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Should people be surprised when an ally of the United States is accused of carrying out beheadings as a matter of legal punishment?

"The terrorists ... are just carrying out the tradition that the Saudi state has established for 70 years," says Ali al-Ahmed of the Saudi Institute, a Saudi opposition group in Washington. "Every weekend. It happens every weekend."

American hostage Paul Johnson Jr. was beheaded by his captors in Saudi Arabia, June 18.

In its 2004 annual report, Amnesty International says that last year there were at least 50 public executions in Saudi Arabia carried out on the orders of the Saudi government. Amnesty International says the vast majority were beheadings, a contention supported by the Saudi Institute. Of the executions the human rights group knows about, 26 were for drug-related convictions, 24 were for murder.

"This is a way of punishment. So people grow up with this notion that this is how you punish people," says CNN's senior editor for Arab Affairs, Octavia Nasr.

CNN tried repeatedly to get the Saudi government to respond to the allegations. CNN also tried to get the government to acknowledge the practice of public execution, under Islamic law. The Saudi government's representatives in Washington would not comment.

CNN intelligence analyst Ken Robinson makes the point that recent beheadings of hostages were done crudely, slowly, with smaller, dull blades. By contrast, he says, the beheadings allegedly carried out at the behest of the Saudi government are performed swiftly, usually by a man wielding a very sharp blade, a method some argue is at least fast, and minimizes pain.

"It is in many ways very fast and painless. But it's barbaric. And it sends the wrong message," says Ali al-Ahmed.

Executions by beheading were sanctioned and public in England until the 18th century and in France until the mid-20th century.

The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report issued this year does not make specific reference to beheading in Saudi Arabia. But it does say:

"The government executed persons for criminal offenses after closed trials making it impossible to assess whether legal protections were applied. In cases involving stoning, amputation or death, sentences must be reviewed by the country's highest court, the Supreme Judicial Council, and can only be enforced pursuant to a royal decree issued by the king."

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