Harper Government Sides with US and Israel Against Lebanon
In response to hotly contested claims that Hezbollah was responsible for bombing Israeli citizens in Bulgaria last July, immigration minister Jason Kenney called the Lebanese group a “vile anti-Semitic terrorist organization” and urged the European Union to “follow Canada’s lead in listing Hezbollah as a proscribed and illegal terrorist organization.”
Kenney’s comment last week is part of a concerted campaign against a group the Los Angeles Times has called “Lebanon’s largest political party and most potent armed force.” Stephen Harper blamed Hezbollah for Israel’s summer 2006 invasion, Israel’s fifth, of Lebanon, which left 1,100 (mostly civilian) Lebanese dead and much of the country’s infrastructure destroyed. The month after Hezbollah successfully held off the Israeli invasion, foreign minister Peter MacKay said: “Lebanon is being held hostage by Hezbollah. There can be no doubt about that. Hezbollah is a cancer on Lebanon, which is destroying stability and democracy within its boundaries.” For his part, public safety minister Stockwell Day claimed the “stated intent of Hezbollah is to annihilate Jewish people.” (Despite Day and Kenney’s claims, Hezbollah was created in response to Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon and its pronouncements suggest it is largely concerned with Israel’s occupation of Arab lands.)
Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, the Conservatives’ demonization of Hezbollah gathered steam when Daniel Bellemare, a Canadian official, took charge of the international investigation into the February 2005 assassination of five-time Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. In November 2007 Bellemare, deputy attorney general and special advisor to the deputy minister of justice until October 2007, was appointed commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) into the bombing that killed Hariri and two dozen others. Concurrently, he was named prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which was set to continue the UNIIIC’s work beginning in March 2009.
Both the internal and international investigations into Hariri’s killing were far from conclusive. Initially, Syrian security officers were implicated in the killings and in the post assassination upheaval Syrian troops were driven from the country. Four Lebanese generals were also incarcerated for four years in the killings but they were released when the evidence against them was dismissed.
In 2010 the Netherlands-based STL began to point its finger at Hezbollah and in August 2011 four members of the Party of God were formally charged in the Hariri killings. But before the charges came down the international investigation was discredited in the eyes of many. A July 2011 survey of 800 Lebanese, sponsored by leading Arabic-language daily As-Safir, found that 60 percent of the country believed the international probe was politicized. The poll also found widespread distrust of Bellemare, who was accused of being pro-Israel and anti-Hezbollah. He also had suspiciously close relations with US officials.
Just after Bellemare issued the indictments against four individuals with ties to Hezbollah Lebanese daily Al Akbar published a detailed article on the Canadian titled “UN Tribunal: A Prosecutor’s ‘Tunnel Vision’” (translated by its English edition). “An example of this bias appears in paragraph 59 of the indictment, where Bellemare states that ‘all four accused are supporters of Hezbollah, which is a political and military organization in Lebanon. In the past, the military wing of Hezbollah has been implicated in terrorist acts.’ Bellemare does not offer a reference supporting his assertion that Hezbollah was involved in terrorism, and, so far, no international judicial body has issued a decision describing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. In fact, there is no international consensus surrounding Hezbollah’s ‘terrorism’ status, and the UN does not recognize Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Several countries, including the US, Israel, and Canada have officially labeled the group as a terrorist organization — though, notably, the European Union has not. Bellemare seemingly chose to include his personal political opinion and perhaps the views of some of his colleagues in an international indictment.”
Many Lebanese believe the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad had a hand in Hariri’s death yet Bellemare refused to say if he interviewed any Israeli suspects. A TV station linked to Hezbollah, Al Manar, claimed Bellemare “lost credibility” for his “politicized tribunal” because he was unwilling to investigate Israel’s possible implication in the killings. The “Israeli enemy is ‘innocent’ and will remain so in the eyes of the international community and the STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare.”
The most damning evidence against Bellemare came from the US State Department. A series of US diplomatic cables, released by Wikileaks, suggest he worked closely with the US embassy in Beirut. On one occasion Bellemare asked US officials for information on Syria and for help in convincing the British to assist an investigation committee. The former deputy attorney general also requested two temporary FBI investigators be paid by the US. An October 2008 cable from the ambassador in Beirut to Washington read: “Bellemare showed a good understanding of the problems [for the US] associated with complying … but his frustration was nonetheless evident: ‘You are the key player [he said]. If the US doesn’t help me, who will?’” The US embassy gave Bellemare “an ‘excellence’ preliminary assessment for his effort and determination, and we urge Washington to exert every effort to respond to the investigation committee’s request related to the information and support.”
Hezbollah claimed the Wikileaks cables confirmed that the US manipulated the probe. “The information leaked on meetings between the prosecutor and the US ambassador confirms what we have always said — that the US administration is using the court and the investigation committee as a tool to target the resistance [to Israel, i.e. Hezbollah],” noted Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah in December 2010.
In January 2011 the Lebanese government collapsed when 10 cabinet ministers and one presidential appointee withdrew over then Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s refusal to reject the STL. At the start of 2011 many feared that the STL’s expected indictment of Hezbollah members could re-ignite the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1975-1990. This didn’t bother Washington. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke in favour of the STL and announced $10 million in added funding for the floundering tribunal. The US ambassador in Lebanon Maura Connelly said “the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is an irrevocable, international judicial process; its work is not a matter of politics but of law.” Even President Obama chimed in, saying the STL’s first indictment could end an “era of impunity” and that it was “a significant and emotional time for the Lebanese people.”
In the first 10 weeks of 2011 Foreign Affairs released three statements that dealt with the STL. On January 13 the ministry complained about the dissolution of Lebanon’s government over the matter. “These resignations are an attempt to subvert a safe and secure Lebanon and cannot be tolerated. Hezbollah’s actions in bringing down the government are a clear attempt to undermine the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Canada believes that the work of the Special Tribunal should go forward so that justice can be served.” A follow-up statement explained: “We urge the future Lebanese government to continue to support and cooperate with the Tribunal and to continue to uphold its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions on Lebanon.” In March 2011 the Conservatives gave a further $1 million contribution to the STL. “Canada has been a strong supporter of the Tribunal, having already contributed $3.7 million to the voluntarily funded Tribunal since 2007,” explained foreign minister Cannon.
An August 2011 Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) report, detailed in Montréal daily La Presse, found that “many Lebanese consider the work of the STL an inquest led by Canadians.” At the time more than 20 Canadians were involved in the Tribunal’s work and last March another Canadian replaced Bellemare. According to CSIS, this country’s association with the highly divisive tribunal increased the likelihood of Canadians being targeted.
The Conservatives latest salvo against Hezbollah is another reminder that the Harper government has sided with the US and Israel against most Lebanese.
Yves Engler’s latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy
Fearing that defense lawyers may succeed in undermining the Special Tribunal for Lebanon at the Hague, Washington is cooking up its own case against Hezbollah involving drug trafficking and money laundering.
“The Joumaa network is a sophisticated multinational money-laundering ring, which launders the proceeds of drug trafficking for the benefit of criminals and the terrorist group Hezbollah,” thus declared David Cohen, under-secretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence in the US, two days ago.
“We and our partners will continue to aggressively map, expose, and disable this network, as we are doing with today’s sanctions,” he warned.
These new threats to Hezbollah coincide with the faltering of the process set up by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) charged with prosecuting the assassination of prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The team defending the four defendants from Hezbollah, who had been accused by [STL Prosecutor] Daniel Bellemare of involvement in the crime, recently launched three campaigns targeting the legitimacy of the establishment of the court and the legality of the indictment.
These campaigns caused a stir at the Hague and has made Washington worried. This led the US administration to renew its attempts to create an alternative international legal process targeting Hezbollah.
On Wednesday, the US Treasury released a statement titled “Treasury Targets Major Money Laundering Network Linked to Drug Trafficker Ayman Joumaa and a Key Hezbollah Supporter in South America.”
It pointed to 12 Lebanese citizens working in three groups, each made up of a commercial and a financial company accused of being involved in a multi-million US dollar drug trade to support Hezbollah.
The statement charged Ali M. S. with supporting the party and accused Ayman S. J. of moving more than a million US dollars in 2010 into the account of Abbas H., a Lebanese holding a Venezuelan passport living in Colombia.
It also claimed that a Lebanese bank branch manager was involved in the process and evoked the “February 2011 action against Lebanese Canadian Bank.” The statement focused on a “money laundering enterprise that has reach throughout the Americas and the Middle East with links to Hezbollah.”
Before going into the content of the memo, we should recall the statement released by the US Embassy in Beirut during the visit of US treasury official Daniel Glaser to Lebanon in November 2011. It had stressed his call “for Lebanon to meet all of its international obligations, including cooperating with and funding the STL.”
Documents published by WikiLeaks had indicated a high level of cooperation and information sharing between the US Embassy in Beirut, on one side, and the International Independent Investigation Commission and Bellemare’s office, on the other.
The indictment issued by Bellemare, following pre-trial judge Daniel Fransen’s approval, on 10 June 2011 had adopted the point of view of the US administration by describing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization (Item 59).
Hezbollah’s branding as terrorist in the US Department of State was developed in three stages. The first was in 23 January 1995, categorizing it as a “Specially Designated Terrorist.” Then, the party was included in the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
The final classification was announced on 31 October 2001 through an Executive Order of the State Department (#13224), calling Hezbollah a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist.”
The latest US Treasury statement targets Ali M. S. as “Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” due to his role in “acting for or on behalf of and providing financial, material, or technological support to Hezbollah” and directing and coordinating Hezbollah activity in Colombia.
The memo maintained that “he is a former Hezbollah fighter with knowledge of Hezbollah operations plans.”
“As of July 2010, Saleh was a contact of Hezbollah’s Foreign Relations Department and has maintained communication with suspected Hezbollah operatives in Venezuela, Germany, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia,” it said.
The Illegality of the STL
The renewed US legal offensive against Hezbollah coincides with the blowing apart of the legality of establishing the STL by the four legal teams defending Salim Ayyash, Mustafa Badreddine, Hussein Oneissi, and Assad Sabra.
In this respect, the lawyers initiated three consecutive campaigns. First it challenged the legality of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution 1757 on 30 May 2007, which established the court, considering that the 14 February 2005 crime did not pose a threat to international peace and security.
This meant that the Security Council had overstepped its authority provided by late Judge Antonio Cassese during his presidency of the international court for the former Yugoslavia (the Tadich case).
The evidence was provided by defense lawyers Antoine Korkmaz, Eugene O’Sullivan, Emile Aoun, Vincent Courcelle-Labrousse, Dr. Guenael Mettraux, and David Young to the judges of the Trial Chamber in the Hague on the 13th and 14th of this month.
The decision of judges Robert Roth, Micheline Braidi, David Re, Walid Akoum, and Janet Nosworthy is expected in the next few weeks.
The second campaign was initiated by Korkmaz, who was later joined by the other seven lawyers. It refers to the illegality of the indictment which was issued by Bellemare in 2011.
The argument stressed that Bellemare’s appointment as international prosecutor was for one year, ending on 13 November 2010. Therefore, he did not have the legal authority to issue the indictment.
STL officials told Al-Akhbar that the challenge to the legality of the indictment caused a stir in the hallways of the court’s headquarters at the Hague. It hit the prosecutor’s office bureaucracy where it hurt.
The third – and not necessarily the final – campaign was initiated by Oneissi’s defense lawyers Courcelle-Labrousse and Yasser Hassan and Assad Sabra’s lawyers Mettraux and Young. It challenged some of the formal aspects of the indictment which violate the legal standards that can safeguard justice.
The challenges focused on the following points.
1- The four suspects were not informed of the details of the indictment nor did they choose their defense lawyers. This infringes on international judicial standards that can guarantee justice, violating several articles.
The first is Article 6 of the European Convention on Human rights which says that “Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights: (a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; (b) to have adequate time and the facilities for the preparation of his defence; (c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing” (Paragraph 3).
The second violated Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality: (a) To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him; (b) To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing; (c) To be tried without undue delay” (Paragraph 3).
The third violation was of Article 131 of the Lebanese Law of Criminal Procedure that states that the indictment should contain “a clear and detailed account of the facts of the case” and “an itemized list of the evidence,” both of which were absent from Bellemare’s decision.
2- An indictment based on circumstantial evidence requires a high level of accuracy, but this also does not apply to Bellemare’s decision.
The third article of the indictment declares that it was “built in large part on circumstantial evidence.” But the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia had defined circumstantial evidence “as being evidence of circumstances surrounding an event or an offence from which a fact at issue may be reasonably inferred” (Decision of the Appeals Chamber on 20 February 2001).
It also defines it as “evidence of a number of different circumstances which, taken in combination, point to the existence of a particular fact upon which the guilt of the accused person depends because they would usually exist in combination only because a particular fact did exist” (Decision of the Trial Chamber on 15 March 2002 in the Krnojelac case).
But the defense maintains that they were not informed clearly and accurately of the evidence on which the indictment was based, an infringement of legal standards.
The defense insists on the need to be informed of all the details of the accusation due to the absence of the suspects and their inability to communicate with their defense lawyers.
This is in addition to the acute shortage of sources for the defense and the narrow margin of cooperation, which is limited to the Lebanese authorities without any cooperation of other states.
3- Some phrases used in the indictment, such as “during this period” (Item 32c.), “a number of days prior to the attack” (Item 33), “surveillance occurred on at least 15 days” (Item 34), and “on at least 20 days between 11 November 2004 and 14 February 2005,” are unacceptable by legal standards.
They are enigmatic and lack an accurate identification of circumstances that Bellemare claims are true.
In addition, there were more than 60 challenges to the indictment on formalities. Here are a few examples:
Item 5 states that “the four Accused participated in a conspiracy with others aimed at committing a terrorist act.” The word “others” is not defined, in violation to accepted standards in drafting indictments.
Item 30 states that “Oneissi used at least one phone,” but the decision does not mention the use of any other phone by Oneissi.
Item 35 states that Oneissi “falsely” called himself “Mohammed” without mentioning where and when he did that, or any evidence of its use. The same item mentions that Bellemare does not designate the time of Oneissi’s presence in the mosque (in Tariq al-Jdideh).
Article 59 says that “all four Accused are supporters of Hezbollah” without mentioning the type of support or its relationship to their alleged involvement in the crime.
Accusations Built on a Void
Former prosecutor Daniel Bellemare presented the preliminary judge Daniel Fransen with the first draft of the indictment on 17 January 2011. The judge found that it does not fulfill legal standards and asked for its amendment.
On 21 January 2011, Fransen directed several questions related to the interpretation of the Lebanese laws used in the appeals chamber. The court allowed itself to expound on some articles of the Lebanese code without going back to the Lebanese parliament, the main authority charged with the law.
It announced its understanding of the law on 16 February 2011. Bellemare published the amended draft of the indictment on 11 March 2011. Based on these explanations, he added the accusations against Oneissi and Sabra to those of Ayyash from the first draft, and requested the issuing of warrants against the three suspects accordingly.
But he later incorporated several other changes from the second draft in May 2011, adding the accusation against Badreddine. He also asked to remove the supporting documents from the first draft, in order to prevent the defense team from using them.
On 9 June 2011, Judge Fransen requested some formal amendments to the indictment before approving it tentatively on June 28 and issuing warrants against the four suspects.