The Special Tribunal of Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanese Plot. Part 1: “Syria is Guilty!”
Most international experts consider that it is the national jurisdiction of Lebanon, and not the Special Tribunal of Lebanon (STL), that should have investigated and prosecuted the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. They argue that according to the UN Resolution 1664, the bomb attacks are not counted as crimes that needed to be tried by an international tribunal. In fact, the UN had only previously taken such a measure – to set up a new international tribunal – to prosecute the most serious international crimes, as genocide and ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia and the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda. Significantly, the Israeli genocide against Palestinian and Lebanese peoples has never led to the creation of a similar international court.
For example, the July 2006 war caused heavy loss of human life, population displacement and massive destruction in critical infrastructure and properties in Lebanon. Most of them were the result of serious violations of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocol on the protection of the victims of international armed conflicts. These violations were war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, there was no UN resolution which recognized them as such, or even condemned them. The UN Security Council did not create an international commission, let alone a court, to investigate the violations of the international law committed during the war.
This is in strong contrast with the case of Hariri’s assassination. It suggests that the Western powers think that some deaths are more important than others from a political view. This hypocritical stance has damaged the credibility of international law and has persuaded many people that international justice is driven by political considerations.
Therefore, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon was the first international court set up exclusively to prosecute less serious crimes that are only international because the UN Security Council decided they should be so. This demonstrates that there was a clear political purpose behind the creation of the tribunal.
There is no doubt either that the enemies of Lebanon, Syria and Arabism – first of all Israel and the Bush Administration- saw the tribunal as a tool to accomplish their goals – those that they failed to achieve in the battlefield against the Resistance or by killing thousands of Lebanese in Beirut, Qana or many other places of the country.
In this context of manifest international injustice and double standards, who can trust an international tribunal which has been set up by those who express day by day their anti-Lebanese views? Someone has only to read UN reports about the implementation of the Resolution 1701 to see that Lebanon is always the guilty party. Israel’s daily provocations and threats, including violations of the Lebanese air space, are mostly ignored or played down.
FALSE ALLEGATIONS AGAINST SYRIA
Shortly after the assassination of Rafiq Hariri on February 14, 2005, the pro-West and anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon launched a campaign to blame Syria for the crime despite the lack of any evidence of Syrian involvement. These forces forgot Syrian efforts to protect Lebanon from the Israeli aggression because they were actually against Arabism and some of them had supported the signature of a “peace treaty” with Israel in 1983, which was only an imposed surrender to the Zionist entity and was later annulled due to the pressure of the Lebanese population.
Amid massive protests from a large number of Lebanese who had been pushed to believe that Syria was undoubtedly guilty of the crime, Damascus put an end to its 29-year military and intelligence presence in Lebanon. Soon after, the United Nations called for an investigation into al-Hariri’s assassination.
Damascus claimed that Washington wanted to use the UN investigation to put an end to Syrian influence in the region. The Bush Administration considered Syria to be one of its main enemies in the Middle East and it explains that the first investigations of the Tribunal were aimed at finding any kind of evidence implicating Syria in the murder. More recently, US neocons believed that the UN probe would undermine the attempts by the Obama administration to engage Syria diplomatically just as it would prevent Damascus from successfully making a case for the Israeli withdrawal from the Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel took over in 1967 and is obliged by the UNSC Resolution 242 to return to Syria in exchange for peace.
In Lebanon, politicians aligned with the March 14 coalition (made up by anti-Syrian and pro-West political parties) insisted once again that Syria was to blame for the former PM´s death. They also extended their criticism to the Resistance, which supported strong links with Syria and opposed to Western and Israeli influence on the country.
Some experts already then warned that the STL was politicized. Joshua Landis, co-director of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, claimed that “a lot of people have their hopes pinned on this, particularly the people from the Bush administration.”
Some senior US diplomats claimed that Syria was being uncooperative and, as a consequence of it, the Security Council might impose sanctions on Syrian officials: the president, the prime minister, the defense minister, the foreign minister and members of Parliament. Under these proposed sanctions, UN member states would have been prohibited from hosting these officials and their assets in those countries would have been frozen.
The first reports from the UN International Independent Investigation Committee (IIIC) appeared to support claims by the US and Lebanon´s 14 March camp that Syria was implicated in the murder. Detlev Mehlis, the first IIIC Commissioner released in October 2005 an interim report which claimed that there was “converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement” in the assassination.
Mehlis was actually a favorite of the pro-Israeli neocons who served in the Reagan Administration. His investigation of the 1982 La Belle Discotheque bombing attack in West Berlin was used as pretext by the US government to launch a 1986 air attack on Libya. Mehlis concluded that Libya was behind the Berlin attack conveniently at the same time that neocons in the US administration, including Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Scooter Libby, and others were calling for an attack on Muammar Qaddafi. The fact that he was appointed as the IIIC Commissioner is a clear evidence of strong Israeli influence on the tribunal.
Key to Mehlis´s assertions were the testimonies of two witnesses, Hussam Hussam and Mohammed Zuhair al-Siddiq, who said that Syrian and Lebanese officials had ordered the attack on al-Hariri´s convoy. Siddiq claimed that Damascus and former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud had given the order to kill Hariri. He added that four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals and a number of Lebanese and Syrian politicians were also involved.
In October 2005, Mehlis published a report, whose electronic version mentioned the names of some Syrian officials who were allegedly involved in the assassination. Some Western media then claimed that the conclusion of the investigation would show that Syria had played a decisive role in the crime.
However, some weeks after the release of the October 2005 interim report, Hussam and Siddiq’s testimonies were found to be unreliable. Hussam started trying to sell his story to several Lebanese media outlets. When his name and role as a witness were leaked by New TV later that year in November, he abruptly left the country for Syria. Days later, he reappeared on Syrian state television and fully changed his testimony, claiming that he fabricated the tale after being tortured, drugged, and offered money by March 14 leaders.
For his part, former Syrian secret intelligence agent Mohammad al-Siddiq also proved to be a false witness. He left France after obtaining a fake Czech passport and fled to the United Arab Emirates, where he was arrested. He told reporters that he had received his passport from the French General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) in order to escape Lebanese justice. While being in France under the protection of DGSE, the French Police eavesdropped on his telephone calls and found out that Siddiq had lied to the tribunal.
Therefore, the report´s conclusions were proved to be false as well as its anti-Syrian claims. All these scandals undermined the credibility of the tribunal and led to Mehlis´s resignation.
In an apparent acknowledgement that the Bush administration had originally sought to use the al-Hariri case to pressure Damascus, an anonymous US official then told the International Crisis Group that the March 14 coalition could no longer assume that the tribunal will automatically deliver a damning indictment of Syrian complicity in the murder. This new situation sparked outrage among pro-March 14 Lebanese and some Western commentators. Shibli Mallat, a prominent Lebanese law professor, accused Brammertz from the pages of TIME magazine of a “total dereliction of duty” and said that he “single-handedly destroyed” the investigation. Michael Young warned in the Lebanese newspaper Daily Star of “grave damage being done to the UN’s credibility.” March 14 leaders implored the UN to give some kind of public indication that Damascus was still involved in the murder, but to no avail.
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