Sunday, October 30, 2005
Syria's plan of attack
He spoke of a hellish alliance whereby Palestinian refugees from Jordan and Syria would leave those countries to join the refugees in Lebanon and strike a war alliance with Hizbullah. The south Lebanon front would go up in flames, and the Lebanese would be divided and turn against one another. After that there will be chaos, the return of death, and the entire region will burn...The following is based on reports in two Lebanese weeklies, al-Shiraa and al-Watan al-Arabi, published last week in Beirut. Some of what they are reporting was confirmed by Roed-Larsen in his report last week, so the information is not that hard to swallow. The Syrian confrontation (or war) plan seems straight out of the Lord of the Rings, with the "dark lords" of Syria, helped by "strategic partner" Iran, preparing to unleash an army of Islamist and radical Palestinian orcs that they have been breeding for a good number of years.
According to al-Watan al-Arabi, the Syrian regime is convinced that the United States and some in the international community will not stop until there is regime change in Syria. On the other hand, the United States and France became certain that Damascus had no intention of pulling its agents out of Lebanon, handing over top officials for a trial and stopping the flow of insurgents into Iraq.
For that, adds the weekly, Syria put in place contingency plans for an inevitable confrontation. To Damascus, such a battle is cheaper than surrendering to the American and international "conditions" which would cost the regime a lot more.
Al-Watan quoted American and western intelligence sources as saying that Damascus has been re-activating the Tehran-Damascus-Beirut axis since before the Hariri assassination. Syria's prime minister, Mohammad Naji al-Otari, flew to Tehran days after the Hariri assassination, where he flaunted a "strategic alliance" with Iran. (Otari had also recently warned that the gates of hell would open on the US if Washington invaded Syria)
The Syrian regime realized that it must first clean its own house. Any possibility of internal unrest, whether it's ethnic, religious or political, would have to be eliminated. The regime embarked on a "security and political cleansing" campaign , which saw the removal of vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam, the "neutralization" of former intelligence chief Bahjat Suleiman and the liquidation of the Ghazi Kanaan. One could add to this the crackdown on Syrian opposition figures in recent months.
As a result of this campaign, power is now concentrated in the hands of Bashar, Maher and Asef. Maher is in full control of the Republican Guard and the army and Asef of all the security services.
At the same time, the regime sought to reactivate its strategic alliance with Iran, which fears that a toppling of Assad's regime could threaten its own interests in the region, especially in Lebanon. Iranian and Syrian military and security officials have been meeting in secret to "put the final touches" on a "strategic and military" cooperation plan to confront what they believe to be a plot to topple the Syrian regime. Shawkat had reportedly visited Tehran shortly after his failed Paris visit, in which he might have offered Ghazale's head. It was followed up by the visit to Syria of a high-level delegation from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, headed by General Baqer zul-Qadr. Iran has reportedly supplied Syria with advanced weapons and Hizbullah has re-deployed and mobilized its members in accordance with this plan.
Al-Watan al-Arabi quotes unnamed sources as saying Hizbullah could be a main partner in this Syrian-Iranian plan of attack. In any case, the Party of God is very far from being disarmed. In fact, al-Watan reports, they have just received a new shipment of weapons and rockets that were stored in the Bekaa and the south.
The Syrian leadership has also been mobilizing pro-Syrian Palestinian factions in Lebanon and Palestine. Large amounts of weapons were smuggled into Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and hundreds of elements from the Yarmouk camp in Syria are on standby for deployment to Beirut, Sidon, Tripoli and Bekaa refugee camps. Ahmad Jibril, head of Iranian-backed PFLP-GC and Abu Moussa, head of Fateh-Intifada were assigned the task of mobilizing thousands of elements and taking over Palestinian decision-making in the camps.
Al-Shiraa confirmed that the PFLP-GC in Deir al-Ghazal has received weapons and ammunition through entry points in the border region of Wadi al-Asha'ir. The smuggling reportedly took place under the supervision of Syrian officer Samih al-Qashmaii who was stationed in Dhour el-Shoueir prior to the withdrawal.
Many of the Palestinian refugee camps have already fallen under the control of these factions and other Islamist groups such as Jund al-Sham.
Jund Al-Sham answers directly to Syrian military intelligence, according to al-Shiraa, which quoted Security sources as saying that Palestinians from the Yarmouk camp have been added to their ranks. The latest outbreak of violence between Jund al-Sham and the Nassirites in Sidon seems to indicate that that the ranks of the once small Ain-el-Helweh-based islamists are swelling with manpower and new weapons.
Jund al-Sham is one of many Islamist organizations that were nurtured by the Syrian regime. According to reports in al-Watan, and a recent French police report, the Iranian revolutionary guard has been training Islamists in camps in Iraq, Syria and the Bekaa in Lebanon.
Another Islamist organization in Syria's arsenal is al-Ahbash, which is practically run by Syrian military intelligence. Al-Shiraa describes al-Ahbash as an armed group that took over several mosques in Beirut by force with the support of the Syrian military intelligence. Syria recognized their potential as a tool to subjugate Lebanon's Sunnis in the 80s, and effectively used them to rein in any Sunni religious leader they deemed too independent. Al-Ahbash was probably behind the assassination of Mufti Hassan Khaled in the 80s.
The Lebanese authorities have found weapon caches in Beirut in warehouses owned by Ahbash members. The latter have infiltrated the Lebanese army and Presidential guard, and despite the arrest of Ahmad and Mahmoud Abdel Al, who were charged with planning the Hariri murder, I don't think we've seen the last of them.
The Lebanese authorities are obviously aware of the above, and this explains the recent confrontation with the PFLP-GC and Fateh-Intifada in the Bekaa, and the arrest of the Abdel- Al brothers.
The Syrian-Iranian plan, if allowed to go into effect, will turn Lebanon into another Iraq. The Syrian regime would much rather opt for brinksmanship than lose power or be weakened.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Lebanon vs. Arab failure
I have been trying to stay moderate since the Mehlis report was published. Other blogs have expressed this frustration admirably. But this has gone too far.
We, the few Lebanese bloggers who have mobilized to blog the Mehlis report and show its significance not just to Lebanon but to the Arab world as a whole, are being accused of being blind to a wider US/Israeli plot to change the Syrian regime and destabilize the entire region. We are being lectured about the dangers of US interventionism and asked, not very politetly, to wake up and smell the scent of US conspiracy. We are being told to forget about our own independence as a nation, about justice within our borders, just to spite an “imperialist” nation that’s out to get a bunch of thugs holding their people hostage.
Rafik Hariri, the man whom Syria murdered (quit living in denial, they killed him), was one of the few Arab leaders who actually made a useful effort to support the Palestinian cause. He didn’t send weapons. He didn’t fire missiles. He didn’t fund stupid suicide attacks. He funded projects to bring their case to the international community through legal means. His foundations sponsored Lebanese victims of the Israeli occupation. He used his connections to spare Hizbullah and Lebanon the wrath of pro-Israeli policies. He was not a perfect man, nor a saint. But he did not deserve this fate.
It was Hariri who protected the resistance against Israel, not Syria. It was Syria that destroyed whatever was left of the cause, not the US or Israel. The blame rests on Syria’s shoulders this time. And it is a shame that very few so called Arabs out there refuse to come out in support of the country and the man who worked harder than many to support the cause they defend in the most inane way imaginable.
Let’s face it, we live in a region infested with shortsightedness and utter and unforgivable stupidity.
Arab leaders have made it clear that they have no time for Lebanon, a founding member of the Arab League, arguably the only country that keeps Arabs from the "ocean to the gulf" entertained and their companies running. They are worried about the threats against Syria, a bastion of Arab failure (and a reflection of their own). They will not tell the Syrian regime to cooperate in the investigation. They will stand watching and lamenting the self-destruction of a regime and blame it on foreign intervention. And they will do nothing of consequence. All that money and power will be channeled into growing their expanding bellies. All they can do right now is impale themselves on failure.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The Iran connection
sent shockwaves through the Iranian leadership. Officials in Tehran were greatly worried because of the strategic links with Damascus and because the report mentioned the name of Ahmad Jibril, head of the Popular front for the Liberation of Palestine (general command) who maintains close links to the Iranian security and intelligence services. Iran had been warned that Washington was ready to adopt the same hard-line approach it was following with Damascus, the source reported.The article goes on to focus on Iran-US relations and the nuclear issue (it makes bizarre claims about Iran’s supreme leader’s reported dissatisfaction with the performance of his "street sweeper" president, who has no real executive power).
Iran’s official reaction to the Mehlis report was predictable. The Iranian foreign minister said the report should not be “politicized” and hoped “a final report is composed and submitted based on technical and legal foundations.” Of course, given that Iran also praised the dismal Syrian “cooperation” with the probe, it is unlikely the report will ever be deemed acceptable by Iran.
Asharq al-Awsat reveals a connection that not many have made.
Naming PFLP-GC as major co-conspirators was one of the surprises of the report. Mehlis also expressed the desire during his Tuesday briefing to interview Jibril and members of his Damascus based organization. And judging from recent events along the Syrian border, the Lebanese authorities seem to close to a confrontation with them, though the details are sketchy.
Mehlis has a lot of leads, and we only know of the ones that lead to Syria.
But given Jibril's Iran connection, could Iran also be involved in the Hariri killing?
The most important question revolves around Hizbullah's role. I doubt they’re involved, at least not directly, but they stand to become the biggest losers if Mehlis implicates both Syria and Iran.
Sunday, October 23, 2005
The denial and the other report
Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN special envoy to Lebanon, has a mandate to examine what is going on in Lebanon now. He is expected to file a progress report on Syria’s implementation of UNSC 1559 soon.
According to Haaretz, the report will accuse Syria of continued “indirect military intervention and direct intelligence intervention in Lebanon,” inlcuding “arms shipments to various militias.”
Roed-Larsen’s report will reportedly state that “Damascus did not did not genuinely implement Resolution 1559, preferring instead to maintain its indirect military control of Lebanon through its agents in the Lebanese presidential palace, the army and intelligence organizations.”
And where the Mehlis report was unconvincing and inconclusive to some, Roed Larsen’s report will prove culpability by establishing a present and thus continuous pattern of criminal Syrian activity in Lebanon.
Roed-Larsen reportedly states explicitly that Hariri's murderers must be exposed as soon as possible.
The combined effects of both reports will likely lead to a harsher tone by the UN Security Council, possibly sanctions, says Haaretz.
Meanwhile, Syrian deputy foreign minister Walid Moallem denied that he had threatened Rafik Hariri days before he was assassinated.
"This is totally untrue," Deputy Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said in a call to a talk show on Syrian state television. "I did not go to Premier Hariri to make threats. I went to him to inform him about my mission and ask him to cooperate in order for the mission to succeed."
An excerpt from a RECORDED interview between Hariri and Moallem contradicts this claim. Here’s what he said on 1 February 2005:
Moallem told Mr. Hariri that “we and the [security] services here have put you into a corner.” He continued, Please do not take things lightly.”This does sound like a threat to me. But forget that. He went to ask the prime minister of another country to “cooperate in order for the mission to succeed?” What kind of mission was that?
This is similar to what Assad told Der Spiegel on 29 August, when he tried to deny he threatened to destroy Lebanon over Hariri’s head if the latter didn’t agree to the extension of Lahoud’s term. (The Mehlis report has multiple but similar accounts of this threat)
SPIEGEL: Many politicians in neighboring Lebanon blame your government for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Some have even said that the two of you had a loud argument the last time he was in Damascus.
Assad: And some have even said I threatened him. Others claimed a security agent
pointed his pistol at Hariri's head. That's simply ridiculous. In that conversation, we discussed extending the term of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud. It's obvious that Hariri was against the idea. So I told him: "We don't want to pressure you. Go back to Lebanon and then give us your decision." He told us a few days later that he agreed with the plan. Why should Syria kill someone with whom it has no differences of opinion? It doesn't make any sense at all. In truth, we Syrians are the ones who ended up suffering the greatest drawbacks as a result of this affair.
SPIEGEL: Can you really completely rule out the possibility that neither your intelligence services nor any other Syrian is involved?
Assad: I'm absolutely certain. That kind of plan requires the cooperation of several individuals and organizations. If this cooperation had existed, we would have known about it.
The plan, the mission and the insulting and arrogant denial. Bashar told Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, about a Syrian "plan" to ILLEGALLY extend Lebanon's president's term. Moallem went to urge cooperation with a Syrian “mission.” These are not threats, these are calls for cooperation, Syrian style.
In the Syrian regime’s dictionary, a “threat” is called a threat if there is a gun or torture involved. To the military thugs who rule Syria, “credible evidence” of a threat requires the documented torture of Hariri in an underground Syrian prison, or a photograph showing Ghazaleh pointing a gun to his head, twisting his arm and attaching electrodes to his organs.
That’s the Syrian regime's culture for you, and that’s how they can continue to deny the undeniable despite the glaring evidence.
Saturday, October 22, 2005
ISF fingers Syrian intelligence in bombings (updated)
“Prior to the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and at the request of an officer from a non Lebanese security service, fugitive Hassan M. (33), ordered a number of people to commit terrorist operations in Lebanon,” said the ISF statement. The operations included throwing sound bombs and starting firefights in different areas in the Mount Lebanon and Beirut governorates. According to the statement, the intention was to “sow confusion and threaten civil peace.”
The three arrested individuals said they did not carry out their orders and confessed to being paid large sums by the go-between Hassan M, who was presumably working for Syrian intelligence.
On Friday, the Mehlis report tied the Hariri assassination to the campaign of bombings that rocked Lebanon over the past few months:
The 14 February explosion needs to be assessed clearly against the sequence of explosions which preceded and followed it, since there could be links between
some, if not all, of them.
Addendum. Al-Mustaqbal named Syrian intelligence official Jamea Jamea as the person who charged Hassan H. to recruit the bombers.
The paper adds that Judge Said Mirza has detained Mahmoud Abdel-Al to question him about his involvement in the Hariri assassination.
Jamea Jamea is an important figure in the UN investigation. He has been linked to Ahmad Abdel-al, of al-Ahbash. Abdel-Al was interviewed as a witness and later as a suspect by the UN team. Mahmoud Abdel-Al is Ahmad's brother. He is the person who placed the phone call to Lahoud's mobile phone minutes before the explosion. (Lahoud's spokesman argued on Friday that the number Abdel-Al called was one of many numbers in Lahoud's office, denying that Lahoud himself had talked to him).
Here are relevant excerpts from the Mehlis report:
[Ahmad Abdel-Al]'s telephone records reveal that at 1147 hrs, he had a telephone contact with a number which phoned his home telephone number a number of times immediately before the explosion --- 1226 hrs, 1246 hrs and 1247 hrs. While Abdel-Al told UNIIIC that he called home shortly after the explosion at 1256 hrs, telephone records show that the call was made at 1254 hrs, two minutes before the explosion. Abdel-Al stated, that he did not leave the Al-Ahbash office the day of the blast for security reasons. The telephone records showed four calls to Syrian intelligence officer Jamea Jamea, at 1142 hrs, 1814 hrs, 2023 hrs and 2026 hrs.
According to a witness, Abdel-Al visited Jamea Jamea’s office the evening of the blast at 19:30 in which the two discussed Abu Adass. Moreover, shortly after his visit to Jamea Jamea’s office, Abdel-Al’s mobile phone registered a call to Rustum
Ghazali, at 1956 hrs. Abdel-Al also sought to steer the investigation towards Abu Adass , not only by providing the Lebanese authorities with extensive information on Abu Adass shortly after the blast, but also stating to UNIIIC that the Al-Ahbash Security Service had seen Abu Adass before the assassination in the Ain Al-Hilweh Palestinian camp together with Abu Obeida the deputy leader of the terrorist group Asbat al Ansar.
There are also numerous contacts between Ahmad Abdel-Al and Lebanese State Security on the day of the blast. For example, Abdel-Al had almost daily telephone contact with Brigadier General Faysal Rasheed, Chief of State Security in Beirut and on 14 February 2005, they had telephone contact at 1035 hrs, 2008 hrs, 2113 hrs, 214 hrs and 2216 hrs. Ahmad Abdel-Al also had contact with suspect Raymond Azar, of the Lebanese Army, on 14 February 2005, as well as 16 and 17 February 2005. There was a call between the mobile phone of Albert Karam, another member of the Lebanese Army Intelligence, and Ahmad Abdel-Al on 14 February as well, at 1212 hrs, about 44 minutes before the blast.
Abdel-Al’s phone also had extensive telephone contacts with Mustafa Hamdan’s phone, as 97 calls occurred between the two between January and April 2005. Of these, four were made on 14 February 2005, after the explosion. Ahmad had two telephone contacts with his brother, Walid Abdel-Al, a member of the Republican Guard, the day of the blast at 16:15 and 17:29. In addition, Abdel-Al received a call on 11 February 2005 at 2217 hrs from the same telephone booth used to call Al-Jazeera shortly after the blast on the 14 February. He also received a call on the 4 February 2005 at 19:34 and on 26 February 2005 at 0933 hrs from the booth used
to call Reuters shortly after the blast.
Abdel-Al has been in frequent contact with Mahmoud Abdel-Al, his brother, who is also active in Al-Ahbash. Mahmoud Abdel-Al’s telephone calls on 14 February are also interesting: he made a call minutes before the blast, at 1247 hrs, to the mobile phone of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and at 1249 hrs had contact with Raymond Azar’s mobile telephone.
[Ahmad] Abdel-Al also has notable connections to a significant weapons store discovered in southern Beirut in July 2005. This weapons store was raided by the ISF on 26 July 2005 and five people, with close connections to the former Mourabitoun militia, were arrested. One of the arrestees was the driver and bodyguard of Majed Hamdan, Mustafa Hamdan’s brother, who runs a firm which reportedly provided security for the St. George hotelHotel. Abdel-Al reportedly arranged for another arrestee to be employed as an electrician in the presidential palace. Furthermore, immediately after the arrests, another individual fled and promptly telephoned Ahmad Abdel-Al.
The Lebanese judiciary is obviously beginning to act on the information submitted by Mehlis, a lot of which was not publicised so as not to undermine the investigation. (So those people who claim the Mehlis report is inconclusive and lacks hard evidence need to remember that the investigation is NOT finished).
Friday, October 21, 2005
Mehlis report summarized
The commission’s work was made difficult by “recent bombings, assassinations, and assassination attempts have been carried out with impunity as well as by “deliberate rumors and prophetic media analyses” that have deterred potential witnesses from contacting UNIIIC. For the first time, we see a link between these bombings, witness intimidation and the 14 February explosion. “The 14 February explosion needs to be assessed clearly against the sequence of explosions which preceded and followed it, since there could be links between some, if not all, of them.”
For that, Mehlis does not name many of his witnesses.
In the political context of the murder, Bashar Assad and Emile Lahoud are featured prominently as haters of Hariri. And so is a prominent Lebanese figure called Mr X. Though this came as no surprise, it was disturbing to read transcripts of phone calls and conversations where their plotting to discredit Hariri and turn the people against him was hinted on as possible motivation for a later decision to murder him. These transcripts and other testimonies confirm the pervasiveness of Syrian interference in Lebanon.
The UN Commission’s investigation has confirmed what many in Lebanon have long asserted, that senior Syrian intelligence officials had a powerful day-to-day and overall strategic influence on the governance of Lebanon. The apparent growing conflict between Mr. Hariri and senior Syrian officials, including Syrian President Bashar Assad, was a central aspect of the information provided to the Commission through interviews and documents.Mehlis was careful. He presented the evidence as is, and only made conclusions where he felt it was beyond reasonable doubt. So while the role of the massacre’s planners and executers was laid out in shocking and suspenseful clarity, he did not link their actions directly to their political masters (albeit through context, which could prove intent). This is partly due to the Syrian regime's unwillingness to co-operate substantively. Mehlis mentions a Syrian attempt to mislead the investigation by lying in a letter by the foreign minister and by scripting the responses of some of the Syrian witnesses they let Mehlis interview. In any case, the report does not exactly clear Lahoud and Assad, and that is important.
Syria was not the only country that did not co-operate. In fact, “no member state relayed usable information to the investigation”. In other words, despite all their talk and excitement about punishing the culprits and Syria, the United States, France and Britain did not provide usable intelligence, but only "expertise."
The Lebanese judicial and security authorities who have assisted Mehlis are painted positively in this report, much to the surprise of many. This leads us to think that if given independence and proper technical and logistical assistance and training, a Lebanese investigation could carry forward the investigation-- a Mehlis recommendation.
The blast was most likely the result of a suicide bombing, though the identity of the bomber could not be ascertained considering the amount of tampering that went on at the scene (the Lebanese security services perhaps intentional mishandling of the investigation prior to Mehlis’s arrival is fully described).
A witness, one of the few named, Mohammad Siddiq, claims that Abu Adass, the star of a video in which he claimed responsibility for the killing on behalf of an unknown Islamist organization, was kidnapped and taken to Syria where he was killed by Syrian military intelligence. His body was placed in the white Mitsubishi van that carried the explosives. The Mitsubishi was stolen in Japan, somehow made it to Syria, where it was fitted with 1000 Kg of high explosives.
The evidence from the phone trail I think is the strongest. It links all of the suspects in a web of conspiracy that also included President Lahoud, who, according to phone records, received a call from one suspect minutes before the blast. In addition to the security officials who are now in Lebanese custody, a few Ahbash officials were named as major co-conspirators with strong connections to the presidential guard and the president himself. The Ahbash is a pro-Syrian radical islamist organization with an important following in the country. PFLP-GC is also named. And of course, the Syrian military intelligence.
Read the report in full here. Conclusions here. One final note. The report reveals how much money and effort was put into monitoring Hariri and planning for his murder. The job of Lahoud’s security agencies became to assassinate a Lebanese official. This alone is grounds for treason.
Here are some excerpts from the report. I have published conclusions and other excerpts elsewhere on this blog. These are details that stuck out to me.
A meeting in Damascus between Mr. Hariri and President Assad on 26 August 2004
appeared to bring the conflict to a head...
Bashar to Hariri (Saad testifying): President Lahoud is me. Whatever I tell him, he follows suit.
In the meeting with Mr. Al-Moallem, Mr. Hariri complained that he believed that President Assad was being deliberately misinformed about the actions of Mr. Hariri by the Syrian security services and Mr. Sharaa about the actions of Mr. Hariri.
Hariri: “But Lebanon will never be ruled from Syria. This will no longer happen.”
During this discussion, Mr. Al-Moallem told Mr. Hariri that “we and the [security] services here have put you into a corner.” He continued, “Please do not take things lightly.”
One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, Maher Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al-Sayyedsenior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. (from a draft copy.. the final version does not name them)
Mr. Saddik stated that the decision to assassinate Mr. Hariri had been taken in Syria, followed by clandestine meetings in Lebanon between senior Lebanese and Syrian officers, who had been designated to plan and pave the way for the execution of the assault. These meetings started in July 2004 and lasted until December 2004. The seven senior Syrian officials and four senior Lebanese officials were alleged to have been involved in the plot.
Accroding to a witness, ISF personnel were ordered to keep Mr. Rafik Hariri under surveillance (witness statement) at the end of January and beginning of February 2005
The investigations shows that eight telephone numbers and 10 mobile telephones were used to organize surveillance on Mr. Hariri and to carry out the assassination. The lines were put into circulation on 4 January 2005 in the northern part of Lebanon, between Terbol and Menyeh. The lines were used on individual days to observe Mr. Hariri’s habits, mostly in the area of Beirut city.
In a report dated 17 February 2005, from General Sayyed to Judge Mezher, General Sayyed concluded that the videotape was authentic and “Ahmad Abu Addas, who appears on the tape, was . . . clearly a definite participant in the assassination.” The only basis provided for this conclusion was the statement
that “[t]he way in which he delivers the statement and shows himself without any covering over his face is the manner adopted by suicide bombers in similar cases. The fact that he did not conceal his face while making the statement indicates that he must have been personally responsible for setting off the explosion.”
On Tuesday morning, 15 February 2005, [General Security head Jamil al-Sayed] got a phone call from a journalist from Al-Jazeera who told him nobody had yet picked-up the Abu Adass videotape
There is no evidence that Abu Adass Mr. Abu Adass belonged to the group al nasra wal-jihad fee bilad Al-Sham as claimed in the Al-Jazeera videotape, nor even that such a group has ever existed or does exist now. There are no indications (other than the videotape) that he drove a truck containing the bomb that killed Hariri. The evidence does show that it is likely that Mr. Abu Adass left his home on 16 January 2005 and was taken, voluntarily or not, to Syria, where he has since disappeared.
On the instructions of the first investigating judge of the Military Court, and with the approval of the General Director of Internal Security Forces, the cars from the Hariri motorcade were taken to the Helou barracks..
The measures taken [to preserve the crime scene] were below the required level and contrary to the obvious fundamental basis upon which crimes as serious as this one or even less serious crimes are investigated...
few hours after the explosion took place, around 2300 hrs, major evidence was
removed from the crime scene...
A bulldozer was introduced into the crime scene on the day of the explosion, 14 February 2005, in the evening for no justifiable reason. As soon as the Minister of Interior and Municipalities got knowledge of it, he gave orders to retrieve it and preserve the crime scene as it was. (This would be Franjieh)
On 15 February….Mr. General Al-Hajj (head of ISF) replied that two teams were working on clearing the road which would be reopened at 1000 hrs. In response to a direct question, GeneralMr. Al-Hajj stated that the orders came from Mustapha Hamdan, the Commander of the Presidential Guard
In a meeting with UNIIIC on 1 June 2005, General Rifi stated that the person who gave the order to get a bulldozer or bulldozers to the crime scene to fill the hole caused by the explosion etc. was General Mustapha Hamdan, who at the time of the incident was the Commander of President Lahoud’s security detail and therefore by Lebanese law had nothing to do with issues related to crime scene investigation
the most likely scenario for the activation of the IED is a suicide bomber.
It was indicated that President Assad would not be available for any interview.
The Commission has concluded that the Government of Syria’s lack of substantive cooperation with the Commission has impeded the investigation and made it difficult to follow leads established by the evidence collected from a variety of sources.
Update: A useless debate is raging about the two different versions of the Mehlis report: one with the names of the Syrian officials, one without. Ramzi has a good summary and an equally good explanation.
Thursday, October 20, 2005
Ghazali: Let Hariri be the laughing stock
The structure and organization of the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services in Lebanon at the time of the blast, including protocols for reporting, shows a pervasive impact on everyday life in Lebanon.
Good examples of this are documents collected from the former Syrian Intelligence post, Villa Jabr, at Bologna Forest, Lebanon and an intercepted telephone conversation between Brigadier General Rustum GhazaliGeneral Ghazali and a prominent Lebanese official on 19 July 2004, at 0945 hrs
“Ghazali:I know it is early but I thought we should keep up you posted. The President of the Republic told me this morning that they are two to rule the country the Prime Minister and him. He said that things cannot continue this way. The Prime Minister is always irritating him and we are always shutting him up and yelling at him. He made it clear he cannot continue this way.
X: Take it easy on me. Can you appoint a new Government at this time?
Ghazali: Yes we can appoint one. What could be the problem? We can name Botros Harb.
Ghazali: Let me tell you one thing. Let the worker’s movement take the street on the 20th in Solidere and Koraytem.
X: Let’s speak it over. Take it easily. I have to take into consideration the best interests of Syrian and Lebanon.
Ghazali: We are keen on Syria’s best interest but I am now talking about Rafik
X: So, the decision is taken.
Ghazali: I wish to tell you one thing. Whenever we need to speak to Hariri we have to suck up to him and he does not always answer.
X: To hell with him. What do I care about him?
Ghazali: What do I care about him? The President can’t stand him so why should I?
X: Fine, may he rot in hell …
Ghazali: No. Let him be the laughing stock and be pointed at as the person who ruined and indebted the country. Let the people take the street in Koraytem and Solidere; let the manifestations continue until he is forced to resign like a dog.
X: What about another option. I send him a message saying: Resign God damn it.
Ghazali: No, don’t send him a message or else he will say they forced me to resign. Let the street … you know what I mean. Or else he will use this as a bargaining card with his American and French masters.
X: So shall we leave things to the street?
Ghazali: This is better.
X: Let’s go for it.
The conversation Hariri taped: Lebanon will never be ruled from Syria, said Hariri
Rafik Hariri, taped conversation with Walid Al- Moallem on 1 February 2005:
“In connection with the extension episode, he (President Assad) sent for me and met me for 10 to 15 minutes.”
“He sent for me and told me: “ You always say that you are with Syria. Now the time has come for you to prove whether you meant what you said or otherwise.” (…) He did not ask my opinion. He said: “I have decided.” He did not address me as Prime Minister or as Rafik or anything of that kind. He just said: “I have decided.” I was totally flustered, at a loss. That was the worst day of my life.”
“He did not tell me that he wished to extend Lahoud’s mandate. All he said was “I have decided to do this, don’t answer me, think and come back to me.””
“I was not treated as a friend or an acquaintance. No. I was asked: “Are you with us or against us?” That was it. When I finished my meeting with him, I swear to you, my body guard looked at me and asked why I was pale-faced”
28. In the meeting with Mr. Al-Moallem, Mr. Hariri complained that he believed that President Assad was being deliberately misinformed about the actions of Mr. Hariri by the Syrian security services and Mr. Sharaa about the actions of Mr. Hariri.
Translated excerpts of the meeting include the following statements by Mr.
“I cannot live under a security regime that is specialized in interfering with Hariri and spreading disinformation about Rafik Hariri and writing reports to Bashar Assad.”
“But Lebanon will never be ruled from Syria. This will no longer happen.”
During this discussion, Mr. Al-Moallem told Mr. Hariri that “we and the [security] services here have put you into a corner.” He continued, Please do not take things lightly.”
30. The recorded interview clearly contradicts Mr. Al-Moallem’s witness interview of 20 September 2005 in which he falsely described the 1 February meeting as “friendly and constructive” and avoided giving direct answers to the questions put to him.
The Mehlis report conclusions (updated)
- "It is the Commission’s view that the assassination of 14 February 2005 was carried out by a group with an extensive organization and considerable resources and capabilities. The crime had been prepared over the course of several months. For this purpose, the timing and location of Mr. Rafik Hariri’s movements had been monitored and the itineraries of his convoy recorded in detail."
- "Building on the findings of the Commission and Lebanese investigations to date and on the basis of the material and documentary evidence collected, and the leads pursued until now, there is converging evidence pointing at both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act. It is a well known fact that Syrian Military Intelligence had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at the least until the withdrawal of the Syrian forces pursuant to resolution 1559. The former senior security officials of Lebanon were their appointees. Given the infiltration of Lebanese institutions and society by the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to envisage a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge."
- "The likely motive was political. However, since the crime was not the work of individuals but rather of a sophisticated group, it very much seems that fraud, corruption, and money-laundering could also have been motives for individuals to participate in the operation. "
- the continuing investigation should be carried forward
- "It is the Commission’s conclusion that, after having interviewed witnesses and suspects in the Syrian Arab Republic and establishing that many leads point directly towards Syrian security officials as being involved with the assassination, it is incumbent upon Syria to clarify a considerable part of the unresolved questions. While the Syrian authorities, after initial hesitation, have cooperated to a limitedcertain degree with the Commission, several interviewees tried to mislead the investigation by giving false or inaccurate statements. The letter addressed to the Commission by the Foreign Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic proved to contain false information. The full picture of the assassination can only be reached through an extensive and credible investigation that would be conducted in an open and transparent manner to the full satisfaction of international scrutiny. "
Addendum: From the introduction: "In producing this report the Commission has endeavored to ensure that nothing it does or says undermines the ongoing criminal investigation and any trials that may follow. The Commission, at this juncture cannot disclose all the detailed elements and facts it has in its possession, beyond sharing them with the Lebanese authorities."
Don't expect to read details about current investigation leads, the investigation is still ongoing.
Also keep in mind this report is intended mostly for the UN security council.
Mehlis report: Syrian military intelligence killed Rafik Hariri
Egypt's rug politics
That was Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaking in Moscow.
Aboul Gheit denied that his country was mediating between Damascus and Washington. Instead, he said, Egypt was offering analysis and advice to prevent new tensions in the Middle East.Right.
We have to sweep our problems under the rug and wait for the resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict and the Iraqi "problem"? Perhaps we should invite Assef Shawkat back into Lebanon to stabilize us, develop us and teach us peace. His holy guidance then will lead us into an era of love and peace that would "naturally" change the relationship between the "Islamic Arabic world" and the "West."
Lebanon's problems are not due to a clash between the west and the "Islamic Arabic World." Forget Israel for a second. They are, in large part, the result of clashes within the Islamic Arabic world. What a typical response from the prime minister of a regime that faked an election and is about to fake another. Pile your trash under the rugs of your house and focus on shining your windows. That's real progress. That's stability for you! (regime stability)
Wednesday, Saad Hariri had to listen to two hours of advice and wisdom from father figure Hosni Mubarak. That didn't stop Saad from declaring, following a meeting with Amr Moussa, that he is intent on pursing his demand for an international trial. I bet you Hosni's fatherly advice went something like this:
If Libya had bombed my brains out, I would want Gamal to forgive them and sweep my body under the big Persian rug that's under your feet. If you look carefully, Sadat is buried there, and so is the Palestinian cause. Soon Ayman Nour will join them. Don't get me wrong. Rugs are great. I get under them sometimes when Gamal doesn't shut up. In life, my dear son, there are many rugs. And people in our region love them. They aspire to own them, and they keep them for tens of years and form attachments to them. Bashar is being a brat, I know. I will send him Gamal to teach him the art of rug politics. God bless his soul, your father, my friend, got tired and bought a vacuum cleaner. What for? Look at me son, stop ogling the rug. Forget about an international trial. I will loan you a rug, if you like. Go, Isis—God, be with you.
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Lebanon and Iraq on the road to justice
According to well informed sources at the United Nations, the [Mehlis] report does not finger any Syrian official or President Emile Lahoud. It [only] names a number of Lebanese and Syrian security figures.
وحسب مصادر واسعة الاطلاع في الأمم المتحدة فإن التقرير لا يشير بإصبع الاتهام الى أي مسؤول سوري ولا إلى رئيس الجمهورية إميل لحود، ويبقي على الشبهة قائمة في عدد من الشخصيات والجهات الأمنية اللبنانية والسورية.
Huh? Because in Syria, an official is not also a security figure? Because security figures are independent persons who operate in a vacuum? They have no links whatsoever to the ruling MILITARY regime?
Forget As-Safir. The Daily Star's editor is living the present and getting it:
It is an amazing spectacle when a dictator and a mass murderer faces a courtroom during his trial with the audacity of Saddam Hussein… But apart from being a rivetting television drama for the region, the trial of Saddam represents a potential watershed in the history of Arab justice in that it marks the first time that an Arab leader is being held accountable in a court of law for his crimes against his country's citizens…
In both Iraq and Lebanon, the many citizens whose lives and families were affected by murderous regimes are hoping that the regimes' leaders will be dealt heavy punishments by the courts.
If carried out properly, the trials of Saddam and former Lebanese and Syrian regime figures will mark a turning point in the history of the Arab world. Holding rulers accountable to the rule of law is unheard of in the region, where dictators, royal families and despots have habitually acted with impunity.I don't need to add anything. I'm not publishing any more speculations on the Mehlis report. Until the report is released, let us bask in this:
An exchange between Saddam Hussein and the presiding judge, Rizgar Mohammed Amin, early in Wednesday‘s opening session of the former Iraqi leader‘s trial, translated from the Arabic by The Associated Press.
Saddam: First of all, who are you? What are you? I want to know who you are.
Saddam: Are you judges?
Amin: You can submit whatever you want in written form. We don‘t have time to get into these details.
Amin: Please, sit down, Mr. Saddam. Later. We‘ll get down the identities of the others, and later we‘ll start with you.
Amin: Well, now so you can sit down and relax, give your identity and make yourself comfortable.
(Back and forth, overtalking)
Saddam: I don‘t have anything against any of you. But adhering to the truth and respecting the will of the great Iraqi people in choosing me, I say: I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect to its people, and I retain my constitutional right as the president of Iraq .
Saddam: Neither do I recognize the body that has designated and authorized you, nor the aggression. All that is built on a false basis is false.
(After repeatedly refusing to give his name, Saddam finally sits. Amin read his name for him, calling him the "former president of Iraq.")
Saddam: I said I‘m the president of Iraq ... I did not say deposed.
(Later, Amin read the defendants their rights, the charges against them and advised them they face a possible death penalty if convicted.)
Amin: The court will give you a chance ... one by one, each will answer if he is guilty or innocent. Mr. Saddam, go ahead. Are you guilty or innocent?
Saddam: I said what I said. I am not guilty.
Amin (registering plea): Innocent.
Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Mehlis to name five Syrian officials as suspects (updated)
Shawkat is Bashar's brother in law. He was appointed on the day of the Hariri assassination and is considered the second most powerful man in Syria, after the late Hafez al-Assad.. (ok, ok, Bashar!)
Meanwhile, French police detained on Sunday witness-turned-suspect Mohammed Zuhair al-Siddiq, after Lebanon's general prosecutor Said Mirza issued a warrant for his arrest.
Fares Khashan in al-Mustaqbal says Siddiq, whom Syria accused of misleading the investigation, used to live in Lebanon and accompanied former Syrian intelligence chief-General branch Bahjat Suleiman during his Lebanon trips. ( FYI, Suleiman was removed from his position in June of this year right after the Baath congress, which saw the purge of many "old guard"... NOTE: this is not to say Bahjat was of the old guard. Tony seems to think that his fall from grace was due to rivalry with Shawkat)
Khashan goes on to say that Bahjat Suleiman, who is also a prolific writer (or an "intellectual") is the author of an article in which he threatened the world with dire consequences if Syria were to pull out of Lebanon:
He spoke of a hellish alliance whereby Palestinian refugees from Jordan and Syria would leave those countries to join the refugees in Lebanon and strike a war alliance with Hizbullah. The south Lebanon front would go up in flames, and the Lebanese would be divided and turn against one another. After that there will be chaos, the return of death, and the entire region will burn...According to Khashan, Mehlis asked Mirza to arrest Siddiq over a month ago, but Mirza wanted to wait until he was on Lebanese soil because he didn't want to deal with extradition issues. But after Kanaan's "suicide", Mirza asked the French to arrest him.
It is not clear if Suleiman will also be named by Mehlis. Regardless, the naming of Shawkat alone, if the report is accurate, will have Assad call Amanpour to retract his comment about putting "traitors" on trial, unless he plans on joining them.
Addendum: Here is the Al-Seyassah article (published on 19 February, read it here and here) that named Bahjat, Assef and Lebanese Jamil al-Sayyed as the culprits. According to the article, Assef was appointed head of military intelligence 30 minutes after the blast that killed Hariri (do you think Bashar had had the time to hear about the assassination on the news as he claimed in that CNN interview?)
For those of you who read Arabic, note the part in the article about Bassel al-Assad's opposition to Shawkat marrying his sister, Bushra. Bassel (who was supposed to succeed Hafez) "loathed" Shawkat and it was only when the former "died in a car accident" that Shawkat was able to marry Bushra. An unnamed American official told the paper that Shawkat is part of a gang of 12 who are the de-facto rulers of Syria and who are involved in terrorist operations in Iraq and elsewhere.
Monday, October 17, 2005
Did the US snub Aoun?
They set appointments for me on the 11th, 12th and 13th of October. The congress was in recess at that time, so I asked for a postponement, they agreed and set new dates, but they haven't been finalized.The US Congress did have one week of recess that ended Monday (17 October). But was Aoun planning on addressing the house of representatives? There were many briefings held last week, so political activity was not dead. Bush was in town, and so were other politicians as influential if not more. The US government was not on vacation, as far as I know. So to blame the postponement on the absence of politicians is not entirely accurate. It's either that the people who scheduled his trip could not find anybody willing to meet him, or the people he was scheduled to meet did not want to meet him anymore.
Washington is apparently mad at Aoun for switching sides and proving to be nothing more than an arrivistic politician (not that DC politicians are any better). He has banished his poor FPM apparatchiks to the twilight zone of hypocrisy by faking a political orgasm with Hizbullah (read Bassil's interview with al-Seyassah and tell me if you can be convinced that the FPM and Hizbullah can have more than an unsatisfying quickie) and forging alliances with the symbols of the Syria era. I am not against dialog between the FPM and other Lebanese parties. But Aoun is not the holy spirit of politics, and he cannot convince me of the purity of his intentions. Not when he says this:
The people have nominated me [to become president] and they attack me as a candidate.I did NOT nominate Michel Aoun. Neither did "the people." But then, I should stop seeing the presidency as a national post. He clearly does not see it that way, no matter what he says.
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Bashar Assad is the problem, said Rafik Hariri (updated)
The paper claims Assad offered to exchange UNSC 1559 with Lahoud’s head but Hariri rejected, opting instead to up the ante with the Syrian regime.
Our problem is not with Emile Lahoud. Look how he recoiled when the orders came to [make Omar Karami Prime Minister]. And our problem is not with Rustom Ghazaleh who, as the Syrian leadership said, represents and implements what Syria wants in Lebanon to the letter. Our problem, actually, is with Bashar Assad.
“We will not be tools in Bashar’s hands,” he told reporters, apparently off the record. “One day he orders an extension and another a dethronement. He wants Lahoud changed now to impose someone else possibly worse for six years. What interests us is changing the methodology (Nahj), not changing masks.”
Hariri, in a subsequent meeting with Ghazaleh, informed the latter that there was no need for Syria to interfere in his choice of candidates for the parliamentary election. “If you view me as an opponent, you cannot demand political support from me,” he told Syria’s intelligence chief in Lebanon.
If the above quotes are accurate, then Bashar is not only Lebanon’s problem, but Syria’s as well. His inconsistencies are proof of a dangerous lack of skills that Hariri felt was going to destroy Lebanon if allowed to continue.
I also don’t see how Bashar is going to escape responsibility for Hariri’s murder if Syrian officials are implicated. Making somebody else a scapegoat will not exonerate him.
UPDATE. From the BBC: "But even before Kanaan's death, there were signs that Syria, under the leadership of its young and relatively inexperienced president, Bashar al-Assad, was losing its way. "
Saturday, October 15, 2005
Hizbullah and Aoun are playing destructive politics
Read what Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad, said yesterday:
From now on everybody must understand that we will not accept for the international investigator to become a political analyst. Nobody is better than Lebanese people in analysing facts. We want a judicial report based on facts and evidence that won't take the country to where the forces of arrogance (Istikbar) want. We will not allow that.In other words, Hizbullah will only accept the Mehlis report if it does not contain evidence that could incriminate Syria. For it to be accepted (or "allowed") by them, the report needs to be a toothless document with obscure and preferrably pro-cause/anti-US facts, perhaps resembling Kanaan's investigation report, and then we can assign the Hizbullah leadership the task of putting it all into context for us.
Our priorities should be in safeguarding and protecting Lebanon from foreign plots (istihdaf khareji) and from attempts to confiscate [Lebanese] political decision making and take away its identity.
Carrying weapons is the right of our community (Ahlana) and people, ... and rights cannot be taken away or confiscated, it's something to be martyred for..."
Then maybe Farouk Sharaa can chime in and point the finger at the evil Lebanese media for killing Hariri (didn't you know? Lebanese media are targeting Syria's Arab nationalist stance and weakening its sincere struggle against the Israeli and American enemies).
Or you know what, let's ask Fayez al-Sayegh from the avant-garde Syrian daily al-Thawra to provide a luminary analysis of the facts. Maybe then he can validate his dazzling theory that Saad Hariri has allied himself with Israel to kill his own father. (Read his editorial here).
What a load of crap.
And then comes egotistical Aoun who is so obsessed with becoming president, he is prepared to strike deals with the likes of Hizbullah and Franjieh and let himself unwittingly become a mouthpiece for Lahoud. Check out his latest attack on Saad Hariri and the parliament majority:
Those who stole the majority [in parliament] and stole positions and the government won't be allowed to steal the presidency. ..Those people will then be in the process of to instigate a particular problem to reach certain objectives other than stability... those who want the president to resign or want him removed seek to blackmail the president to pass deals regarding appointments and forming a government... If they lack confidence, then they should hand over ruling the country... Maybe Paris will give them freedom to concoct conspiracies away from the public eye.Aoun has made it clear that the only thing that motivates him and dictates his moves and fiery political temper is his obsession with becoming president. He will undermine and question the political authority of anybody who stands in his way or does not support his presidential aspirations.
While Saad Hariri still has not articulated his position on Aoun's presidency, it looks like he and his allies oppose it mostly because when Aoun says he want to be president, he is thinking in near-autocratic terms, with all the executive power in his hands. (He still has not recognized the Taef agreement, has he?).
And like Hizbullah, Aoun has his own loud political views that seemingly drive his obstructionism. Butros Harb's interview with the Kuwaiti paper al-Rai al-Aam reveal a line of thinking that's at odds with Aoun's. Aoun thinks that the choice of president is nobody's business but the Christians, and since he represents the majority, he should automatically become president (I think his defense of Lahoud is insincere, given his own aspirations). Harb told the paper he was opposed to the principle that every sect chooses a leader and then impose it on the other sects because that is tantamount to a "federation of sects." He added the he personally was against someone with a military mentality becoming president.
I included Aoun and Hizbullah in the same post because I believe that they are playing extremely negative roles in Lebanon right now, given their positions of influence and potential to be more constructive and forward-looking national partners. Alas, they are not living up to that potential.
We still have a long way to go, and in the absence of a real national consensus, maybe even a new national pact that could settle these very destructive differences and reconcile the diverging world views, we won't go far in rebuilding the country. The Syrians have left a vacuum that cannot be filled without that consensus, and certainly not by Mehlis’s report. Whatever benefits and positive values the report will generate could easily be destroyed by that lack of consensus.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Kanaan: opponent or scapegoat?
A version of the first is (or was? I can't keep track) being advanced by Joshua Landis, whose earlier dismissal of a coup possibility in Syria has evolved into this:
Landis said he did not believe the suicide had anything to do with the upcoming publication of the UN report, since Mehlis informed him that Kenaan was not a suspect in the Hariri assassination. He "speculates" that if Assad is behind Kenaan's death, it was to neutralize his only opponent. As one of the last Allawite officers from the old guard, Landis suggested Kenaan fitted the bill. According to Landis, "If I was a CIA officer, I would certainly have the name Kenaan in my rolodex."Two obvious questions here: Was Kanaan powerful enough in “new guard” Syria to have posed such a threat?
And if so, like many are suggesting, would he have allied himself with the Americans against Bashar? I don’t know about you, but a Kanaan-US marriage seems very unlikely to me, given the US had frozen his assets, and his bloody history in Lebanon (what Lebanese would accept him as ruler of Syria? Certainly not the Maronites-- not that Lebanese opinion matters).
Landis's last remark about the CIA shows you how much faith Landis has in the US administration picking a better replacement for Bashar (not that they should be engaging in something like that). That Landis thinks the US could be willing to replace Bashar with a blood thirsty vampire like Kanaan is telling of his perceptions of US policy.
"I've become a defender of the Assad regime," Landis said, "as many Syrians have, because I look over to Iraq and see the mistakes the U.S. has made. Syrians are terrified that the U.S. will squeeze too hard and there will be some sort of ethnic civil war."Of course, Kanaan could have been eliminated in a pure power-consolidation effort, and we don’t have to stick the US in this.
Unless Kanaan was so weak he was made a scapegoat.
Elaph on Friday published an elaborate report on Kanaan’s last day on earth. According to the London-based publication, Kanaan received a call early in the morning from a "western ambassador", summoning him to his embassy. Kanaan left his office at the ministry and went to meet that person, who told him that the US had brokered a deal with Bashar under which Kanaan and others would be offered as scapegoats, placed under house arrest and perhaps detained on that same day, and specifically after the Assad CNN interview airs.
Elaph adds that the embassy official told Kanaan to watch the CNN interview, and wait for Amanpour’s question on whether the Syrian President would be willing to punish/hand over Syrian nationals if they were implicated in the Hariri assassination. According to the ambassador, this question was written by the US State Department, which arranged that interview and asked Amanpour to ask it twice. Enraged, betrayed, Kanaan returned to his office, called Voice of Lebanon to deny the NTV report, then shot himself. (the Elaph report was entitled “Kanaan fled through suicide”)
The Elaph source is based on a statement they received from a Syrian opposition group that calls itself the Truth. The statement claims the above scenario explains why Kanaan left his office in a hurry-- Syrian officials have said he went home to get his gun, an unlikely thing, the group said, given that kanaan never parted with his gun.
This story does not explain why Kanaan would be offered as a scapegoat when, as many seem to suggest, he was not even a suspect in the Hariri murder. The scapegoat theory also requires us to believe that he actually pulled the trigger himself.
Obviously, both theories fail to convince. But then, we are not dealing with "rational actors" here, as Tony pointed out in a comment on my previous post. Seeking a rational explanation, then, might not lead us anywhere satisfying for the time being.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Analysis: Kanaan's death was not his choice (updated)
Backdrop: The Syrian regime begins a media offensive against Lebanon and certain Lebanese officials, accusing them of selling out to foreign powers and misleading the public and the investigation, etc. It is hard not to include, as part of this huge disinformation campaign, the leaks to As-Safir from “informed sources in Washington”, suggesting that Mehlis has little in terms of concrete evidence implicating the Syrian leadership directly (SANA loves to quote as-Safir these days). File under this Franjieh’s recent re-emergence after a long absence to propagate these same claims and question the credibility of the investigation.
The NTV Report
I am tempted to link this campaign to the allegations that NTV made against Hariri and Kenaan. And I will because the report could have been written by Rustom Ghazaleh himself (I know Khayat had his problems with the latter, but have you seen the report?)
The report starts with an introduction that sets up the theme of the story, which is that the Lebanese investigators have overlooked what the Syrians, through an “exercise of sovereignty”, didn’t.
In form and content, Syria realized its sovereignty and imposed its conditions on the international investigation. A camera was focused on the interrogator, and another on the interrogated. The interrogations were conducted in the presence of two judges and Riad Dawoodi, the foreign ministry advisor.
The NTV report then goes on to detail how Kanaan, who allegedly was interviewed not by Mehlis but by other members of the UN team, showed up with a box of checks made out to himself and others and signed by Rafik Hariri. Kanaan immediately volunteers to the investigator the following:
Interestingly, the report also mentions Rustom Ghazaleh who, according to the report, not only does not deny his involvement in the Madina bank scandal, but also names all his accomplices.
I was Lebanon’s ruler for a long time, if you ask me about corruption and briberies, yes, I took part in it. I used to receive checks and distribute them to Lebanese and Syrians. I never forgot to keep copies. This box is full of them but pay attention, they all carry Rafik Hariri’s signature. Why kill the guy if we benefited so much from him?
Have you heard of the 2000 [election] law? Not only did I make it, and they called it the Ghazi Kanaan law, but I took 10 million USD for it, and so did Jamil al-Sayyed. The law was written to fit the politicians who benefited from it."
The NTV report continues:
So Mehlis returns with confessions about the blackmail that was practiced in Lebanon, and the corruption, but not a single word incriminating the [Syrian] officers. The Syrian president takes the tapes and flies to Egypt and tells Mubarak: Here are the confessions of our officers. They are innocent, and will not surrender any of them. Will Syria’s international story end?In other words, the report seems to suggest that Syria is innocent of the crime, that Lebanon was being run by corrupt Lebanese and Syrian officials, that Mehlis has nothing on Syria and that he should really be focusing on Hariri’s and Lebanon's corruption history, possibly as reasons for the assassination.
In the absence of official Syrian denunciation of this report (why would they? It’s their best defense so far and I have no doubt in my mind that someone in the Syrian or Lahoud regime developed it for them), Kanaan chose Warde, of all people, on Voice of Lebanon to air his denial and urged her to forward it to Pierre Daher of LBC and to Future TV and NBN.
I chose you Warde because I know your objectivity and your positive role, which
served the Christians and the Lebanese and media objectivity.
After defending his record in Lebanon (“we gave and took from all the honorables in Lebanon,” he said), he questioned NTV’s motives:
What are the motives of this station? Are they motives at all or mere recollection of past loathing (towards Hariri)? Did someone set up a trap for the channel by feeding it this poison?We all know that Lebanon was and still is rife with corruption. But does this explain murder?
Motive for Suicide
The “leak” that informed this report, in my opinion, was designed as a motive for suicide. Pro-Syrian Ad-Diyar is already reporting that Kanaan’s family is looking for a lawyer to file a lawsuit against Mehlis, for allegedly leaking “falsified information to the press that pushed Kanaan into committing suicide in defense of his pride and dignity as an officer and an official.”
I find it hard to believe that Kanaan would kill himself over something he believed was false. Even if it were true, why would an official admit something like that to a foreign investigator? And if he did it to defend Syria, as the report suggested, would he then kill himself?
The timing of the suicide, conveniently right after the NTV report and the denial, implies that death was not his choice. Some are suggesting that he might have killed himself because he discovered he was going to be sacrificed as part of a deal with the Americans. So did he interpret that NTV story as a sign his death was being requested?
In any case, his death cost Syria nothing, deal or not. Kanaan was pronounced dead a long time ago. It started in 2002, peaked with Hariri’s assassination and reached the climax when NTV broadcast those claims. Many had expected Rustom Ghazaleh to be the one to go. There were even reports that he was depressed and contemplating suicide. But somehow we forgot the Syrian political context that began with the gradual marginalization and sidelining of the old guard (remember Khaddam’s exit during the last Baath congress), and Rustom’s status and relationship not necessarily to Bashar, but to whoever is calling the shots.
Some have suggested Kanaan was being touted as an alternative to Bashar, so they got rid of him. Some are also saying that he was Mehlis’s secret witness. This is all speculation, and only time will tell.
What we can ascertain at this point is that Kanaan’s death was the cheapest of alternatives to Syria given the trouble they’re in. Talk about deals all you want, but Kanaan’s death, if proven to be an assisted suicide, indicates that Syria is still playing it short-sighted, slow and one small concession at a time. Good "game" playing? We will know soon.
Update. It's confirmed, the Syrian foreign minister is holding the media and the "Mehlis leaks" responsible for Kanaan's suicide. This confirms my above analysis that the NTV report was supposed to provide the final suicide motive.
Update 2. Al-Seyassah today is saying that the Syrian ruling four, Bashar, Maher, Asaf Shawkat and Assad's mother, Anissa, had decided in a meeting held 3 days ago to use Kanaan, Ghazaleh, Mohammad Khallouf and Jamaa Jamaa as scapegoats. Kanaan was eliminated, according to the Kuwaiti paper, because he knew too much about the Syrian leadership's involvement and because he was preparing a military coup. I need more to be convinced of this. Was he that strong and capable? Issam in a comment on this post mentions Kanaan's close relationship with Ali Duba, the director military intelligence until 2000.
Update 3. Joshua Landis has a good post on why "Ghazi Kanaan's death was not related to the Mehlis report or Lebanon-Syria relations." He quotes the New York Times as saying that the Mehlis people didn't even consider him a suspect in the Hariri murder investigation. I agree, but only in the sense that Kanaan's death cannot be seen through the Lebanese and Mehlis investigation prism. We have to look at the big picture, what Syria's predicament is (think Iraq, Arab-Israeli struggle and Lebanon) and what alternatives it has right now. Kanaan was weakening their position and providing them with an alternative they did not want to consider. Analyze this however you want.
Update 4. Robert Fisk reminds us of how brutal Kanaan was.
Update 5. Reuters has this analysis.
He had power and he used it. When Hizbollah fighters attacked a company of Syrian troops in Beirut, he sent his men to storm one of their social halls and shot every one inside, including at least two Lebanese women. Their corpses were heaped on a Syrian army truck and driven slowly through the streets of the Beirut suburb of Basta for the population to see. You didn’t mess with Ghazi Kenaan.
And he didn’t seem to be the sort of man to commit suicide, which is what the Syrians claimed he had done yesterday.
Ghazi Kanaan commits suicide/Assad talks to CNN
"General Ghazi Kanaan, minister of the interior, committed suicide this morning in his office in Damascus", SANA said, adding that the authorities are investigating the incident.
UPDATE 1: Earlier this morning, Kanaan gave a phone interview to Voice of Lebanon (VDL), in which he strongly denied claims made by New TV that he had presented Mehlis with copies of checks signed by Rafik Hariri and made out to himself and several other top officials, allegedly as proof of rampant corruption in Lebanon that was spearheaded by Hariri himself.
"And this might be my last statement," he told VDL.
UPDATE 2: Reuters has more on this.
UPDATE 3: Elaph is raising the possibility he might have been a scapegoat. They published a statement by a Syrian opposition group that claims Kanaan was forced to read a written statement to VDL at gunpoint.
UPDATE 4: Joshua Landis in Syria on the theory that Kanaan might have been setting himself up as Bashar's alternative. Here's also Abu Aardvark's take.
The timing of the suicide, right after the emergence of corruption (alleged) reports linking him to Rafik Hariri is interesting. Destroy the guy's reputation then shut him up, possibly suggesting Hariri's death was somehow linked to a financial dispute between corrupt individuals, which would absolve the pure and innocent Syrian regime of any responsibility (scapegoat theory). Kanaan was, after all, "old Guard" and "close" to Hariri, disliked by Lahoud, who, the story goes, had lobbied for his removal and eventual replacement with Rustom Ghazaleh.
This the time of speculation. Watch this space for more, and send me your analysis if you have any.
UPDATE 5: Meanwhile, Assad tells CNN's Christiane Amanpour that Syria "has no history of assassinations" and it was "impossible for him to have ordered it" because he is a "quiet person." He added that if the "UN investigation concludes Syrians were involved, those people would be regarded as traitors who would be charged with treason and face either an international court or the Syrian judicial process." Watch the video here (scroll down).
UPDATE 6. Tony from Across the Bay has more on the theory that Kenaan might have been eliminated because the "new guard" suspected that he would cut a deal with the Americans or would be "used to remove Bashar from power."
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Between Franjieh and Occultation
"We want facts and not only speculation as the Fitzgerald report provided," he said, referring to the initial UN investigation into the Hariri assassination led by Irish Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald earlier this year. "Saying that Syria killed Hariri because it had differences with him is not enough; we want evidence," he added. Franjieh further demanded evidence to support accusations made by defected Syrian soldier Mohammad Siddiq, who told the UN probe that top Syrian and Lebanese security chiefs were behind the assassination.
I will ignore his ignorance of the difference between Fitzgerald's FACT FINDING mission and Mehlis' international mandate to ASSIST THE LEBANESE INVESTIGATION. Instead, I will post the reaction of someone very dear to me, my wife, who is not Lebanese.
He's acting like Lebanese politicians (like himself) are honest and forthcoming while the UN team is out to finger Syria because they don't like Syria. Mehlis has been whoring around Beirut, eating, and drinking, while the Lebanese politicians have been earnestly investigating who committed this horrible crime, sleepless nights researching, interviewing, etc.
I just think it's funny that Lebanese politicians have the audacity to doubt someone's work ethic (Mehlis and the UN team) and investigative skills when they have been sitting around, quoting from their ass every other day for the newspapers--I mean, 20 people were blown up, and they have NOT once, said they would get justice for the victims. Not even Jumblatt mentioned he wanted justice for the OTHER victims.
Can you imagine if there was a Lebanese politician who was spending sleepless nights trying to find out who the murderers are, putting his/her life in danger, concerning themselves with the safety of the Lebanese people?
(Kais interjects: Actually, Lebanese politicians are seen resorting to an old Shia strategy: occultation. Thank God for Saad's temporal representative-and-more, Fouad Siniora.)
I could not have said it better.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Looking for a man with an ordinary nose and mouth
Lebanon's General Security has released a sketch of a suspect in May Chidiac's assassination attempt.
The suspect is described as a "unknown person in his 30s, about 170 cm in height, moderate or average build, olive skin, black hair, short hair combed back, black or honey-colored eyes, ordinary nose and mouth, clean-shaven..."
Yeah, good luck finding him. There are probably thousands of Lebanese males who look like that. Especially those with "ordinary" noses and mouths.
Anyway, if you know this guy, and I'm sure most of you know at least ten who look like him, call the information department at 01/425277 or the "special criminal investigation division" at 01/293682 or the hotlines 1788/1722. Identities of callers are kept confidential.
Thursday, October 06, 2005
God said and Bush did...(updated)
US President George W. Bush allegedly said God told him to invade Iraq and Afghanistan, a new BBC documentary will reveal, according to details.
Bush made the claim when he met Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and then foreign minister Nabil Shaath in June 2003, the ministers told the documentary series to be broadcast in Britain later this month.
The US leader also told them he had been ordered by God to create a Palestinian state, the ministers said.
Shaath, now the Palestinian information minister, said: "President Bush said to all of us: 'I'm driven with a mission from God.'God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan'.'
"And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq...' And I did.
"'And now, again, I feel God's words coming to me, 'Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get peace in the Middle East.' And by God I'm gonna do it'," said Shaath.
Abbas, who was also at the meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm al-Sheikh, recalled how the president told him: "I have a moral and religious obligation.
"So I will get you a Palestinian state."
A BBC spokesman said the content of the programme had been put to the White House but it had refused to comment on a private conversation.
The three-part series, "Elusive Peace: Israel and the Arabs", charts the attempts to bring peace to the Middle East, from former US president Bill Clinton's peace talks in 1999-2000 to Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza strip... (AFP)
Oh God, but why?
The scary thing is Arab and Muslim leaders use this language all the time so to some it might not be a big deal that Bush is talking that way too. I have to give it to the guy for being himself when so many are not. It does sound scary coming from an American president though, considering he's our self-appointed supreme leader and America is all about separation of church and state. But who cares about laws and principles. Just be yourself, Mr President. And fire those scriptwriters, they make you lie about things God wouldn't approve of.
Of course al-Qaeda claims to be acting on behalf of God too. And the number of people I have met in this lifetime who hide behind divine inspiration and will is frightening (it's always God's will, never one's own!).
Anything to avoid personal responsibility. Just stick it to God.
God is certainly great for putting up with all these idiots.
UPDATE: A nice conclusion to the discussion on Bush policies is this analysis from the Washington Post.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Franjieh sets new record, Jumblatt loves the Ottomans
Following a meeting with wannabe president Michel Aoun, he "believed the (UN) probe has failed to uncover any significant information" but "stressed he did not have any knowledge of the probe's findings."
He also "revealed he was planning on transforming the Marada (a former militia founded by his grandfather President Suleiman Franjieh) into a registered political party that will be open to all the Lebanese", But "will have a Christian face."
He then said "we are secular and open to all the Lebanese," but "since confessionalism dominates the country we cannot deny our Christian identity."
Oh poor you. Keep using your "Christian identity" to bully people into supporting you.
He went on to pontificate about how it is "the full responsibility" of the government to maintain national security but did not take responsibility for the lack of security when he was interior minister. He also did not seem to think that disarming Hizbullah has anything to do with security.
Regarding Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon, the former minister felt Hizbullah's arms should be held as a bargaining chip until a comprehensive agreement is reached with Israel.
In other words, keeping militias armed and active will not undermine national security which is the government's "full responsibility."
Fantastic logic. Oh, and the purpose of that meeting was to support Aoun's candidacy for president because "General Aoun best represents the Christian community".
Meanwhile, and to keep it balanced for those of you who eat balance for breakfast (but never lunch or dinner), Jumblatt praised "Turkish Islam" and said Turkey's democratic Islamic party is proof that "Islam in the Ottoman empire was tolerant and respected pluralism and continues to do so", while the Arab world wallows in "disintegration, sectarianism, tribalism and other manifestations of backwardness".
He stopped short of calling for enlightened Turkish annexation and revival of the Ottoman empire. I believe that's a case of historical idiocy.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Saudi Arabia blocks access to blogger.com
Saudi agency blocks access to blogger.com
Reporters Without Borders today called on the Internet Services Unit (ISU), the agency that manages Web filtering in Saudi Arabia, to explain why the weblog creation and hosting service blogger.com has been made inaccessible since 3 October, preventing Saudi bloggers from updating their blogs.
“Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that censors the Internet the most, but blog services had not until now been affected by the ISU’s filters,” the press freedom organisation said. “The complete blocking of blogger.com, which is one of the biggest blog tools on the market, is extremely worrying. Only China had so far used such an extreme measure to censor the Internet.”
Reached by Reporters Without Borders, the ISU recognised that it had blocked access to blogger.com but did not give any reason. Blogger.com is the point of entry to the management interface for all the weblogs hosted on this tool. In other words, this is the webpage bloggers need to access to update their blogs. According to our tests, names under the blogger.com domain (for example, www.myblog.blogger.com) are not however being filtered. This means that Saudi Internet users can still access the blogs hosted on this service.
The Saudi authorities acknowledge blacklisting more than 400,000 websites. A very wide range of sites are affected, including political organisations, non-recognised Islamist movements and publications containing any kind of reference to sexuality.
The ISU (www.isu.net.sa) is the agency in charge of the Saudi Web censorship system. It manages the gateway used by all local ISPs and is thus able to control all Internet data exchanges. However, it just carries out instructions issued by the Saudi security services and does not itself decided what must be censored. The ISU offers an online form and e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org) that allows Internet uses to report what sites they would like to see blocked. Hundreds of such requests are received each day and are dealt with by a team assigned full-time to the job. The ISU’s filtering system uses technology acquired from the US company Secure Computing.
Blogger.com is a service provided by the US company Google.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has notified the U.S. Congress of possible military sales to Saudi Arabia valued at more than $2 billion.
Great "democracy building".
Sunday, October 02, 2005
The Mehlis investigation is more important than many realize (UPDATED)
Beginning with the investigation itself, in their rush to see Syria directly fingered, many analysts have forgotten about Lahoud, who, I believe, stands to be held directly responsible for the actions of his subordinates (here one could argue Lahoud was just a façade… history will tell). Establishing Lahoud’s responsibility is more important for Lebanon than implicating the Syrian regime. In any case, once Lahoud and the generals are down, I doubt Mehlis will need much more in terms of hard evidence to point the finger at the Syrian masters. Media reports have suggested the UN team’s interviews in Syria (can’t really call them interrogations considering how the Syrians chose to have them conducted) focused on the nature of the relationship between the Syrians and their Lebanese counterparts who supposedly executed the assassination. This means Mehlis knew he wasn’t going to get confessions from them, and chose instead to follow the route of command structure. All Mehlis needs is to document the history and nature of that relationship to establish a degree of responsibility.
So contrary to what people seem to be expecting, Mehlis does not need a piece of paper with Bashar’s stamp to finger the Syrian regime. I think the motivation and criminal intent are there and can be established both through direct evidence and by establishing a pattern, if we are to believe what has leaked so far. People forget the significance of the arrest of the four generals. That they are in custody now means Mehlis felt he had plenty of evidence to incriminate them. Indicting the generals and revealing the details and the planning of the murder are enough to build a solid case against a lot of people, including Syrian officials. The fact that the UN team is close to a respectable minute by minute reconstruction of the assassination is a huge feat and can provide tons of evidence. Very few journalists reporting on the investigation understand how investigations, real investigations, work. They, and the master planners, underestimate the incriminating power of forensic evidence.
Rizk’s publicized fears that the evidence might not be enough for a Lebanese legal system are unfounded and stupid. The Lebanese investigators should be collecting evidence too, and he should be making sure they are carrying out their jobs independently and receiving the assistance they need. It is not his job to be doubting Mehlis at this point, not when the investigation is still ongoing and the report is not out. That shows you where his loyalties are and whom he’s trying to protect. So the Lebanese investigators are allegedly incompetent. What is stopping Lebanon from hiring independent (international or not) investigators to help?
Rizk nags like a child who lost a toy, they all do, including that interior minister who speaks of the supernatural. Yet they don’t try to find real solutions that don’t look like temporary fixes- like begging other nations to come and do the work for them! What stopped/stops the Lebanese government from setting up an independent commission to investigate this and other attacks and give it the kind of access and authority the UN commission was given? Are we to believe that all Lebanese are incompetent and that we need the UN Security Council every time there’s an explosion? Isn’t the real issue the unwillingness of Lahoud and his cronies to empower Lebanese people with the skills and means to act independently in investigations and other matters? I am glad that Siniora has asked for foreign assistance in training and equipment. But what we also need is creating a culture of independence and accountability. Only that will restore the lamented competence. If we don’t do that, we risk forever depending on others to solve our cases, and letting criminals get away with murder.
That is why the Mehlis report is so important. It will set a fantastic precedent in Lebanon and the region. It is hoped that it will establish a sense of accountability in Lebanese and regional politics. The government’s task now is not to count evidence or lament the incompetence of its citizens. Lebanese officials have to make sure the report becomes a lesson in methodology, and not a mere collection of evidence that may or may not lead to a desired result.
UPDATE: I am flabbergasted. An-Nahar and Naharnet misunderstood an excellent Economist article on Syria's predicament ("Lonely leader amid swirling rumors", 10/1/05) and is now claiming the prestigious British publication said that "Assad May 'Sacrifice' Brother Maher, Brother-in-Law Assef in Hariri's Murder." The Economist said no such thing. Here is the quote:
Now, after much delay, Syria has submitted to his (Mehlis) demand to question their Syrian counterparts. That means not just those responsible for intelligence in Lebanon, but also their bosses in Damascus, including, some say, Mr Assad's brother, Maher, who commands the Republican Guard and their brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, Syria's overall intelligence chief.
The Economist article then presented 3 scenarios, the first of which is a possible deal with the the US and the UN whereby Ghazaleh is "sacrificed for trial." There was no mention of Maher or Shawkat in this scenario. The third scenario is as follows:
The last scenario, perhaps more likely, is the "cornered scorpion". Surrounded by fire, it stings itself. In other words, the regime would fall to an internal coup. Who might the beneficiaries be? Infighting among the Assad family and in-laws has been rumoured. The president might have another go at chucking out the powerful remainder of his father's old guard. Or the regime might turn against the Assad family... If Mr Mehlis's report does, in effect, mean that mr Assad is told to sack some of his closest and most powerful advisers, or even put them on trial, this last scenario would become more plausible. For the time being, the only certainty is more uncertainty.
You tell me where the Economist said, to quote the Arabic An-Nahar headline, "3 possible scenarios before Assad, most likely Assad will sacrifice closest advisors." The last scenario is the collapse of the regime, which includes Assad and his advisers! Naharnet took the distortion further and added names to their own headline! In fact, the Naharnet writers didn't even have the original article, because their quotes are re-translations into English of Arabic translations!
How can we trust our press? They don't even understand English.