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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lebanon and Iraq on the road to justice

As-Safir has this:

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: (Unintelligible)

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.

Comments:
Saddam's reply/rhetoric was arrogant, to say the least - however, one thing that he said does have a touch of truth - the actual legitimacy of the court. I am not discussing whether he should be convicted or not - but rather the important precedent this Iraqi transitional gov't, through this tribunal, will be setting. And that's without going into the double standards - although I guess convicting one is much better than none ...

What Assafir might have meant is that the assassination (or what the report will contain) wasn't an "official" project. We'll find out (or not) soon enough.
 
As-Safir, which I used to respect and read it daily while I was in Lebanon, thinks as it is still the era of the 60s when officials will lie and we can't question these lies. I still remember during the 1967 war when the famous Ahmad Saed used to say: our forces is close to Tel Aviv, our forces are washing their feet in Tabria lake. Lies can't go unquestioned anymore and people know that. Uunfortunately As-Safir did not get it yet! I am positive that if Melhis' report will point at the Syrian officials, As-Safir will spin it and will give all kind of excuses! Thanks God for the internet, now we can read the news from different resources and can easily distinguish between propaganda and real news!
 
Detlev Mehlis, the German investigator leading the U.N. inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, is convinced the bombing was plotted by a group of high-ranking Lebanese and Syrian intelligence personnel; his report, which he will hand over to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Friday, is set to reopen old wounds in Syria-Lebanon relations.
According to an article by the German newsmagazine Stern, which will hit the newsstands Thursday, Mehlis, 56, has launched investigations against key figures of the intelligence circles in Beirut and Damascus. United Press International has received the full text of the article ahead of publishing.
According to the piece, written by a journalist close to Mehlis and the investigation, the German and his U.N.-mandated, 100-strong staff heard from more than 400 witnesses about the Feb. 14 assassination of Hariri, the popular former Lebanese politician, who was killed along with 20 of his followers when a bomb exploded under his convoy in downtown Beirut.
While most of the witnesses are not suspected of being involved in the killing, some high-ranking Syrian officials are: Among them, according to Stern, Roustom Ghazalé, the former head of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon, and Asef Shawkat, the current security chief in Damascus. Mehlis questioned six more high-ranking Syrian intelligence officials, Stern said. Shawkat's involvement could prove especially damaging to Damascus, as he is the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In an interview with CNN, Assad denied any involvement in the killing and vowed to punish any Syrian proved to be involved in the affair.
The Syrian government has borne the brunt of Lebanese and international outrage at the killing, due to its extensive military and intelligence influence in Lebanon, as well as the public rift between Hariri and Damascus just before the prime minister's resignation. Mehlis' mission coincided with growing U.S. pressure on Damascus to control its 310-mile border with Iraq, stop supporting radical Palestinian groups, and end its interference in Lebanon where some say Syrian intelligence is still operating despite the withdrawal of all troops earlier this year.
The report will be made public just days after the death of Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kenaan rattled Damascus. Kenaan, 63, was reported to have committed suicide in his office earlier this month. He served between 1982 and 2001 as the head of Syria's military intelligence service in Lebanon where Damascus maintained several thousand troops and an important contingent of intelligence personnel from 1975 until last April 26, when under international pressure Syria was forced to withdraw. Mehlis questioned Kenaan, but not as a suspect, Stern reported.
He did, however, grill Ghazale for five hours, after which the Syrian reportedly acted rather self-assured: "I love all Lebanese, and Hariri I have loved especially dearly," he said according to Stern.
But Mehlis confronted him with his own motif: Investigators had found $20 million on one of Ghazalé's Beirut bank accounts -- all that with his rather modest monthly salary of roughly $3,000. Mehlis asked the Syrian how he got so much money, to which Ghazale reportedly did not directly answer.
"What does the $20 million have to do with the murder?" he finally asked.
In Lebanon, Mehlis' investigation has led to deep insecurities. The government has beefed up security ahead of the report's publication to ease fears Beirut would slide into chaos. It had initially proclaimed the killing was done by an individual suicide bomber, but Mehlis and his team quickly found otherwise: At least eight people have been directly linked to the assassination, Mehlis found, with a total of 20 people overall involved in the case. Hariri's followers opt that the men responsible are tried before an international tribunal.
Four high-ranking members of the Lebanese intelligence have been arrested. In June, Mehlis' team had searched office and private apartment of Mustafa Hamdan, the pro-Syrian head of the presidential guard. Hamdan is accused of messing with evidence at the scene of the crime, as he ordered to fill up the crater left by the bomb, Stern said.
Prosecutors arrested three more Lebanese officials, including Jamil Sayyed, the country's former security chief. Sayyed has sworn innocence, and said to prove so he would "go to the end of the world."
Syria is under great international pressure from the United States and France over the killing. Washington is expected to increase pressure on the Assad regime if the assassination proves to lead to Damascus. Observers say Syrian involvement in the killing would be near political suicide: It would likely destroy Syria's international reputation and hand its opponents a reason to deliver the blow that could finally destabilize the Damascus regime, and even possibly bring it down. Washington considers Syria a state sponsor of terrorism, though it maintains diplomatic relations with it.
None of the big political killings in Lebanon were solved in recent years -- but Mehlis has a reputation of getting to the truth.
The 56-year-old German from Berlin has solved the "La Belle" case, the terrorist bombing of the Berlin discotheque in 1986, which killed two U.S. soldiers and a Turkish woman. Mehlis accused Libya of direct involvement in the bombing.
The importance of his new report and his own role might be compared to that of Hans Blix, the U.N. investigator who was deployed to Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction, which he did not.
The U.S. magazine Newsweek earlier this month reported that the U.S. government had discussed a possible military intervention in Syria. According to the article, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convinced her colleagues to await Mehlis' report for a decision. The goal seems to be to "get [the regime] by the throat, and then really squeeze," Joshua Landis, a Fulbright scholar in Damascus who runs an influential blog called Syriacomment.com, told Newsweek.
So does Mehlis' report decide over war and peace? Or does it simply result in sanctions that might bring about the end of the Assad regime?
"I never wanted to be compared with Hans Blix," Mehlis told Stern. "But now I know how he must have felt."
 
Saddam's trial is a side show. The killings of innocent Iraqis continues unabated. Saddam is a criminal but we should not forget that it was the Americans who installed the Baath and supported this murderer when he carried out his crimes.

The Americans ,in pursuit of their interests, have a habit of bringing to power the most undemocratic people and then their cavalry comes in to save the people from the tyrant when he has worn out his use or his regime is tottering.

Saddam, Assad, Noreiga they are all cut from the same cloth. Their demise does not necessarily mean freedom for their people.

When American soldiers and officials in Iraq are tried for their crimes there,then I will be able to answer my friend who said yesterday "what is the difference objectively between the killer Saddam and Bush".

Issam
 
Issam, side show or not, there is something very satisfying about seeing Saddam put on trial. I am aware that it was not done under sovereign Iraqi rule. I also think it's a shame that the US war mongers continue to get away with murder disguised as something noble. But in view of the current situation, when we are on a speeding train with only two exits, one leads to an American style world and the other to something a lot worse, I am , perhaps shamefully, perhaps not, taking the least objectionable exit. I am sick of being on a train that goes in historical circles. Same rhetoric, same arguments, same death toll. Look at how the UN came to terms with the US occupation of Iraq. I am someone who marched against that war, and I continue to oppose it. But given what we have now, for mental health reasons, I cannot let my ideals banish me to a utopia of justice that, though I will continue to strive for, will probably never exist on my terms.

What I'm trying to say is, this trial, with all its faults, has sent a strong message to Arab leaders. I wish it was not done under US occupation, but I doubt it would have happened without. My only hope is that, when Iraq and Lebanon are strong and independent enough, a country like the US would no longer be able to play the domineering role they play today. Small steps. And considering the other options (Baath, Syria, Mubarak, Saudi, Bin landen, Arab league-- all tried and failed), it wouldn't hurt to, for pragmatic reasons, to go with the flow and enter the US refereed game.

The US cannot afford to snub international law for eternity. Its Iraq occupation will eventually end, and history is a better judge than the courts. In the meantime, let's take what we can get and move forward with it.
 
"Saddam is a criminal but we should not forget that it was the Americans who installed the Baath "

hahaha! Typical Arab living in denial. It's pathetic.
 
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
 
The Arab and Muslim world will not solve any of its problems until it stop blaming the whole world for their failure. This denial rhetoric is childish and it must stop.
 
VP said:
This denial rhetoric is childish and it must stop.

Yeah, sure. But Saddam and Asad were supported by the US administration for a long, long time. Denying this is dangerous too. It does not mean that we should blame everything on the US (I do not believe in apportioning blame at all, actually), but to be absolutely pragmatic about it, neither does it mean that what is to come after Asad and Saddam is necessarily better.

Kais,
I know it seems that there are only 2 exists on the train, but I do not think it is true. It is just an excuse to sit back and do nothing (I have heard that a lot, so I do not mean you personally).
And on a side note: American foreign policy is just as circular as Arab political speak. Democracy, for example, has been recirculated from its use in Vietnam. You are just harder on the ones you know better.
 
Suha-

Regarding the US support for Saddam, I agree with what you said you for the most part. Actually, yesterday on the Today show, Matt Lauer asked someone why there weren't any US figure testifying at Saddam's trial, considering that he was a US ally at the time. (or something to that effect). I think his guest dodged the question, but it's a legitimate question. One that, I am afraid, is becoming an excuse for general Arab inaction. When I said there were only 2 exits, I meant that we have to make a choice. Staying on the train of conspiracies and blaming others did us no good over the years. We have to climb out of our rut somehow, and the only way to go right now is to play according to the latest rules and try to effectuate a change from within the game.
 
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