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Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Mehlis investigation is more important than many realize (UPDATED)

There have been many conflicting reports about the progress of the Mehlis investigation (I won't be providing links in this post). In general, I think many in the press have failed to properly analyze the leaks and understand the significance of the work being carried out. It’s understandable that people want to fast forward to the result and skip the boring details. But it’s unfathomable that our politicians also want to engage in evidence counting and not use the commission’s methodology as a model for their subordinates to learn from and emulate.

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.

Not to mention the role of the disenfranchised Charles Ayyoub, who's acting like a Lahhoud/Syrian mouthpiece and spreading malicious misinformation vis-a-vis the Mehlis investigation.
Excellent post. I linked to it in an update to one of my posts.
Kais ,you are always able to cut through the chafe to get at essence of an argument.

Balanced and articulate.

IMO Charles Rizk is a professional boot-licker and a first-class opportunist.

Kais is right on the state's "unwillingness" to investigate and prosecute. It is true of course in this case, and Kais is right we see little being done to remedy the competence situation etc...

It struck me the other day though, that for some reason the "unwillingness" to pursue certain matter goes way back to before the civil war, and does not stop with Syrian agents.

Arab intelligence (Syrian. Jordanian, Libyan, Pali, Egyptian etc...) have been active forever in Beirut, not just relaying information. Yet with very minor exceptions no none was ever caught or prosecuted for killings, bombs etc...

On the other hand, Israeli agents were occasionally caught. The biggest coup of course was in the heyday of Maktab el Tani when a KGB attempt to steal a Lebanese Mirage jet was thwarted, thanks to intelligence and officer-pilot Mahmoud Matar.

Do you believe that an intelligence service capable at times of the above, could never catch a lowly arab operative. I don't. Somehow our business-diplomatic priorities got in the way at TREMENDOUS cost to the country, and still.
I'm curious as to why Hizbullah was left out of this campaign of misinformation and/or smearing? Nicholas Nasif briefly noted their role in a recent column.
Great! I've linked to this in my last post.

Btw, Ive stopped reading naharnet for some time - it's headlines have gotten too much for men.

great post. This idea of the Mehlis investigation setting a precedent in Lebanon is one that I've been peddling for quite some time now. I'm glad to see that you agree - and like you, I hope it is true. You take it a step further though, and claim that it might have repercussions for the entire region. I've heard people say that the days of the Arab Security Agencies is comming to an end; and that events in Lebanon have signalled that decline. We'll have to wait and see on that front.

As for Naharnet, I'm glad you highlighted that "mis-interpretation." I knew they exaggerated, but this type of journalism borders on criminal. Considering that the Economist is involved I'd be a little bit more careful if I were on their editorial board (if they have one).
Just saw this. http://www.tayyar.org/tayyar/articles.php?article_id=6553&type=opinions

Abou-Jamra's solution to the security mess is a new Ministry (of National Security) on the gounds that the current problem is "too many cooks spoil the both".

[BTW His solution also ties that Ministry to the deputy PM which means it has to be held by an orthodox under current law. We need another job tied to a community like we need a hole in the head]

I am no expert, but IMO this does not address the political problem: unwillingness to apply the law in those cases. Furthermore the US Dept of Homeland secutity is a similar agency, which seems to be an expensive, ineffectual, bureaucratic (I repeat myself) nightmare.
Anton: I touched on Hizbullah and Berri's apathy towards the investigation and their campaign to discredit Siniora in previous posts. I believe they are playing a very negative role by being the obstructionists and obscurantists they have always been. In addition to Hizbullah and Berri (and Jumblatt), there's also Aoun, who will be the subject of a future post.

Josey-- you raise a good point about the overlooked role of other Arab intelligence agencies. I don't have an immediate answer, mostly due to lack of sources on that issue. Any recommendations guys?

Lazarus and Raja-- I am used to Naharnet's embarrassing mistakes, but this time it was an-Nahar as well. So much for Lebanese journalism being the best in the region. The coverage of the investigation revealed the lack of good journalistic skills, now that they can longer blame it on censorship.
How can we trust our press? They don't even understand English"

So true
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"But what we also need is creating a culture of independence and accountability."

The problem of accountability is a big one indeed and it's one of the flaws of the consensual system. I think we can correct it through a really independent justice (this is not likely to happen soon). You can't have accountability since you can't stop any sectarian Zaim, because his sect will not allow it, whatever his fault is.

I think that a federation will partially fix this problem (on the subnational level, not on the national), since a local politician can be ousted by another local politician (if they belong to the same sect). On the other hand, a national sectarian zaim cannot be ousted by another national sectarian zaim.

To put it more clearly: Aounists can oust LF, Hezbollah can oust Amal, but Hezbollah cannot replace FM or LF. There can't be any accountability in this system.
hmmm, if only aounists hear you say that, with all their talk about becoming secular ...

Also VP, I am interested in having you post something more detailed on this federalism you keep mentioning. I think you owe it to us.
Yes Vox I am interested in your federalist idea. Did you borrow from Noah Feldman, a law professor from New York University who designed the Iraqi constitution .

Actually, I am not sure that a federation is better than a consociational democracy (commonly known as consensual democracy I got the complicated version from Mr. Anton's blog).

To speak metaphorically, a federation is similar to safe sex. When you doubt about your partner's faithfulness, you use condom right?
(sorry, I couldn't find a better example!)

BTW Geagea (officially at least) just renounced a federation (sure, and Hezbollah renounced an Islamic state), I am the last federalist standing in this country, and I am not even in this country.
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