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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Mehlis commission: the investigation was not hurt

Following the false impressions that the Husam news conference and his televised testimony left regarding the progress and credibility of the Hariri investigation, the UN inquiry held a briefing Wednesday for a select group of journalists that seems to confirm what I stated in a previous post about the investigation not being dependent on the testimonies of one or two witnesses.

The briefing Wednesday left the journalists with the clear impression that the Houssam news conference, and the recent press stories that seem to discredit another important witness, the Syrian national Mohammad Zuheir al-Siddiq, have not hurt the investigation. This is mainly because the work to date has relied on a wide range of leads and information gleaned from material evidence and human testimony, and does not rest on the testimony of one or two main witnesses.

The experienced investigators on the case from a dozen countries, who have dealt with such issues in previous probes, tend to place more credence in signed statements which carry legal ramifications for perjury than in televised news conferences. They do not necessarily plan to re-evaluate Houssam's testimony as of now in view of his televised news conference, but they routinely question witnesses again to seek clarifications on their statements in the light of new information that regularly flows from the investigation.

They indicate that while they always have doubts about any statements by witnesses, they have no basis to believe that what Houssam said in Syria is true, and rather have the impression that his public statement was fabricated, for reasons they would not speculate on. The Mehlis team has no indication, and does not believe that Houssam was planted or acted as a double agent. They also seem perplexed that the Syrian commission has not questioned him yet.

The ultimate veracity of Siddiq's and Houssam's various sworn and public statements will be determined by a judge or judges in a court of law when the investigation is completed and the trials of the accused are held. The UN investigators also indicate they have no information that Siddiq has withdrawn any of his sworn statements or information.
The briefing also validates another one of my conclusions, which is that "in view of the stark
contradictions between houssam's news conference and his sworn and signed statement under oath to the UN investigators, is that the testimony he gave to the UN team is the more reliable and accurate of the two."

On what this says about the method by which Syria says it is cooperating:
The impression one gets from discussions here and with UN officials in New York is that the Syrian government is pursuing a two-track strategy of making statements and accusations in public that aim to discredit the Mehlis effort, while being somewhat more cooperative in private interactions with the probe. This was also the tone of Syrian President Bashar Assad's speech at Damascus University last month, when he strongly attacked the UN investigation, the U.S., Lebanon and others, but also said that Syria would cooperate with the investigation as required by the UN Security Council.
Read it in full here.

Meanwhile, here's Michael Young on why Mehlis should be given six more months:

Six more months would make Russia and China more amenable to sanctions in the event Syria repeatedly fails to meet or contests Mehlis' conditions. This might also isolate Assad further in the Arab world, where it is already difficult enough to cover for the Syrian president's transparent bad faith in cooperating with the UN. At the end of the day, grotesque episodes like the Houssam news conference show the Syrians have much to hide. It may be comical, but the last laugh will probably be on them.

Finally, with everybody spelling Husam "Houssam", I suppose it's my turn to bow to the majority and use that spelling from now on.

No, don't spell it Houssam. The "h" sound becomes different in my mind :)
"Il faut dire que l’intime conviction du juge allemand reste que Houssam a effectivement dit la vérité à la commission – dans une déposition dûment signée par lui – et non devant le public syrien. Toujours selon M. Mehlis, le témoin, dont la proche famille est toujours en Syrie, devait craindre les représailles des services secrets syriens connus pour leurs moyens de dissuasion musclés. "
I have been thinking about Lebanese-Syrian relations with all this Mehlis stuff swirling around.

It seems 'Syrian' is a dirty word in this blogroom. Is this a direct result of the Syrian troops camped out in Lebanon all those years? The checkpoints, corruption, general lack of respect? Or was this a feeling before Syrian troops came into Lebanon?

And obviously there is no love lost on Assad. But do Lebanese at least admit that the Syrian people--forget the regime and their hidden agenda--but the Syrian people sacrificed for Lebanon in lost soldiers. The average Syrian feels we did a good thing in Lebanon by stopping a civil war and confronting Israel. No Syrians agree with what the soldiers did later and staying much too long. Again forgive my lack of knowledge of Lebanon-Syrian relations--I am looking to stimulate discussion more than anything to learn.

I am also getting the distinct worry that maybe my Lebanese friends aren't looking for the best interests of Syrians--and just want to take out Assad no matter what--screw the consequences. How would you feel if Assad fell and chaos broke out in Syria? I am sure you know of civil war better than most people--based on your experience with secretarian violence--do u think something like that could break out in Syria?

I hope I don't get a barrage of insults or am accused of being an idiot. I see this as an opportunity to learn something.


This isn't about Syria, it's about Lebanon. It isn't about Lebanese hating Syrians or Lebanese ingratitude, it's about the Syrian regime's arrogance and thinking they could get away with murder.

You can't fall into the regime's trap. They are making this look like we're out to destabilize Syria, when in fact they're the one who brought this onto themselves by appointing a president for us and killing our prime minister. After years of living under the rule of Syrian intelligence, the Lebanese decided they had had it.

As for Syrian sacrifices in Lebanon, well, it is just sad that Syrians had to die to further their regime's goals. It's hard to believe in noble intentions when what you see on the ground are soldiers terrorizing you, stealing you and kidnapping you if they suspected you weren't their faithful dog. That's what the Lebanese were to the syrian intelligence officers who ruled the country-- dogs. And this didn't just start recently, it was much worse during the war in the 80s and 90s, when they could get away with such behavior without media scrutiny. I am not going to blame the war entirely on the Syrian presence, but their army and the regime were major players. It's hard to understand all this as a Syrian who didn't experience it. You fear for your country so your instincts tell you that you should defend it. But Lebanon has suffered for a long time and hundreds of thousands were killed, maimed and kidnapped. All the Lebanese wanted was a sense of normalcy and peace. And a free choice. That's all they asked for. None of the opposition wanted regime change in Syria. Actually many have said they want a stable Syria that respects Lebanon and treats it like an independent and sovereign state. They wanted balanced relations where Syrians don't have more freedom in Lebanon than Lebanese do. Syrians could come in and out of the country and work tax free. There was never an attempt to open a Syrian embassy. What does that tell you? The Lebanese have many problems, sure. But one of them should not be pleasing the Syrian intelligence officer. And you cannot argue that Syria sacrificed for peace in Lebanon. That's like saying Israel is sacrificing for the safety of Palestinians or the US solely for the safety of Iraqis. I am not comparing Syria to Israel, so don't get defensive on that one, but you must understand that every country acts to protect its own interests and that's what the Syrian regime did in Lebanon. It wasn't charity.

It is up to you as a Syrian to decide whether you want to live under Assad. It is also up to you to demand he stops using Lebanon to justify his internal and external failings.
Lazarus: I recant. I will stick to Husam. :)

When syrians will start respecting Lebanon as an independent, sovereign country; then maybe this tension between the two people will subside. I have lived in Syria long enough to know that the majority of its people believe Lebanon was a syrian province and should be re-united with the motherland. Until they change their way of thinking you cannot expect the lebanese to be more compassionate with the syrians; that's like asking the kuwaitis to be thankeful to the iraqis who were supportive of their failed anschluss.
Thanks for the comments!
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