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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The second Mehlis report: summary and remarks

Detlev Mehlis Sunday submitted his second progress report to the UN security council, after six months of unprecedented investigative work aimed at assisting the Lebanese government in finding and eventually prosecuting the killers responsible for the Hariri assassination.

In 25 pages, the second report outlined the progress since the last report, which had concluded that the crime could not have happened without the knowledge and perhaps complicity of high ranking Syrian officials. Since then, the UNIIIC has been pursuing and building on many lines of enquiry, as well as "cross-checking" and "evaluating" the statements of 500 witnesses and 19 individuals so far identified as suspects.

The report points to new testimonies, one of which "strengthens the evidence confirmed to date against the Lebanese officers in custody, as well as high-ranked Syrian officers."

A number of new witnesses, whose testimonies are under evaluation, have provided the commission with "potentially critical information about the assassination." However, a new witness, who "has been assessed to be credible and the information he has submitted to be reliable", submitted in late October "a comprehensive and coherent statement regarding plans to assassinate Mr. Hariri."

The detailed information points directly at perpetrators, sponsors and organizers of an organized operation aiming at killing Mr. Hariri, including the recruitment of special agents by the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services, handling of improvised explosive devices, a pattern of threats against targeted individuals, and planning of other criminal activities.
Perhaps as significant as the above, the UN report found links between the Hariri assassination and the wave of killings that has been targeted anti-Syrian figures.

It was reported to the Commission that, after the assassination of Mr. Hariri, a high-level Syrian official supplied arms and ammunition to groups and individuals in Lebanon in order to create public disorder in response to any accusations of Syrian involvement in the Hariri assassination.
The significance of the above lies in that the above mentioned groups have been enabled by the Syrian regime with the means to attack any target they deem hostile to Syrian interests in Lebanon, without the necessity of a direct intervention from Syria. This is not different from the way the Syrian regime has enabled terrorists in Iraq to wreak havoc, all in the name of resistance to occupation.

Also worth noting is the revelation that Syrian intelligence has burned all documents related to the Hariri assassination. The Lebanese military intelligence has also reportedly erased archives of transcripts of phone calls intercepted by the agency between October 2004 and March 20005.

The UNIIIC has embarked on an ambitious attempt to understand the modus operandi and motives of all possible perpetrators. Section D in the report speaks of a "steady pattern of converging circumstantial evidence related to the motive for the crime." More importantly, the commission "has not found any significant evidence that alters the conclusion of probably cause which is set out in the previous report concerning the involvement of top-ranked Syrian and Lebanese officials."

There was little probability that a third party could have undertaken the necessary surveillance of Mr. Hariri, and maintained the resources, logistics and capacity to initiate, plan and commit a crime of this magnitude.
The report then goes on to detail how the commission is going about pursuing the different lines of enquiry and what remains to be pursued, which is a lot and requires a long period of time.

On Syrian cooperation and the Syrian Judicial Commission

UNSC resolution 1636 gave the UNIIIC the "same rights and [authority] vis-à-vis the Syrian Arab republic as it has been granted in Lebanon, and the authority to determine the location and modalities for interview of Syrian officials." The report describes the torturous road to Syrian cooperation in lengthy detail.

The report then raises doubts over the exact role of the Syrian Judicial commission. While it welcomes its establishment, the UNIIIC had to often remind the Syrian regime that the Syrian commission cannot invalidate or substitute for UNIIIC's own work. Its function, as viewed by the UN commission, should be to "share their part of the responsibility and… help establish the truth" as it is "only the actual and continuous responsiveness of the Syrian authorities that will remove any doubt about Syrian substantive movement in the case."

Unfortunately, the Syrian commission proved to be part of the attempt to "hinder the investigation internally and procedurally."

The Syrian Commission organized a press conference with a Syrian witness who
gave journalists an opportunity to question him before the Judicial Commission
could do so, and who contradicted prior sworn evidence given to the commission.

The UNIIIC report said it has evidence of threats made against relatives of Husam Husam, who is "being manipulated by the Syrian authorities, raising serious questions about whether the Syria Judicial Commission is committed to conducting an independent, transparent and professional investigation." Last month, Syrian state television aired the retraction of Husam, a Syrian intelligence agent who claimed he was bribed and tortured by Hariri's son Saad to falsify his testimony. (See my previous posts on this here, here, here and here)

Remarks

The report will not satisfy those who want to see fingerprints and photographs of Assad fitting the Mitsubishi van with explosives to entertain the possibility of his regime's guilt.
Many commentators continue to attack the Mehlis reports for alleged lack of evidence, despite the enormity of the task ahead, the amount of work achieved so far, the lack and at best slow-paced Syrian cooperation, and the fact that no criminal investigation anywhere in the world can do what the Syrian regime's supporters and other dishonest commentators expect the UNIIIC to do: reveal all evidence to the public before the trial.

Only one investigation is capable and has been engaging in that sort of legal heresy: The Syrian Judicial commission. The Mehlis critics out there continue to hold his commission to the low standards set by the Syrian regime; standards that can only stem from ignorance and delusion.

Ask yourself this question: Which criminal investigation displays all its witnesses on the pages of papers and on television screens before they are interrogated and before they get their day in court? Which commission has become a platform for smear campaigns against anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians, who are being assassinated one after the other?? The Syrian commission.

Which criminal investigation is conducting a systematic and methodical investigation and still uses terms like "may have been involved" when referring to individuals it calls "suspects" who are "presumed innocent until proven guilty after trial." The UNIIIC.

For some reason, people expect a professional commission of international experts to follow the Syrian model, which uses TV screens and torture chambers to "investigate" murders.

You do not need a law degree to know that no criminal investigation would ever publish all of its findings in a public report before trial time. The conclusion that there is no strong evidence is to be determined by the court, not by the commission and certainly not by the self-appointed pundits. When crimes are committed, a court decides on the guilt or innocence of involved parties. Not pre-trial reports by the prosecution or the defendants!

Some people are so naïve they let themselves be led to the false notion that no court is needed if the prosecution doesn't present "convincing" evidence in the open. This masked rejection of justice has managed to convince people that justice lives in the safe corridors of the media. It's a pathetically ignorant and shameless yet highly contagious line of thinking that is symptomatic of the selective sense of justice prevalent in this region and elsewhere.

Comments:
The main problem that was encountered by the investigators is that Syria is sending false witnesses to infiltrate the commission and to destroy its credibility. Hence, they must be very careflu when assessing the witness' credibility.
 
"The report will not satisfy those who want to see fingerprints and photographs of Assad fitting the Mitsubishi van with explosives to entertain the possibility of his regime's guilt."

"You do not need a law degree to know that no criminal investigation would ever publish all of its findings in a public report before trial time. The conclusion that there is no strong evidence is to be determined by the court, not by the commission and certainly not by the self-appointed pundits."

Exactly! I totally agree with you.
 
Let me stress from the outset that I am not a lawyer but I believe that a criminal case is not supposed to be tried through media outlets. A sound judicial system leaves the matter of bringing charges against suspects to the prosecutors who have access to the dteails of the evidence. It is not enough for the prosecutor to think that he/she has a solid case but the case must be tried by a court of law in order to determine the guilt or innocence of the suspectsin question. Based on the above , which seems to be basic and elementary, HA has no grounds for its position regarding the calling for an International court to hear the evidence in the Harriri assassination case. HA has one goal in mind and that is to be obstructionists and to attempt to distract the attention from the investigation that might implicate their masters. Their attempts at distraction have so far failed, the escalation at the Israeli border and I submit the staged attempt at a high ranking HA official.
To be frank, I am surprised at the incredulity that has been shown by many over the last two days regarding the role and stand of HA. The extreme desire for national entente and reconciliation has driven many to shut their eyes to the reality of HA. I hope that the recent events have brought these people back to reality bymaking it very clear that there are compromises that cannot be made if one is to preserve the integrity of the goal being sought. Creating a civil secular society for the Lebanese nation state is at odds with the goals and beliefs of HA. This means, as we have stated in many previous posts, that they cannot be a founding member of that which they are ideologically opposedto. Let me repeat myself, HA is not to blame for the positions that it has takenbecause they are in conformity with its stated beliefs, the real blame falls on the shoulders who expected HA not to act in its self interest and offered it a courtside seat to practice effectively its obstructionism.
 
Kasi I fully agree and am aware that Mehlis is not and should not reveal all his cards or publish all its findings. It would be re-assuring if in the end Mehlis had great evidence he is holding back--but what if he doesn't? That doesn't seem fair to Syria to be presumed guilty without proper evidence this whole time.
But thats the way it is--I don't like it but thats the way it is.

And what else do I not like? Syria and Lebanon will have to wait another 6 months....1 years....2 years!?!?! Are you kidding me? Syria is under terrible strain internationally because of the uncertainty this investigation brings. And now domestic reform may be slowing down even further (if posssible) because everyone needs to rally around the flag against the 'Mehlis agggression'. Lebanon needs to never forget Hariri and his contributions, but it also needs to move on to rebuild a Lebanon free of Syrian prescence. Time spent talking about Mehlis could be spent tackling the Lebanese national debt or the looming Hizballa confrontation you have. But no, Mehlis is holding back both countries with this report. (and the Syrian slow cooperation ok sure) Mehlis, if you have the evidence--lets do this, lay it out, hold the trial, lets get this over with--what is another 6 months or year going to do for you?

My other point is that you mention that you mention trial time and a court. But the SC is talking of applying sanctions on Syria, so as far as I am concerned, that is the court right there. John Bolton is judge and jury. And this court is in session as we speak, so the Syrian Comission feels obligated to reveal some things is understandable, because if Hussam was kept under wraps until later Syria could very well be under sanctions as we speak.
 
"Syria is under terrible strain internationally because of the uncertainty this investigation brings"

I'm sorry, but who is killing and who is being killed here? How is this not the regime's fault? Who is delaying and obstructing? I feel like I have said what I needed to say in the post, which should answer your questions.
 
"Syria is under terrible strain internationally because of the uncertainty this investigation brings."

You're kidding me? Lebanon is also under strain because of Syria's terrorism. Bahsar has nobody to blame but himself for the current situtation. Lebanon needs to have a damocles sword over Syria. It's the only mean of pressure that we have.

Bolton "Syria is not going to get away with obstructing this investigation" "it's not going to cover up the action of its senior officials " "it's not going to escape the consequences"
 
Here's the video of the UN security council meeting. It's very interesting.

http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/sc/sc051213pm.rm

Mehlis did not say that "the investigation will take one year or two". He said that Syria is slow in its cooperation and that "at this rate the investigation will take one year or two". (at 8:20 in the video)
 
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