STL and the Dangerous Manipulation of Lebanon

By Mohamed El Mokhtar 

There is no doubt that the killing of the late Lebanese Premier Minister was an unwarranted criminal act. There is no doubt that it caused a great deal of unnecessary suffering and wanton destruction to the entire country and beyond. And there is no question that the people directly responsible of this type of cowardly act of violence should be brought to justice and held accountable for their criminal behavior. No country can ever freely thrive, prosper or promote democratic change, or establish a sound system of governance or justice, if it remains so often marred, as is the case of Lebanon, by a non-ending sporadic spade of unpunished criminal activities, extrajudicial assassinations and targeted political murders. It is nonsense. Such climate of unlawfulness and anarchy has to stop for the country to peacefully evolve and live with serenity.

Having said that one should ponder and ask the question of not of why justice now but instead: how justice can be best be done this time without undue damage or excessive harm? In light of the many shortcomings and setbacks of the last few years, it appears very clearly that the choice of the UN-mandated Special Tribunal for Lebanon was a real, and perhaps fatal, mistake from the beginning.

In fact, instead of heightening the credibility of the legal process and its independence as initially intended, it has, instead, generated a highly polarized political atmosphere flawed with petty miscalculations and desires to settle old personal scores. Therefore from the beginning the professionalism and impartiality of the international investigative team, and ultimately the court itself, were considerably questionable to say the least. To better apprehend the complexity of the issue, a careful examination of the process is needed because therein lie a number of (vitiating) flaws so often overlooked or not sufficiently weighted:

– The immediate and unilateral accusation of Syria following the assassination of El Hariri, without any sense of constraint or precaution, was obviously a hasty move and politically-driven maneuver motivated more by foreign manipulation and a desire for settling old scores than fact-based legal evidence. Hence it was altogether a clumpy move as repeatedly stated by Walid Jumblat and more and more reiterated now by Saad El Harir himself.

– The release last year of the four Generals, Jamil Sayyed, Moustapha Hamdane, Ali Hajj et Raymond Azar  arrested in 2005 is a compelling example of the vicious nature of the whole  process. It turns out, after four years of illegal detention, media bashing and unnecessary suffering that the four men were, in effect, wrongly detained and consequently innocent of the charges leveled against them. The preponderance of the evidence in this case was an overloaded assumption of guilt (beyond any reasonable doubt) flawed with bias and prejudice, in total contravention to the spirit and letter of the most basic rule of law, i.e., the presumption of innocence until the establishment- beyond any reasonable doubt-, of guilt.

– The disgraceful file of false expert witnesses, or Shouhoud Ezzour in Arabic, is another vitiating flaw.

– The over-reliance on the analysis of cell phone use patterns reveals another structural weakness, namely, the dependence on one single track for the search of tips or leads and one source of information for obtaining evidence. Such a wide-open loophole in the method of instigation sheds another cloud of doubt on the credibility of the process giving the infiltration of telephone companies by Israeli spies. The recent wave of arrests among employees of cell phone companies ( Ogero, Alfa…) constitutes such an edifying example and a warning sign.

– Giving generally the penchant of the UN organization to bias (toward the Arabs in particular) and its predisposition to manipulation by Western powers as clearly shown in the past (e.g. the embargo against Iraq and the unscrupulous and unprofessional behavior of UNSCOM inspectors, Richard Butler in particular), it wasn’t really such an intelligent decision for the Lebanese government to entirely refer the case to the Security Council. Placing the case under chapter VII by virtue of a (compelling) resolution of the UN Security Council constitutes not only a snub to Lebanon’s sovereignty but it might well be the longtime sought-out instrument that will open, like a Pandora box, the country, once for all, to unwanted foreign intervention, i.e., harmful imperialist redesign, intractable internal divisions, more war and destruction etc.

– The enhancement of the existing potential of instability: The probability of a politically driven indictment, and therefore a tainted verdict, remains a real possibility due to the weight of outside influence and the existence of structural internal fragility.

In view of all these tangible elements, it would have been, by far, less risky for the country and a lot more appropriate for the Lebanese government of the time to launch its own investigation of the crimes committed and establish its own independent court to trial the culprit. In this respect the outside help could have been better utilized to ensure the technical proficiency of the legal process and its compliance with international norms and standards. The UN, the USA and the EU could have very well assisted the Lebanese government in its endeavor by providing the help needed for the investigation and the prosecution: financial support, legal experts, forensic analysts etc.

Moreover, the government would have, by doing so, strongly asserted its national sovereignty and independence and, more importantly, shielded the country from the potentially nefarious intermingling of foreign forces. Given the wider implications of certain internal dynamics (willing local proxies, inherent sectarian divisions, structural institutional vulnerability …), a concerted national effort could have been critical in strengthening the spirit of national unity, in time of needs, and in diverting all energies toward a shared common goal: Justice.  Without stocking up feelings of confessional divisions or ideological differences, such undertaking could have been, on the contrary, the linchpin toward a much bigger objective: The much-needed democratic transformation and institutional restructuring of the Lebanese state.

In reality, the current consensus-based confessional model is an outdated form of governance. Ultimately a modernization of the current political institutions and their adaptation to the new (demographic) realities of the country are inevitable. That if the Lebanese state wants to become a modern polity capable of satisfying the growing needs of its citizens and their desire for change. It’s only within the framework of such institutional transformation that a complete disbandment of Hizbullah as a military militia, or Resistance movement, is worth taking. The dissolution of such military force should be done gradually and as part of the restructuring of the national army. In order to make the effort a more sustainable and a nationally beneficial one, a review of the strategic military doctrine of the state is necessary in this regard. It is very important while dissolving the remnants of the last militia to strengthen the Lebanese national army and reform it so as it can efficiently and effectively fulfill its original and main mission: The defense of the national territory.

Furthermore, for the sake of peace and stability, for the sake of Lebanon and its future, Mr. Saad EL Hariri needs to understand that those, in Washington or Paris or elsewhere, who unscrupulously push him to hold his grounds, against all odds to the point of total intransigence, don’t necessarily have at heart what’s best for Lebanon. As a matter of fact they can care less for El Hariri’s death or Lebanon’s future. Their motivations stem from an entirely different source: narrow self-interest; and their action aim at one objective: Geostrategic hegemony.

As politically abhorrent and morally repugnant as was the killing of the late Premier Minister Rafik El Hariri and 22 other persons, it was certainly far less poignant and humanely devastating than the gruesome and unforgettable massacres of Qana during Operation Wrath of Grapes in 1996, under the order of Shimon Perez, or more recently the bestial carnage of the UNRWA school in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 under the command of Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak.

In both cases there was a deliberate targeting of unarmed civilians with the intention of causing massive and indiscriminate casualties while spreading fear and terror. They both amount, giving the scale of killings and nature of targets, to imprescriptible War Crimes; not to mention the notorious  death squads of Ehud Barak, and other Israeli leaders, targeting at random leftist intellectuals, PLO militants and politicians in Beyrouth and elsewhere.

Besides, there was not a genocidal undertaking, like that of Rwanada in 1994, or a breakup of the state as in Liberia and Sierra Leone during the civil wars, to warrant the establishment of an international tribunal. Lebanon is a weak state but it is not a failed one. Its judicial institutions can always be revamped and made more efficient and functional. The killing of El Hariri was a horrible political murder indeed but not an operation of ethnic cleansing or a crime against humanity. And unlike Darfur, there was no forced displacement of populations or large scale deportations. The difference is significant as regard legal categories governing international norms and standards.

In sum for the credibility of international institutions, and more importantly the sake of International Law, there should, in effect, be clearly established rules and norms for the institution of special tribunals. More to the point, there should be coherent and universally agreed upon definitions of such critical, and often hackneyed, terms such as War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, Terrorism etc.

Last but not least: Rather than aspiring to become this carless dandy, or some mediocre Levantine version of Berlusconi, more enticed by the thirst of power or fame than the common good, Saad El Hariri should ponder his choices very carefully and be aware of the consequences of his actions and the malfeasance of certain alliances. Qatar and Turkey care certainly more for Lebanon than France or the US. And King Abdellah has undoubtedly done more for the Land of Cedars than will ever do Obama, Sarkozy or Hillary Clinton.

In conclusion, leadership requires vision and political acumen. Stubbornness and close mindedness are the whole mark of stupidity. The common good demands sometimes great personal sacrifice and painful concessions. Such concessions are not a sign of weakness if they are useful and help advance the general interest of the public and wellbeing of society. They are, on the contrary, clear demonstration of good will and great proof of leadership. They epitomize the quintessence of statesmanship; the embodiment of political maturity and moral wisdom. The quest of justice is indeed a noble endeavor but it is done better only when finding the right balance.

Any justice rendered in rush or tainted with prejudice will remain a moral disgrace, i.e., an insult to the founding pillar of human ethic: truth and fairness.

– Mohamed El Mokhtar Sidi Haiba is a political analyst. He contributed this article to

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