STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare
Lebanon expects to hear the UN-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) deliver indictments in the investigation of ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s 2005 murder imminently. Tension is rife as speculators ply their trade, and the country has split into predictable camps – those who believe the STL is an “Israeli Project” bent on destroying its biggest regional foe the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, and those who back the Tribunal, possibly also in hopes that it will neuter the ever-growing strength of Hezbollah and its regional allies.
Nobody seems to focus much attention on the actual murder victim and the 22 others who died alongside him in the massive truck bomb five years ago.
Perhaps that is because Lebanon has seen oh so many assassinations in its decades of civil war, invasions and occupations. So what is one more? And why should this one count more than another?
Quite right. The murder of this Lebanese man has come to symbolize so much more – it is often said that Hariri became “greater” in death than in life.
In identifying through anonymous sources in a May 2009 Der Spiegel article Hezbollah members as the main culprits in the assassination, the STL investigation has drawn the two “blocs” in the Middle East to the political – and potentially military – battleground.
Three years of investigations that appeared wholly focused on Syria were thrown by the wayside in early 2009 and the STL’s laser beam shifted to Hezbollah. Opportunistically, many say, as Syria began to be courted at the highest levels of government by the West – away from its regional friends Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas.
In the interim, it appeared that those three years of investigations had been embarrassingly unproductive, as the Syria-focus seemed to be borne entirely from the false testimony of discredited witnesses. Not one. Not two. Over a dozen such “false witnesses.”
“A Western/American/Israeli plot,” yelled half of Lebanon’s body politic, demanding a halt to the STL’s machinations. Suddenly, the docile, plodding-along cooperation of Syrian and Lebanese authorities with the STL’s investigations came to an abrupt halt as questions, suspicions and accusations rose hard and fast to the surface.
What about those false witnesses? What about the one who was spirited away to France under protection? What about the imprisoned Al Qaeda operatives who had already confessed to the crime?
The twists and turns in this plot are astounding. Some examples:
General Jamil el Sayyed - STL victim?
Just before the UN Security Council-backed investigation/Commission moved into its “Tribunal” phase in 2009, it ordered the release of four Lebanese generals who had been arrested shortly after Hariri’s assassination under suspicion. They were never charged – or provided with evidence of their involvement. One of them, General Jamil el-Sayyed, the head of General Security and a Syrian ally, was allegedly contacted by senior Commission official Gerhard Lehman and asked to approach Syrian President Bashar al Assad with a deal:
“The offer,” which Sayyed alleges Lehman made on behalf of Commission head Detlev Mehlis, specifically demanded that Assad pony up “a valuable Syrian ‘victim’ who will confess to the crime for personal or financial reasons – a victim who will conveniently be found dead later – and the Commission will strike a deal with the Syrian regime, similar to the one struck with Libya’s Qaddafi over Lockerbie.”
In a subsequent conversation, Sayyed was warned that non-compliance with this request would result in Sayyed becoming the “victim.”
Sayyed had the foresight to tape some of his subsequent phone conversations with Lehman. He sent three of these to the investigative Commission. He never heard back on this issue, nor did the Commission ever request further information or original copies of the taping. But Lehman and his entire team were replaced shortly thereafter, supposedly because of the “false witnesses” fiasco. The players changed, but Sayyed still sat in prison.
Now out of prison and raging with the injustice of it all, Sayyed has launched a one-man legal tsunami against the STL, demanding his “file” so that he may bring to trial false witnesses and others who provided evidence against him in 2005. STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare has fought him all the way, although recent legal wrangling between both parties looks to ensure that Sayyed gets his file shortly.
This case has split the Lebanese Cabinet in the past few weeks. Sayyed wants to take the false witnesses, some Lebanese judges and a few former STL officials to court right now. The pro-STL side of the Cabinet wants to wait for the Tribunal’s findings first. The other side says “why wait?” (more…)
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