Friday, September 24, 2010

Lost in transmission

From a legal and interpretative standpoint, the official position of Hezbollah on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has provoked much confusion, not to say disturbing inconsistencies, even for the party faithful. Here are some of the reasons why.

Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, set the tone in July when he described the STL as “an Israeli project.” In subsequent speeches he affirmed that the tribunal was preparing indictments that would, he understood, target Hezbollah personnel for having allegedly participated in the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri. These indictments were an effort to undermine the Resistance, Nasrallah continued, and the plot was being pushed forward by what he called “false witnesses.” Hezbollah, which does not recognize the legitimacy of the Special Tribunal, has pressed for a Lebanese investigation of such witnesses.

Hardening the party’s position even further, this week one of its parliamentarians, Nawwaf al-Moussawi, declared that any indictment would represent “a new May 17,” referring to the accord signed by Lebanon and Israel in 1983.

The matter of false witnesses is at the heart of Hezbollah’s scattershot attack against the STL. Technically, those who misled international investigators are not “false witnesses” at all, since they did not lie under oath before a court of law. If some witnesses lied, as is entirely possible, then they are guilty of having obstructed the investigation. Therefore, those worried about the impact of such testimony, namely Hezbollah, have an interest in signaling to tribunal investigators that the information in their possession is faulty.

However, that is not what Hezbollah has done. Instead, the party has denounced the Special Tribunal itself. To fudge over this discrepancy, the party has gone along with its ally, Jamil as-Sayyed, in contending that the doctoring of testimony was overseen by the first United Nations investigator, Detlev Mehlis, and his assistant, Gerhard Lehmann. Hezbollah’s most sympathetic press outlet, Al-Akhbar, has consistently echoed this line. In other words, both men allowed or urged witnesses to lie in order to carry their commission’s conclusions in a specific direction and condemn otherwise innocent parties.

This reasoning poses three problems. First, Mehlis and Lehmann must have had remarkable powers of persuasion to convince perhaps hundreds of witnesses, including a large number of experienced Lebanese politicians, to sign on to statements that would ultimately cast the blame on certain parties while avoiding naming others.

Second, the UN investigation involved dozens of investigators and analysts from different countries, loaned by governments each with their own national interests, agendas and so forth. While some of these governments might have welcomed biased findings in the investigation, there were doubtless just as many, if not more, who, for reasons pertaining to their political aims in the Middle East, would have opposed efforts by Mehlis to bend his evidence to charge those not guilty. These governments were also in regular contact with their investigators in the UN commission and knew well what was going on. It is unlikely – in fact downright impossible – for everyone to have colluded to point the finger in one direction for Hariri’s killing.

And third, let’s stop speaking in abstract terms: Mehlis, like his predecessor Peter Fitzgerald, explicitly took his investigation in a Syrian direction. Yet Hezbollah is now accusing Bellemare of using the false testimony garnered by Mehlis to indict not Syria, but Hezbollah. There is a profound disconnect here. If Mehlis fabricated his reports, and by some superhuman effort managed to induce his many witnesses to sign statements against Syria, how is it that Daniel Bellemare, the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal, apparently will not be accusing Syrians in his first round of indictments?

In his desire to focus on “false witnesses,” Nasrallah is assuming that Bellemare will be relying heavily on witness testimony to build up his case. Well not quite; there is the alleged Israeli spy Charbel Azzi, who might have manipulated telephone information at the Alfa company to hide Israeli involvement in the Hariri crime and blame Hezbollah instead. But in that event, who is behind this vast manipulation? Is it Bellemare working in cahoots with Azzi and Israel? Is it Mehlis working in cahoots with the false witnesses? And if so, why is it that Bellemare and Mehlis went in different investigative directions?

There are other steps Hezbollah has taken that also remain baffling. Why did the party hand the material it regarded as proof of Israeli responsibility in the Hariri assassination to Said Mirza, the public prosecutor? Hezbollah never had any intention of providing the material to the Special Tribunal directly, but it has also virtually endorsed Jamil as-Sayyed’s view that Mirza facilitated the accumulation of false testimony. Yet in providing its evidence to the public prosecutor, it recognized, at least implicitly, that he was the legal Lebanese reference point on the Special Tribunal, other than the justice minister. If so, how does this square with Sayyed’s view that Mirza is largely an illegitimate interlocutor on the tribunal?

These are all questions that need to be clarified by Hezbollah before the party can make a compelling case against Bellemare, Mehlis, the UN investigation and now the Special Tribunal. Perhaps that’s one reason why Syria has urged Hezbollah not to pursue the “false witnesses” argument. In terms of logic, it can lead to a brick wall.

No comments: