Thursday, October 20, 2005

What did Mehlis Know, and How did He know it? The Mehlis Report, or the Birth Certificate of US-Run Lebanon? So the report is out. How do you know that? Well, the Hariri (Future) TV resumed their unending cheesy Hariri songs. That is how you know. The text that was first posted on the Washington Post's website, wad edited and the "track changes" marks were still on it. I don't know whether they later changed the version that they posted. But I enjoyed reading the text, with the deletions, especially when the names of Maher Al-Asad and Asaf Shawkat were mentioned but marked as deleted. Also, a passage that criticized the spread of rumors in Lebanese media (clearly a reference to Hariri media themselves) was also deleted. Mini-Hariri would not have liked that at all, just as a reference to Lebanese politicians (read Hariri tools) spreading rumors and leaking to the press was also deleted. As a whole, the report is not very strong; i.e. there is no smoking gun technically speaking. But when you read the report as a whole, you find the details and the circumstantial evidence add up to a picture of Syrian and Lebanese military and intelligence culpability. That is certain. I was of the view from the begining that Syrian intelligence may quite likely be behind the assassination, and the question was the level of the decision making. (And while I wrote those words I am pained when I think of many assassinations of Palestinians by Israelis on regular basis, but those murders never generate investigations. They just don't have billions in their bank accounts, and do not know Cheney personally). Also, when you read the report, you can't but think about the Arab Israeli conflict. The skills and efforts of the Israeli intelligence apparatus is directed against the Arabs (including their poets and writers as many were assassinated by Israeli forces over the years), and the skills and efforts--criminal in both cases--of the Arab intelligence apparatus are directed against the Arabs themselves. You see here a picture of Arab regimes; how they operate and how they use people, and how they conspire and how they manipulate, and how they utilize human beings and throw them. You see that they devote so much of their energies and efforts in their little dirty wars, and little campaigns against one another. The Arab media will not say this: not a good picture of Rafiq Hariri emerges here. It only underlines that his conflict with the Syrian regime, which installed him in power with his cronies in 1992, was not over principle, but over one issue: the role of Emile Lahhud. Lahhud became obstructive of Hariri's plans and designs, and when Hariri gave up on changing him and on having his way, he turned, but never publicly, against the Syrian regime. You see this today in Lebanon: the Hariri camp and Jumblat still talk fondly about the regime of Hafidh Al-Asad. That regime was favored by them, because they benefited from it. Human rights violations in Syria AND in Lebanon are the least of their concern. You will notice if you read the report that Hariri, when he went for that famous meeting with Bashshar Al-Asad, visited the headquarters of Rustum Ghazalah twice in the same day: once on the way to Syria, and another time on the way from Syria. When a Hariri senior aide was telling me about the humiliation of Hariri by Rustum Ghazalah, especially in the meeting when Hariri went to tell Ghazalah that he is willing to support Lahhud's extension of his term in the service of Syria--when Ghazalah I am told held him by his shirt to chastise him--, I could only say this: "Why would he take such humiliation? Why would he accept such mistreatment by intelligence functionaries"? "It is all about greed and hunger for power," I said. He could not but agree with my observation. You read the report and you see a picture of extensive culpability by ALL branches of the Syrian military-intelligence apparatus, and by ALL branches of the Lebanese military-intelligence apparatus. The report also adds that there may be involvement by PFLP-GC, and by the Ahbash fundamentalist group, and by various Lebanese politicians. But if that is the case, you wonder: are they that dumb? Are they that stupid? And if that many people and groups were involvement in the planning and execution, how come not a single person yet has cracked? Yes, there are references to two unnamed Syrian sources, but they seem to be low-level. One of them saw the Mitsubishi van in Zabadani camp and another saw it in Hammana camp. But yes, Arab regimes, and the Syrian government has a long record, can be that stupid, not to mention that they can be that criminal and bloody. Witness the beating of Anwar Bunni the other day in Damascus. But why would the Lebanese-Syrian regimes allow so many layers of involvement by so many groups and factions and individuals? But the answer is that they did not anticipate that level of international attention, and that level of outside intrusion by the UN investigation. In other words, if they were clumsy--but not that clumsy given that there is still no smoking gun--it is because they were accustomed to be clumsy and careless. There was no accountability on the behavior of the Syrian AND Lebanese governments over the years, in the post-Ta'if period. Hariri is guilty in that regard, as were all those who were part of the Lebanese government at the time. I mean guilty of crimes. Hariri's assassination was not the first murder by the Syrian-Lebanese military-intelligence apparatus, but that outside UN investigations can only be directed against foes of the US, and never against friends of the US. Remember what happened to Boutros Ghali when he insisted on releasing the Qana massacre report, after heavy political editing. When Lebanese ask about politicization, the answer is of course there is politicization. The US is willing and desirous to politicize every little thing in Lebanon today if it adds pressure on Syria, and if it exploits Lebanese events in the service of US propaganda and plans. How many times has the US ambassador visited May Shidyaq so far? Eight times already? And do you really believe that the US, just like that, suddenly out of the blue decided to care so deeply and so affectionately about the "sovereignty" and "independence" of Lebanon? Can be people be that naive? (Yes, some Lebanonese nationalists are really that naive, or worse than naive). Some parts of the report clearly read like an anthology of the accounts, theories, and opinions of Hariri functionaries: what Basim Sab`, what Ghazi `Aridi, what Walid Jumblat, what Jubran Tuwayni, what Sa`d Hariri, what Marwan Hamadi, and others have told Mehlis. Just like the Fitzgerald Report. But why did the report not include the accounts and opinions of the other side? That was an omission, and will contribute to the impression that will be used by the Syrian government and its supporters and puppets--does the Syrian government allow anybody but puppets?--in Lebanon. I was amused today that the Syrian president received Kamal Shatila, head of the Popular Conference. This is a man who was chased out of Lebanon by the Syrian government (after a phone call from the former Minister of Defense Mustafa Tlas--according to Shatila's account in Al-Jazeera), and now the Syrian government discovered that it has a Sunni problem in Lebanon (and in Syria). For years they marginalized so many Sunni figures in Lebanon, in order to push and promote Hariri. The decent politician Salim Huss was marginalized by the Syrian government for much of the post-Ta'if period. Now, I will get into specifics. The biggest and most suspicious lie of the report: it said in paragraph 19 that: "it is to be regretted that no Member State relayed useable information to the Commission". But why would Mehlis say that in this report when he had said in the preliminary report that ISRAEL and Jordan gave help to his investigation, and when he had told Le Figaro that Israel provided help, and when the Israeli press reported that Israeli intelligence agents had met with his team in Europe? That will only raise doubts about the alleged "objectivity"--they lie to you when they use that word, always--and non-political nature of the report. The account by Rustum Ghazalah in paragraph 27 is so clearly untrue, for anybody who knows anything about the nature of the relationship between Ghazalah and Hariri. Equally lying, is the account of Jubran Tuwayni, and I don't understand why he got into the report except due to his love of the cameras, and to seeing his name in print, just like Sen. Schumer of New York. And the account of Tuwayni, who never was a confidante of Hariri, was not corroborated by anybody else. Nobody except Tuwayni claims that Hariri was threatened with bombings to his face by Bashshar Al-Asad. From his hotel in Paris, Jubran Tuwayni wanted to get into the story, this right-wing untalented writer who is discredited among Muslims and who was told by Christian voters in East Beirut to go to "Hariri's house" when he showed his face after the assassination of Samir Qasir. I talked to a Hariri confidante who saw Hariri just after returning from the meeting with Bashshar on 26th of August. According to that person, Hariri said that the meeting was "not good" but did not report threats. I heard about the comment about "bring down Lebanon over their heads" but that was not said by Bashshar, but was said to Hariri in another setting according to my information. And the tapes conversation between Hariri and Walid Mu`allim does not refer to the threat either, and I am not saying whether it was said or not, but have to dissect the text before me. And Mehlis needed, no needs as he will be with us for years I predict, somebody to help with transliteration of Arabic. In paragraph 28, you see that Hariri's main beef was not principles or the lofty ideals by the professionally hired chanters of the Hummus Revolution. It was about the petty feud between Hariri and Lahhud. I also noticed that the name of Ghazi Kan`an was not mentioned. If Kan`an did not "commit suicide" I bet that his name would have been mentioned. Paragraph 29 may surprise people because Walid Mu`allim always comes across as a jovial fellow, and he may be, but his last meetings with Hariri were pretty tense and conflictual, as I know form an account of an Arab journalist. Paragraph 30 is correct: Walid Mu`allim lied when he portrayed the meeting with Hariri as "friendly and constructive". A journalist who spoke to Mu`allim told me that Mu`allim presented Hariri in the Feb. 1st meeting with a list of Syrian grievances against him. And the report did a good job in tracing the footsteps of Abu Adas, but only mentions that his father died while in Lebanese state custody. Another innocent victim that nobody cares to talk about. Paragraph 63 should have noted that Ashraf Rifi (the current director-general of the Surete Generale), the author of the cited report in this report was a Hariri functionary. There are no objective sources in Lebanon, outside of the Angry Arab zone of course. Paragraph 75 is damning: that Mustafa Hamdan claimed that he did not remember details of his day on 14th of February. If I can remember that day clearly while in California, surely Hamdan, unless he has something to hide, has to remember, and in details that day. Paragraph 80 is not accurate in talking about the home of the Ahbash movement. It is not a Palestinian movement, but mostly Beirut Sunni movement, and Abu Adas lived in a Sunni Beiruti neighborhood and not in a refugee camp. I have an entry of this movement in my Historical Dictionary of Lebanon, and there is an article about them in IJMES by Nezar Hamzeh from 5 years or more. Check it out. It is a very odd movement that got my attention while a graduate student in the 1980s. I was curious about it because a distant relative of ours joined the movement, and his behavior got more and more bizarre. He declared his Muslim father a kafir at one point. This Sunni fundamentalist movement is more like a cult, and named after a Shaykh (al-Harari) who came from Ethiopia, hence the name Ahbash, plural of Habashi, the Abyssinian. The movement is based on iron discipline, and worried the Syrian government back in the 1980s. The Syrian government in Lebanon always dealt carefully with Sunni fundamentalist groups in Lebanon: if they can't be coopted, they have to be captured or killed. But the Ahbash movement was coopted, and became a tool of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. But why would the Syrian government rely on them for the plan, I wonder. Why not rely on a more reliable pro-Syrian organization? Paragraph 95 really distressed me and bothered me. It shows the utter contempt felt by Arab officials toward their citizens. It also shows the blatant manipulation of Lebanese politics by Syrian AND Lebanese intelligence agents and services. It also bothers me to see how the post-Ta'if regime manipulated and controlled the Labor Movement in Lebanon--the only hope for non-sectarian collective action, with the full participation of Hariri, Birri, Jumblat, SSNP, and the Syrian government of course. This current head of the labor unions in Lebanon is a Nabih Birri puppet, and has no credibility or standing. Paragraph 96 begins to report the account of an unnamed Syrian who now resides in Lebanon. In the first text that I saw, which has editing changes marked, the name of Maher Al-Asad, and Bahjat Sulayman, and Asaf Shawkat were deleted. This witness claimed that he saw the van in Hammana. Why were the Syrian so keen on displaying "tools of the crime" so to speak? And what was his standing within the Syrian intelligence apparatus? Why should we accept this account as credible? And how did the Mehlis team "know" that the van came from Syria? What is the evidence? This same witness throws in the name of Ahmad Jibril in for extra effect. Why Ahmad Jibril? Why would the Syrian government which was, according to the story, relying on its own intelligence agencies and on the Lebanese agencies, need the help of Jibril? Why widen the scope of the planning of the crime?? Paragraph 101 also throws the names of Nasir Qandil and `Ali Al-Hajj as people who knew of the crime before it happened. Why would the circle of those who knew of the crime be so wide, and do those details, and this tendency to accept allegations that incriminate Syria not undermine the credibility of the report and the investigation? I mean if somebody came forward to Mehlis and allege that he knew of an Israeli plot against Hariri, would he put that information in? Would he pass the allegation on and make it part of the report? Paragraph 103 parades yet another unnamed witness, and that claimed that Mustafa Hamdan basically bragged to him about wanting to kill Hariri. Are they that dumb? They could be. They could be. Now the account of Muhammad Zahayr As-Siddiq occupies several paragraphs, and seems to have been a major source for the report according to the Lebanese press. But some of the allegations by Siddiq were refuted (that all those Lebanese and Syrian intelligence leaders met in an apartment in Mu`awwad for example)? And Siddiq's status changed from that of a cooperating witness to that of a suspect, and yet the report adds, almost in passing, that that should add, not diminish, his credibility. Why? Paragraph 111 clearly catches the Syrian government in a lie, and it also shows how dumb Arab governments can be, and that they are not aware that they are being watched and monitored including by satellites. Paragraph 112 and 113 clearly were rushed and do not add up that easily, and do not explain the change in the account of Siddiq. And suddenly paragraph 114, almost in an after thought, says this: "At the present stage of investigation, a certain amount of information given by Mr. Saddik cannot be confirmed through other evidence." The mention of the name of the Lebanese Army's commander-in-chief is very damaging. Here was somebody who has been praised by all sides since the Hummus Revolution because he refused to use the army to suppress popular demonstrations against Syria. But Michel Sulayman clearly is part of the intelligence-military apparatus that was set up with Syrian knowledge and order. The conclusion after paragraph 182 is rather odd. It says: "The evidence does show that it is likely that Mr. Abu Adass left his home on 16 January 2005 and was taken, voluntarily or not, to Syria, where he has since disappeared. " Evidence and "likely" in the same sentence? If there is evidence it should be more than likely, no? The most important damning part was the information on the use of cellphones and landline communications between the various parties. But it was curious that they insisted on throwing in the name of `Umar Karami although there is nothing that links him at all. This was clearly political, and may indicate that Hariri Inc functionaries were quite involved, directly or indirectly, in the preparation of the report. I was surprised that former Lebanese intelligence chief, and later advisor to Bashir Gemayyel, Johny `Abduh, admitted in an interview on LBC-TV that he asked Mehlis about his investigation, and that the latter answered him. Certainly, the phone call between `Abdul-`Al and the cellphone of Emile Lahhud is quite damaging to the latter. The calls for his resignation will only get louder, and Lahhud will never resign. But this damning evidence if pursued may make his position more than precarious. And paragraph 208 was actually hilarious: Mehlis has ideas and plans for the reform of the Lebanese political system and Lebanese society. He says: "Much needs to be done to overcome sectarian divisions". What? How? Why? Does Mehlis has plans to also investigate the origins of Lebanese conflict through history? But you know what? The report could have been more damning of the Syrian and Lebanese governments if they also talked about the various active role played by Rafiq Hariri in preparing for UNSC 1559, AND the fact that the Syrian and Lebanese government knew of those activities in great detail. Hariri's political (if not also security) apparatus was breached, but the report did not want to shed light on that role by Hariri which is either denied or not mentioned at all in Lebanese media. And now, the propaganda wars will begin. It can be predicted that one side (the Hariri funded side) will insist that this is an "objective" and "professional" report, and and that the author, because he is a German--white European--is not capable of politicization because white Europeans are just genetically inclined toward professionalism. Some Hariri people are really talking like that these days, especially the Hariri propgandist Farish Khashshan. The other side, will insist that the report is politicized and will dig holes in it. And the Syrian government will continue to lie, and to even deny the obvious: that the Syrian government hated Hariri at the time of his assassination. The US will have a new tool in its hand to add pressure on Syria, and if the regime feels endangered, the confronation between US and Syria will only get uglier, and the people of Syria, Lebanon AND Iraq will pay the price. The US is still tempted to play with fire in Lebanon, and that will not be pretty, not pretty for anybody. If the Syrian governmet and its allies feel the need, they can play dirty, or dirtier, in Lebanon and beyond, just as the US continues its dirty playing in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. And you wonder why I often miss the Cold War?