Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14

False Witnesses and the Hariri Investigation

The issue of false witnesses in the Hariri investigation is receiving considerable play in the Lebanese media these days, particularly in outlets close to the parliamentary minority. (See here for al-Akhbar‘s interesting series on the subject.)

Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly demanded that the STL investigate the backgrounds of discredited witnesses such as Muhammad Zuhayr Siddiq and Husam Taher Husam so as to determine who “funded and fabricated” them, while other politicians such as FPM chief Michel Aoun have argued that such transparency is absolutely necessary if the STL’s findings are to be accepted as legitimate. Meanwhile, March 14th politicians have characterized these statements as an attempt to undermine public faith in the STL.

For my part, I can’t help but detect a note of warning in Nasrallah’s rhetoric and in his constant promises of “more information at a later date” whenever he discusses the issue of false witnesses. Does the party possess information about these people that could be embarrassing for certain sponsors and supporters of the STL? To judge by the flood of (largely unattributed) information published by al-Akhbar — including recorded phone conversations between a discredited STL informant and figures like Bahiya al-Hariri, Ashraf Rifi, and Detlev Mehlis (which, I imagine, could only have arrived in its newsroom via a very high-level leak) — I would not be surprised.

For a thorough overview of the development of the STL and the false witness scandals, I recommend reading an excellent piece by Gary Gambill published in 2008. As for what Detlev Mehlis had to say on the subject, see his interview with Michael Young here.

Further reading

  • This article in As-Safir surveys the attitudes of different factions within the Future Movement on the issue of the tripartite summit, and on the fate of the STL.

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Discussion

18 thoughts on “False Witnesses and the Hariri Investigation

  1. The Saudis have invested way too much in Lebanon to allow it to fall in shambles if the Nasrallah axis goes through with its threats. Sooner than later, the STL will declare that it has run out of funds and the Saudis will refuse to pay the bill. The STL will collapse and the case will be closed.

    Posted by A Purple Monkey | August 2, 2010, 5:53 am
  2. Ya QN,

    How do we know that all that “unattributed information” in al-Akhbar is not made up, not necessarily by al-Akhbar but sent to them by people interested in derailing the STL? The Izzies aren’t the only ones good at hasbara … 😉

    As for HN’s claims to show “more information at a later date”, I’m still waiting for his explanation of who killed Mughniyeh.

    Talk is cheap.

    Posted by MSK* | August 2, 2010, 6:10 am
  3. Ya QN, listen to MSK. Ah ya MSK, inta batal!

    Posted by Honest Patriot | August 2, 2010, 6:42 am
  4. Why don’t we all wait for the trials to begin. If Mr. Nasrallah thinks that there are “false witnesses”; I do think that the lawyers that he hires would be able to use the wealth of “information and evidence” that he allegedly possesses to rebut any “false” witness. Even Joe M might agree with this for sure!

    However, as we all might surmise; if the reason for his convulsions are real fear of being unveiled and caught with his hand in the butcher’s den…then expect Seyyed Nassrallah to attack and threaten again soon on the anniversary of his “divine victory”.

    Otherwise; again any accused and their lawyers should be happy as a pig in shit in July to have his accusers providing shabby evidence and witnesses.

    Posted by danny | August 2, 2010, 8:11 am
  5. MSK

    That was more or less my point: that the material that is now appearing in the Lebanese press about false witnesses is likely coming from sources that have an interest in discrediting the STL. I have no way of knowing whether or not it is made up.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | August 2, 2010, 8:34 am
  6. Ya QN,

    Great minds think alike … 😉

    Posted by MSK* | August 2, 2010, 10:31 am
  7. Why can’t you guys be proud of what Hizbollah achieved in 2006. For the probably the first time in it’s history Israel set about to occupy a land in the Middle East and it failed. It failed because of the Lebanese resistence led by Hizbollah. Surely, you can muster some pride in the resistence (- I’m assuming you don’t want to live under a Zionist shoe.)

    As for the STL, it’s a sham – it’s run by the Americans and British and when it gets published there is inevitablty going to be loophole after loophole. But let’s wait until it is published.

    Posted by Nu'man Abd al-Wahid | August 2, 2010, 10:52 am
  8. One thing that keeps being raised in Lebanon is the integrity of the STL. As a result, some have argued that tribunals have worked so well in the past and have not been politicized and therefore we should just trust them without questioning. This statement, however, is not true.

    First, Nuremberg trials. Yes, they were necessary and important to demonstrate that what happened during WWII was wrong and that genocide and ethnic cleansing would not be tolerated. However, we now know that some individuals were prosecuted wrongly and or at least that the level of the crime that they committed was not the same as the ones that they were charged with. But, there was political pressure to ignore some of the information because of worry the backlash.

    Second case, ICTY. This too had some problems. While many would say that it was necessary that Milosovic was prosecuted, the tribunal found itself in a sensitive situation since many of the citizens of the former Yugoslavia believed that it was biased against the serbs. So what did it do? It started rounding up more croatians and bosniacs to even out the numbers even though the crimes they committed were not war crimes or crimes that would fall under the mandate of the tribunal.

    Third case, ICTR. In the Rawandan case Hutus massacred over 900000 Tutsis. The tribunal arrested over 90,000 individuals (about 1/10th of the adult male Hutu population) and in 10 years it was only able to try 6500 individuals and hand just 23 verdicts. Many NGOs have argued that many innocent men are just sitting in jails without any due process. Also, when the tribunal had wanted to try some of the Tutsis who had also committed war crimes the government refused and in the end the tribunal was not able to make much progress.

    On top of this the annual budgets for ICTY and ICTR’s were over 90 million.

    So I am not saying all tribunals are bad and unnecessary, but we should not also look at them as totally unbiased, immune to political pressures, and as saviors of Lebanon.

    Posted by Fate | August 2, 2010, 11:08 am
  9. One thing to take into consideration is that the investigation into the assassination of Hariri is not and has never been purely a Lebanese affair, or even a Middle Eastern affair. Besides the close friendship of Hariri with Chirac and other world leaders, the world’s “global elite” is invested in circumscribing the possibility of assassinating billionaires for political reasons without a “fallut effect”. What would stop people from assassinating Berlusconi or Thaksin (political agents who aslo happen to be part of the global elite of billionaires). So the theses that the STL can actually be 1) politically motivated from the get-go, or 2) it is so incompetent that it cannot get to the truth, and 3) that it can follow the winds of political change and adapt to the geopolitical circumstances of the region, are far fetched.

    However, that does not mean that discourses trying to undermine the STL may not be successful. From Greish of Le Monde Diplomatique to various journalists from the NYT or the WaPo, there is a solid discourse that questions the objectivity of the STL. But Hariri –and not the others assassinated– is not just the son of Saad or the relative of King Abdullah; he actually “represents” the global elite and the fear of those elites who are or will be politically involved cannot be deflected for Lebanon’s political stakes.

    Just a thought!

    Posted by Parrhesia | August 2, 2010, 3:19 pm
  10. For those interested, there is a new unrelated report by International Crisis Group where the issue is mentioned in passing.

    I am attaching relevant selections. For the full report, consult: http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/iraq-syria-lebanon/lebanon/097-drums-of-war-israel-and-the-axis-of-resistance.aspx

    Of relevance are the following:

    1) on HA’s current political capital:

    A Hizbollah official offered his assessment: “The changes
    within Lebanon have played out in favour of the resistance.
    Domestically, no one seriously challenges it anymore. Walid
    Jumblatt [head of the Progressive Socialist Party and a former
    harsh critic of Hizbollah and the Syrian regime] has made a
    U-turn; Prime Minister Hariri is displaying flexibility, and
    President Sleiman supports us. The influence of those who still
    oppose us – namely the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb – has
    become minor”. Crisis Group interview, senior Hizbollah official,
    Beirut, May 2010

    2) On the tribunal

    The latest source of anxiety relates to the international
    tribunal investigating Rafic Hariri’s 2005 assassination.
    Widespread speculation that Hizbollah members and officials
    soon would be indicted was given further weight
    when, on 23 July 2010, Nasrallah asserted that Prime
    Minister Hariri had “informed [him] that the tribunal will
    accuse some undisciplined [Hizbollah] members” of involvement
    in the murder of his father.161 Nasrallah has
    spoken repeatedly about the tribunal in recent days, challenging
    its legitimacy and suggesting an Israeli conspiracy,
    providing a clear indication of the degree to which
    the movement is worried about potential indictments.162
    As a result, domestic tensions have escalated markedly,
    with fears of sectarian strife rising once more.

    155 An Israeli official said, “we know the over-flights are seen
    by all Lebanese as humiliating. For them, they are a thorn in the
    eye, but we cannot stop them. They serve important intelligence-
    gathering purposes which clearly serve our interests as
    long as Hizbollah violates 1701 and remains a state within a
    state”. Crisis Group interview, Jerusalem, April 2010. A senior
    Hizbollah official commented: “By our count, since 2006 Israel
    has conducted over 10,000 sorties, which amount to more than
    five per day on average. We know what the purpose is: to take
    pictures of sites, map targets and mark them with signals in advance
    of future strikes. They are offensive measures. For now,
    we haven’t responded militarily, but political and practical
    conditions could change. We have not written off this possibility”.
    Crisis Group interview, Beirut, May 2010.
    156 Crisis Group interview, Tel Aviv, April 2010.
    157 Of the seven such occurrences registered by the UN between
    the August 2006 cessation of hostilities and March 2010, none
    hit a meaningful target. These operations generally have been
    amateurish; most missiles appeared to be aimed at nothing in
    particular and did not even reach Israel. Crisis Group interview,
    UNIFIL official, Beirut, March 2010.
    158 Crisis Group interview, UNIFIL official, Beirut, March
    2010.
    159 An Israeli official noted: “In terms of an involuntary escalation,
    what worries me most are missiles fired from Palestinian
    camps”. Crisis Group interview, Jerusalem, July 2010.
    160 Crisis Group interview, Beirut, September 2009.
    161 See http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/getstory?
    openform&CD2280D1D0BD5B4EC22577680051689E.
    162 In his 16 July 2010 speech, Nasrallah explicitly linked the
    international probe to the arrest of spies allegedly working for
    Israel and described the forthcoming indictments as “fabricated”.
    Speaking of the tribunal, he said, “the main goal was to
    target the Resistance. [Israel] knows that any internal tension
    plays in its favor, regardless of who is responsible for it”. He
    explained that after the Israelis failed in the 2006 July War,
    they “are now betting on another Israeli project called the Special
    Tribunal for Lebanon, which for months now they have
    been preparing for”. Nasrallah also suggested possible complicity
    of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau. See
    http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArchiveDetails.aspx?ID=186498#
    ixzz0uuhM0bXq.

    and 3) on assassinations and intelligence ops:

    Lebanon claims to have uncovered extensive Israeli spy
    rings operating on its territory.165 A series of high-profile
    assassinations for which there have been no claim of responsibility
    – albeit an abundance of suspicion – have taken
    place, targeting inter alia Muhammad Sleiman, a Syrian
    general and Assad adviser, and, most prominently, on 13 February 2008,
    Imad Mughniyé, a senior Hizbollah security
    figure.166 Hizbollah has yet to successfully retaliate
    for Mughniyé’s death, though it insists it will do so;167
    Israeli officials claim that in fact the movement already
    has carried out several attempts that either failed or were
    thwarted.168 One certainly cannot exclude a revenge attack
    which – depending on its nature – could trigger a far
    broader conflict.169 Nor should one rule out an assassination
    arising out of a target of opportunity on which Israel
    or Hizbollah would find it difficult to pass.170
    In the words of one of President Assad’s advisers: “Nowadays,
    the struggle is being fought underground, through
    intelligence services”,171 where rules of the game are even
    more opaque and where one or the other party could cross
    a red line without it being publicly known.

    165 Hizbollah and the Lebanese authorities seem to have cooperated
    seamlessly on this issue. See, for instance, Adrien Jaulmes,
    “Beyrouth, nid d’espions”, Le Monde, 14 September 2009.
    166 Mughniyé, accused by Israel and the U.S. in particular of
    having masterminded several terrorist attacks, was killed in the
    heart of Damascus.
    167 Naïm Qassem, Hizbollah’s deputy secretary general, vowed
    once more to avenge Mughniyé in a mid-February interview.
    Al-Nahar, 14 February 2010. On the same day, Nasrallah said
    Hizbollah’s retaliation would be commensurate to the victim’s
    stature; insofar as the movement has paid impressive tribute to
    Mughniyé, this set the bar quite high. Lebanese National News
    Agency, 16 February 2010.
    168 Crisis Group interviews, Israeli officials, Jerusalem, December
    2009. According to a former Israeli intelligence officer,
    “Hizbollah has tried to avenge Mughniyé’s death on several
    occasions – in Azerbaijan, in Turkey, at a U.S. site, tourist sites
    in the Sinai and even [targeting] the Israeli chief of staff”. Crisis
    Group interview, Tel Aviv, May 2010.
    169 An Israeli official said, “so far, Hizbollah has not avenged
    Mughniyé’s death. Its attempts in Turkey and Azerbaijan
    failed, but they might succeed in the future – along the lines of
    the attempted assassination of Shlomo Argob [the Israeli ambassador
    to the UK, the failed attempt against whom in 1982 by
    a Palestinian organisation was invoked by Israel as the justification
    for the first Lebanon war]. It could be anything, like the
    bombing of a synagogue in Bombay. Whatever the case, Israel
    would respond. What would Hizbollah do then? Who would be
    accused of starting the conflict?” Crisis Group interview, Jerusalem.
    April 2010. A government adviser added: “They have an
    unsettled account with us – Mughniyé. But they need to be very
    careful that what they do does not trigger the kind of reaction
    they would not want”. Crisis Group interview, Tel Aviv, April 2010.
    170 An Israeli government adviser asked: “If we have the opportunity
    to take out the entire Hizbollah leadership or all its antiaircraft
    missiles, would we do it? Today’s quiet is artificial and
    temporary. In this sense, Hizbollah’s fear of an Israeli attack is
    both reasonable and justified”. Crisis Group interview, Jerusalem,
    April 2010.
    171 Crisis Group interview, Damascus, February 2010. Significantly,
    the 19 January 2010 assassination in Dubai of Mahmoud
    Mabhuh, a Hamas official – during which Israel’s agents appeared
    to leave behind uncharacteristically transparent clues –
    affected the regional atmosphere well beyond the Palestinian
    arena. It bolstered the impression that there were little or no
    limits in the undercover struggle. A U.S. official acknowledged:
    “The Mabhuh assassination had a considerable impact
    on the region as a whole and on Syrians in particular, who felt
    that a new line was being crossed by Israel without serious
    consequence”. Crisis Group interview, Washington, May 2010.
    Since the assassination, the UK, Ireland, and Australia have expelled
    Israeli diplomats to express their anger at the use of stolen
    passports from their citizens in the operation. Poland extradited
    to Germany an Israeli diplomat suspected of having forged a
    German passport. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10541332.

    Posted by Parrhesia | August 2, 2010, 4:01 pm
  11. I have no idea why so many keep insisting on mixing up the facts.

    The issue of the 4 generals is a case in point. One of the major clauses under which the STL became operational was the need for them to ask Lebanon whether there are any people held in custody related to the Hariri case. This inquiry had to be done within 2 months of declaring the STL operational. And that was precisely what the pre trial judge did. He asked the prosecutor and the Lebanese authorities for their evidence and when he was not satisfied that the evidence was strong enough he asked for their release. No system can be expected to be more impartial than this.
    For the exact wording go to:

    http://www.stl-tsl.org/x/file/TheRegistry/Library/presidents_reports/SixMonthReport_En.pdf

    and scroll down to item 6 (sorry , but I do not know how to cut and paste from a pdf file)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | August 2, 2010, 4:23 pm
  12. Here you go Ghassan, cut-and-paste of item 6 in the report you mention:
    ======================
    6. Conclusion
    (A) What has been Accomplished in Six Months?
    47. All those who work for the STL can take pride in a number of achievements attained over the past six months:
    (i) The rapid approval of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, a set of legal provisions carefully tailored to the special features of the Tribunal, and which indeed constitute a fully-fledged “code of criminal procedure” exhibiting many novelties compared to other international “codes”;
    (ii) The deferral of jurisdiction by Lebanon and the quick submission by the Prosecutor of a motion concerning the detention in Lebanon of four Lebanese generals, and the similarly rapid issuance by the Pre-Trial Judge of various orders on the matter;
    (iii) The intense contacts of the Head of the Defence Office with the Lebanese bar associations and Lebanese lawyers at large; his insistence on meeting both the four Generals in gaol and their lawyers, as well as his submission to the Tribunal’s President of a motion to better safeguard the rights of those detainees;
    12
    (iv) The stepping up by the Prosecutor of his investigations so as to expeditiously submit indictments to the Pre-Trial Judge;
    (v) The Registry’s efficient preparations for the establishment of all the necessary practical infrastructures including the setting up of a courtroom (due to be finalised by February 2010 after which the necessary courtroom IT systems will be installed), as well as the recruitment of relatively few but highly competent and experienced staff, thereby affirming a commitment to both cost-effectiveness and efficiency; and
    (vi) The unreserved cooperation lent by the Government of Lebanon to the various organs of the Tribunal.
    (B) What Next?
    48. In the next six months we are determined to:
    (i) Bring to completion all legal and practical infrastructures, so as to make the Tribunal ready for prompt and proper administration of justice;
    (ii) Intensify our outreach programme, in order to have an increasingly great impact on the Lebanese legal profession and public opinion; and
    (iii) Encourage as many States as possible to ratify the comprehensive Draft Agreement on Legal Cooperation with the Tribunal, already circulated to Governments, or at least to consider this Draft Agreement as the general legal framework guiding relations of States with the Tribunal on a case by case basis.
    49. We are keenly aware of the challenges and the major hurdles we are and will be facing. In particular, the Tribunal must meet two formidable challenges. One is that the Tribunal is the first international judicial institution to adjudicate responsibility for terrorism as a distinct crime. International terrorism is a protean notion, difficult to handle, also because there are only a few international treaties and limited case law from which to draw. However, through reliance on Lebanese law and any relevant international standards, the Tribunal should prove to be able to apply a sound and generally acceptable notion of terrorism in a well-balanced manner. The second major challenge is that the Tribunal is the first international criminal court operating within the Arab world. So far, many Arab countries have shown scant interest in, and in some instances have even cast a suspicious glance at, supranational criminal justice. To make them fully amenable to this judicial system one must show beyond any reasonable doubt that international justice can be impartial, fair and immune from any political or ideological bias.
    50. We therefore intend to dispense justice free from any political or ideological fetter and based on full respect for the rights of both the victims and the defendants. By doing so we might set the stage for future and broader resort to international criminal institutions to fend off terrorism.
    13
    51. To be sure, ours will not be an easy task. We are aware that we are treading an uphill path, but we are determined to quickly do justice in a fair manner. We are also so ambitious as to hope to set a precedent for efficient and inexpensive international justice. We are actuated by what the German philosopher Hegel once called “the enthusiasm of the mind” (Enthusiasmus des Geistes). With the support and the cooperation of Lebanon and other States, we will be able to attain our goals.

    Posted by Honest Patriot | August 2, 2010, 9:14 pm
  13. Thanks HP. I will have to ask you , later on, how to cut and past a pdf document:-)

    Isn’t it interesting how the pre trial judge acted as soon as he could to release the 4 generals? Many assume that UNIIIC is the same as the STL and that is not true. The UN asked the head of the UNIIIC to become the prosecutor of the STL in order to preserve continuity in the investigation but the STL has been operational for a relatively short period of time.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | August 2, 2010, 9:25 pm
  14. Ya GK,

    You just … errr … mark the text with the cursor, then copy/paste … just like you would from within a web page or a Word doc.

    Posted by MSK* | August 3, 2010, 8:03 am
  15. MSK* Says:

    “Ya GK,
    You just … errr … mark the text with the cursor, then copy/paste … just like you would from within a web page or a Word doc.”

    MSK*, PDF is a document that is practically unalterable unless one uses another software such as Openoffice which I don’t need. I have to pay the price for not using openoffice by not being able to cut and paste pdf documents. But the need to do that is only once in a blue moon and so I can live without it.
    If there is a different way to cut and paste from pdf then I am all ears. Thanks .

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | August 3, 2010, 8:43 am
  16. so now we know thanks to the leaked voice recordings that it is saad al harrir behind the false witness that put innocent people behind bars. Makes reading this article and the comments even more interesting!

    Posted by fromthefuture | January 25, 2011, 4:33 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Who’s Afraid of a False Witness? « Qifa Nabki | A Lebanese Political Blog - October 6, 2010

  2. Pingback: Who’s Afraid of a False Witness? | Uprootedpalestinians's Blog - July 1, 2013

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