The “false witness” issue has gone from being a conspiratorial throw-away line in one of Nasrallah’s early summer speeches, to a full-blown scandal involving several arrest warrants from the Syrian judiciary, and threats by Lebanese opposition parties to boycott cabinet sessions until the issue is resolved.
Who is to blame for this fiasco? While it is fairly clear that the false witness file is just one part of an opposition campaign to discredit the STL, I feel that Saad al-Hariri is ultimately responsible for allowing this issue to snowball. Did he not recognize months ago that this was going to be the opposition’s game plan? Did he think that he was going to get off with a poorly-worded mea culpa in a Saudi newspaper?
By remaining out of the spotlight and not tackling the issue head-on, he has allowed the opposition to take complete control of this story. And the longer he tries to ignore it, the more suspicious and deceitful he and his allies look. Does it matter whether or not the 33 summoned individuals actually offered false testimony or tampered with evidence? No. What matters is that the opposition has been given an open floor to argue that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is nothing but a vast conspiracy relying on false witnesses.
I’ve gotten a lot of flak over the past two weeks for suggesting that Saad al-Hariri’s premiership is little more than a sustained absence, and that March 8th politicians have better rhetorical chops than their counterparts in March 14th. Let me ask you naysayers once again: let’s imagine the tables were turned, and that a media campaign was being waged against Hizbullah. Would Nasrallah remain quiet, or would he respond to his accusers calmly and clearly (and, probably, disarmingly), batting away their claims like the wispiest of dust bunnies?
Compared to what Hizbullah is facing, the false witness issue is small potatoes. Nasrallah is allegedly staring down an STL indictment built on five years of in-depth investigation, interviews, and forensic evidence. What does he do in response? He goes on the offensive a few months in advance, and one-ups the U.N. with a three-part TV special featuring Israeli satellite footage and confessions from convicted espionage artists. Nasrallah could handle the false witness thing in his sleep. Meanwhile, Hariri seems to be asleep.