I imagine that any regular reader of this blog has already heard about Neil Macdonald’s special report on the Hariri assassination for CBC news. It’s a must read, if only because it will be all anyone will talk about in Lebanon for the next few weeks. You can also see the brief video report on the story that appeared on Canadian television yesterday here.
This is the third “scoop” about the Hariri investigation in a series of articles dating back to August 2006, when Georges Malbrunot published a story in Le Figaro that first hinted at the possibility of Hizbullah’s involvement. The infamous report by Erich Follath in Der Spiegel three years later added more details to Malbrunot’s revelation that telecommunications data was being used to track Hariri’s hit team.
Macdonald’s report builds on the two earlier stories but also provides some new (and surprising) information:
- The UN didn’t make much headway on the investigation until late 2007.
- Captain Wissam Eid — a Lebanese police officer investigating the crime who was killed in 2008 by a car bomb — had made huge strides towards cracking the case all on his own by using telecommunications data (i.e. signal intelligence) and submitted a report to the UN, only to have it shoved into a drawer for over a year.
- Eid was killed a week after the UN rediscovered the report and re-connected with him, which suggests that he was being watched by Hariri’s killers.
- Several senior officials in the investigation suspect that Col. Wissam al-Hassan (the head of the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch and close confidante of Saad al-Hariri) had former knowledge of the plot to kill Hariri Sr., and they have evidence that he was in close communication with members of Hizbullah on the night before the murder.
- Apparently the UN is demanding that CBC news return the confidential documents that Macdonald secured, and is refusing to comment on the story.
There’s a lot to say about this report and I’m sure it will generate a lively discussion, but I’ll confine myself to just a few observations for now:
First, can we tentatively assume that Malbrunot’s source back in 2006 was either Wissam Eid himself or his boss Samer Shehadeh, since the article came out before the UN “discovered” Eid’s report in 2007? Perhaps they hoped to send a message to The Hague to look into this material that had been ignored thus far.
Secondly, where did Macdonald get all of his information? Is the STL leaking like a sieve, or are his sources all former disgruntled officials who are dissatisfied with the direction of the investigation? The detailed information about Wissam Eid is particularly interesting, and leads one to suspect that Samer Shehadeh (Eid’s former boss who was targeted unsuccessfully by a car bomb and is now based in Quebec) might have been one of Macdonald’s sources, but this is pure speculation.
Thirdly, the material about Wissam al-Hassan is clearly the most disturbing and complicating element in this whole report. It’s an accusation that makes everybody’s life more difficult. Given al-Hassan’s close ties to Saad Hariri, no one in March 14 is going to be happy with these claims, and the Americans were apparently very uncomfortable with them. It also causes problems for Hizbullah and its allies: how can the opposition embrace the revelation about al-Hassan’s alleged culpability while disavowing the rest of the report? Finally, the Syrians, too, will not be happy with this leak, as Wissam al-Hassan was Hariri Sr.’s main channel to Rustom Ghazzali (former Syrian head of intelligence and de facto viceroy in Lebanon), which puts Damascus back under the spotlight. My guess is that what we’re likely to see is a lot of tiptoeing by Lebanese politicians with respect to this new story.
While I believe that a healthy dose of skepticism about all STL matters is certainly warranted, let us imagine for a moment that Macdonald’s report is based on solid sources. If you thought (like I did) that the prospect of Hariri sending the army to arrest members of Hizbullah was about as fantastical a scenario as anyone could imagine, we now stand corrected. No, the most fantastical scenario is the one where Hariri sends the army to arrest members of Hizbullah and his own intelligence chief for the murder of his father. And unless another Western newspaper reveals in a year that it was none other than Saad himself who ordered the crime, I think the Hariri affair’s irony index has hit an all-time high.