Well this is embarrassing. Lebanese TV station al-Jadeed has a major scoop tonight: a leaked recording of a meeting between Saad al-Hariri, Information Branch chief Colonel Wissam al-Hassan, STL deputy chief investigator Gerhard Lehmann, and Muhammad Zuhair al-Siddiq. You can watch the entire report below.
It’s not entirely clear just how damaging this could be for Hariri. On the one hand, judging from a comment made by Siddiq near the beginning, this conversation must have taken place shortly after the attempted assassination of May Chidiac on September 20th, 2005. That was still very early in the investigation, well before the IIIC determined that Siddiq was unreliable (note the date of the report shown in the video: August 2006). For an excellent background document on the whole false witness scandal, see here.
Furthermore, the al-Jadeed audio clip does not portray Hariri or al-Hassan feeding Siddiq any information. Rather, it’s the other way around, and the German investigator raises doubts about the veracity of the witness’s testimony. If anything, what the clip seems to show is:
- Hariri and his people wanted Siddiq to provide “clear evidence” of Syrian involvement.
- They were convinced by what he said, and were trying to convince Lehmann that his testimony was valuable.
- Al-Hassan looks even more eager than Hariri to get the information out of Siddiq.
Now, despite all of this, I do believe that the clip could be seriously damaging — depending on how Hariri handles it. The opposition is going to claim that Hariri lied about not having anything to do with the false witnesses (even though this audio actually seems to confirm that he was the recipient of Siddiq’s testimony, not the originator of it.) The mere fact that he was in contact with Siddiq is enough to further poison the well of public trust in the STL.
More on this tomorrow (al-Jadeed has promised us another tape!)
UPDATE: I’ve translated selections from the recording into English, and will translate the rest later if I have time. For those who read Arabic (but are having trouble hearing everything said on the recording), see Elaph’s transcription of the discussion.
Hariri: (addressing Siddiq) Neither I nor you, nor Murad, nor Gerald, nor Andy, nor anyone in Lebanon or Syria doubts that they did it.
Siddiq: No one doubts?
Hariri: …That they did it. Now, we’re working with countries — Arab countries. If you can’t bring them clear evidence that the Syrian regime using X, Y, and Z, with evidence A, B, and C was involved [in the crime], then we have a problem.
Siddiq: … If you want to speak like this, then you need to begin to respond to them with [??] That’s the first thing, in respect to the Arab countries, apart from the foreign [i.e. non-Arab] countries.
(The tape is then cut off abruptly)
Siddiq: I take responsibility for what I’m saying, Wissam. Because there’s going to be a confrontation, and I’m going to confront people myself.
Siddiq: I don’t want to say something, for him to ask me: “When is that going to happen?”
Hariri: When are you going to bring 1, 2, 3?
Siddiq: Those who are carrying out the explosions in Lebanon: I get them.I get them all. That’s my job. That’s what I do. I’m the one who gets them.
Siddiq: The telephone call in which I told you that they would send 20 people. The telephone call in which I told you that the explosions would begin. Didn’t it happen? You’re seeing it. I called you the night before last, do you remember? Did you see the call?
Siddiq: I called you the night before last.
Siddiq: You didn’t answer. I called a second time and you didn’t answer. I said maybe he went to sleep and he’ll call me in the morning. [I was calling] to tell you that there was a bomb going to the LBC. It ended up being for May [Chidiac]. May was lost.
(Note that Siddiq did not actually communicate this to Hariri prior to the bombing. He’s claiming to have had advance knowledge but he didn’t actually warn Hariri ahead of time, because he allegedly couldn’t reach him on the phone.)
Hariri: Usually, when you want to speak to me you send me an SMS.
Siddiq: At a time of urgency?! An SMS?! …
(Discussion of Nabih Berri’s visit to Spain and then Syria to meet with Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah)
Siddiq: Go confirm this information.
Hassan: Zuhair, let’s go back to the scene of the crime.
Siddiq: The scene of the crime, ya habibi, I’m going to tell you about it. What I want to tell you is this: if the report is going to come out without any confusion whatsoever, it needs to have the names of nine people: four Lebanese and nine Syrians. That’s what the report should say. Nine Syrians and four Lebanese.
Siddiq: Tell him [i.e. Lehmann] something for me. Tell him that Zuhair will not let you become a spectacle [nazra?] in front of the world, no. Tell him that I have the truth and that all of it will come out, God permitting…
(Discussion of where Siddiq’s wife would stay when he came to Lebanon. My friend Alex pointed out that this conversation reveals that the meeting between Siddiq and Hariri did not take place in Lebanon. Where did it take place? If someone can dig up an old press report that mentions which country Hariri was in shortly after May Chidiac was killed, then we can guess where this meeting happened.)
To be continued…
UPDATE: Here is Part Two.