A few days ago, the prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Daniel Bellemare, filed an amended indictment in the investigation of the 2005 murder of Rafiq al-Hariri. The only details reported about the new indictment were that it contained “substantive new elements,” which is what passes for breaking news on the STL front.
Today, however, two news stories in Lebanese media outlets (Naharnet and as-Safir) quoted anonymous European officials in The Hague who provided salacious new details about the contents of the amended indictment. According to Naharnet‘s source, Bellemare now has new evidence of Syrian complicity in the Hariri murder, which was made available to him by Syrian witnesses who defected to The Hague. The report in as-Safir discusses negotiations between the STL and French intelligence, part of an alleged effort to reach “the Syrian masterminds” behind the crime.
I don’t think I’m the only one who finds this latest twist in the Hariri saga to be more than a little far-fetched, or at least worthy of suspicion. Let’s point out the obvious:
- Witness testimony in a case like this is highly problematic, when you consider the likely number of layers between those who commissioned the crime and those who committed it. Unless the “witnesses” in the case are extremly high up the chain of command, it seems extremely unlikely that they could finger anyone in the Syrian government.
- But let’s say they could. Shouldn’t we regard the fact of their defection to The Hague as slightly problematic? This case has already been plagued by the credibility problems in witness testimony (cf. Zuhayr al-Siddiq and Husam Husam). How trustworthy is a regime defector unless he/she can furnish hard evidence of a plot (evidence which is exceedingly difficult to come by in a case like this).
- Finally, who are Naharnet’s sources? There is no precedent for a leak of this kind being handed to a Lebanese media outlet, one which does not have nearly the same visibility on the international scene as a publication like Der Spiegel, Le Figaro, or CBC (who carried the previous leaks).
The STL’s opponents in Lebanon are going to benefit from this latest press report. Given that most people in Lebanon already believe that the STL is politicized to some degree or another, the alleged re-emergence of a Syrian track in the investigation at a time like this — when the regime is battling internal protests and challenges to its authority — seems a little too convenient for me.
Finally, thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion with Camille Otrakji last week. As of this moment, the comment count is up to 685 and seems destined to top 700 by the end of lunch. You’ll have a chance to re-engage with Camille some time next week when I interview him over at Bloggingheads. Stay tuned!