Across the Bay

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

William Harris on the Third Brammertz Report

Once again, William Harris offers a highly insightful and intelligent reading of the latest Brammertz report. Unlike the usual nonsense of the regime flaks, Harris rightly sees that the finger is not only squarely and exclusively aimed at the Assad regime and its underlings in Lebanon, but that Brammertz is very deliberately eliminating any such ridiculous theories as "free-lance Islamists" (like the incredibly transparent statement made the thug Assad himsef in an interview full of threats which he gave to Der Spiegel. He said the same people who attacked the embassy in Damascus are the ones that killed Hariri! But in a way, if you think Assad was behind the attack against the embassy, the statement is very true!). Brammertz is also emphasizing the "political environment" in Lebanon much more explicitly, and has linked the other attacks much more closely. Brammertz is looking ahead to the trial.

I'm reproducing the piece in full, as the Daily Star now restricts access after a few days. I will be addressing this issue shortly with my own analysis, which is very close to Harris.


A cautious report, but lots between the lines

By William Harris
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

In his brilliant book "April Blood: Florence and the Plot Against the Medici," the Renaissance historian Lauro Martines dissects the April 1478 murder plot against Lorenzo de Medici and his brother [Giuliano], which involved the rival Florentine Pazzi family and implicated Pope Sixtus IV and the King of Naples.

In contrast to the fate of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lorenzo survived the assassination attempt. However, events later forced him to make a humiliating visit and obeisance to the pope who had encouraged his would-be killers. In today's Lebanon, only the determination of the international community expressed in the continuing progress of the United Nations inquiry into Hariri's murder stands between Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and similar humiliation, if he is forced to reconcile himself with Hariri's assassins.

The third interim report of the UN commission's chief investigator, Serge Brammertz, released on Monday, continues the cautious, highly professional approach characteristic of his two earlier reports. He has already indicated reluctance to identify prime suspects or provide other information that might prejudice inquiry activities before finalization of the prosecution case for an international tribunal. Nonetheless, the latest interim report demonstrates significant further consolidation of evidence since the report of last June, despite the recent fighting in Lebanon.

First, the inquiry firms up the scenario of an elaborate bombing team, including multiple sub-contractors. It refers to "a complex network of telecommunications traffic between a large number of relevant individuals," as well as "direct and indirect linkages between significant individuals in disparate groups." The example of the suspension of contacts among members of the "alleged bombing team" while Hariri made an impromptu cafe stop en route to his rendezvous with death gives a telling glimpse of the thoroughness of the investigation. Similarly, "knowledge of the activities of the 6 SIM card holders ... alleged to have been part of the bombing team ... has become clearer and more detailed." Obviously, this is not a depiction of a small Islamist cell, operating alone.

Second, the UN commission has gathered more data on individuals who apparently had "substantive information in varying degrees of detail about the attack prior to its execution." Together with the reference to a number of people who "were informed of some aspect of the attack," this gives a clear impression of a significant group of plotters that can hardly have been independent of the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus. Certainly the commission's concern with "the political environment" of the Hariri assassination, including UN Security Council Resolution 1559, the 2005 Lebanese parliamentary elections, and the Al-Madina bank scandal, suggests that investigators are principally thinking in such terms.

Third, the report notes tangible progress in exploring six other "targeted attacks" in 2004-2005, seen by many as integrally linked to the Hariri case, from the attempted murder of Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh to the killing of An-Nahar publisher Gebran Tueni. "One individual using multiple [telephone] numbers has been preliminarily linked ... to a number of the attacks," and "four other people have been linked to this person in some of those attacks." The commission is now becoming confident that these attacks "were not commissioned and executed by ... unconnected persons." Again, coordinated assaults point to a substantial group likely to involve the apparatus of a state, most likely, given Lebanon's context, Syrian-commanded security elements.

Fourth, as in the June 2006 report, the commission does not name any state or organization apart from Syria, but takes care not to accuse the latter. Brammertz still wants more evidence from the Syrians, and does not wish to give Damascus excuses not to comply. The chief investigator describes "generally satisfactory" cooperation in the latest reporting period, but indicates that senior Syrians only behave appropriately when their feet are put to the fire. He reiterates verbatim his steely remarks in the June report: "The Syrian Arab Republic is required to cooperate fully" under the coercive provisions of "Chapter VII of the UN Charter."

The commission also plainly suspects Syrian officials of evasion: "In terms of the qualitative cooperation of Syrian officials being interviewed, the Commission ... finds it necessary to undertake corroborative interviews ... the Commission has found the level of cooperation to be variable."

Otherwise, the report makes several tantalizingly cryptic observations. Perhaps significantly, it refers to "the properties and impacts of various controlled explosions," presumably conducted under commission auspices, for which there was a need for Syrian "documentation." It is difficult to interpret the phrasing as other than a requirement for data on Syrian explosives and associated equipment. This could have damning implications, given the nature of the crime.

As regards the person who "most likely" detonated the presumed truck bomb, the report mentions a tooth with "a feature rarely seen among people from Lebanon." Brammertz avoids referring to a suicide bomber, implying that the truck driver may not have died voluntarily. He even inserts "a new hypothesis" about "an aerial delivery means as a method of causing the explosion." The estimated quantity of explosives is revised upwards toward 1,800 kilograms, though the final assessment of the explosives capacity awaits a determination of the height at which the detonation took place. Whatever the amount of explosives, it is obvious from the report that Hariri was killed in a large, sophisticated conspiracy.

Once again, the main track of the Hariri inquiry in the UN commission's fifth interim report is the same as in preceding reports issued since June 2005 - two by former chief investigator Detlev Mehlis and two by Brammertz. Once again, there is no suggestion that the four senior Lebanese security officials arrested in August 2005 for involvement in the assassination should not continue to languish in prison, and the old Syrian-Lebanese security machine remains the chief object of interest.

The procession of unanimous Security Council resolutions associated with the Hariri inquiry means the credibility of the international community is committed to the uncovering and punishment of the murderers. Events are still headed toward the "tribunal of an international character" and a probable political earthquake in the Levant. Fouad Siniora, hopefully, will need not bow like Lorenzo de Medici.

William Harris, a professor of politics at the University of Otago, New Zealand, is author of "The Levant: A Fractured Mosaic" (Markus Wiener, 2005), which won a Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title award, and "The New Face of Lebanon: History's Revenge" (Markus Wiener, 2005). He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR.