Lebanon News

Ex-intelligence chief blasts STL investigation

MP Jamil al-Sayyed entering Parliament in Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Azakir)

BEIRUT: Ex-General Security chief Jamil al-Sayyed launched a scathing attack on the U.N. body tasked with investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri Tuesday, saying the investigation should have been left to the Lebanese authorities.

“Had the investigation been left in our hands I’m sure we would have reached a solution,” Sayyed, currently a Hezbollah-affiliated member of Parliament, said while giving evidence to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in Leidschendam, the Netherlands. Sayyed, who was detained in 2005 for four years by Lebanese authorities due to suspected involvement in the case, asked, “The real question is why the investigation was sidetracked for four years, and in whose interest was it?”

President of the Trial Chamber Judge David Re criticized Sayyed’s treatment at the hands of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission at the beginning of the day’s session, saying he wished to put on the record “how badly you were treated in custody. ... It is far below accepted international standards.”

According to Re, Sayyed’s detention “breaches every international human rights standard.”

Re’s fellow trial chamber judge Janet Nosworthy pressed Sayyed on certain actions taken by Lebanese authorities in the immediate aftermath of Hariri’s assassination that might be deemed suspicious, such as the quick removal of the vehicles destroyed in the bombing that killed the former prime minister. Sayyed conceded there were a lot of mistakes but maintained there had been no foul play by the Lebanese authorities.

“I don’t see that any of the institutions were intentionally trying to eradicate evidence,” he said.

Sayyed resigned from his position due to political pressure shortly after the assassination.

“The crime was bigger than all the institutions in place,” Sayyed said, claiming the crime scene investigators “didn’t have the right experience,” to which he attributed any mistakes made. Sayyed went so far as to accuse investigators from the IIIC of having demanded he fabricate evidence to make it seem as though the Syrian government had perpetrated the assassination. “I refused to be a false witness against Bashar Assad so [the commission] produced false witnesses against me,” Sayyed said.

A number of testimonies provided to the IIIC in the early days of its investigation were subsequently revealed to be false.

Sayyed said his treatment at the hands of the IIIC had changed his perceptions of international investigators. “I had the impression that the West had their own criteria, standards and ethics,” he said. “I have seen monsters. ... When they act in our countries they become worse.”

He said he had told one IIIC investigator, “When I look into your glassy eyes I realize that Hitler isn’t dead, he’s still living in you.”

The MP disputed claims of a poor relationship between Hariri and Hezbollah, saying instead that “both were complementary and rendering service to the country without being in the same government. This was useful for Hariri.”

According to Sayyed, that Hezbollah entered the government following Hariri’s death was born of necessity, rather than opportunity. “Hezbollah found itself unprotected ... After [Hariri’s death] Hezbollah needed to join the government for protection purposes. They couldn’t stay out of the government where hostile policies could be shaped against Hezbollah.” He claimed the group’s presence in Lebanese government is “symbolic, but strategic.”

A considerable portion of Sayyed’s testimony was dedicated to discussing the 2000 electoral law. In Lebanon, the law is known colloquially as the “Ghazi Kanaan Law,” after the Syrian head of intelligence in Lebanon who allegedly drafted it.

Sayyed, however, claimed direct responsibility for its drafting. “Neither Ghazi Kanaan, nor President Lahoud nor the Interior Minister were the architects of the law,” he said. “The president had tasked me [with it] and I formed a team.”

Rather than being designed to promote Syrian interests in Lebanon, Sayyed said the law was designed to accommodate both Christian and Muslim interests. Lebanon’s Muslim politicians, he said, wanted fewer, larger electoral districts, which would maximize the advantage of their majority, while the Christians wanted smaller districts to better safeguard the interests of minorities.

Re said that from the outside, having the director of the country’s intelligence bureau and a close confidant of the then-president draft an electoral law seems “a fairly extraordinary setup.”

“Unfortunately Lebanon is unique,” Sayyed said. “It’s different from all other countries worldwide, especially when it comes to politics.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 06, 2018, on page 2.

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