Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Al-Akhbar and the STL: We Will Not Be Silenced

The former head of the UN probe into the murder of Lebanon's ex-premier Rafiq Hariri Detlev Mehlis in a press conference (Photo: Wael Latki)
Published Monday, January 21, 2013
For those seeking to frighten us with the aim of silencing us, we can only say: keep trying, and try harder still. You will be wasting your effort and time.
“Freedom to the extent of murder.” That is MP Marwan Hamadeh’s phrase for describing journalism that doesn’t suit him. Hamadeh speaks, as ever, for a sizeable political camp in Lebanon which believes that Al-Akhbar’s behavior with regard to the international probe into the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri amounts to employing freedom to the extent of murder.

What he means, to be frank, is that the publication of supposedly secret information about the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) exposes people to being killed.
The same has been said, effectively, by STL spokesperson Marten Youssef, and by others who now hold Al-Akhbar responsible for the lives of everyone connected to the STL: judges, security people, lawyers, administrators, witnesses, or whoever. That means that if any of them come to any harm, Al-Akhbar will be held culpable. The STL Registry hinted as much in a letter it sent to Al-Akhbar’s administration demanding a halt to the publication of lists and details of witnesses.

It boils down to one thing: either stop probing the STL’s affairs, or bear criminal liability.
This message was delivered in a cutesy way by Youssef, who granted us the right to criticize the Tribunal’s work, telling us in so many words: Shout and scream if you want, and we will listen to you and consider the implications of your shouting. Many thanks, oh champion of transparency and the rights of individuals.
By the way, Mr. Youssef, could you tell us how much the Tribunal has cost, and thus what the Lebanese outlay has been (an accurate figure would be appreciated), from the time you assumed your post until today, and what services it has rendered in return for this sum?
Other objections are related to a campaign being waged by the STL prosecution team and its political counterpart – its allies in Lebanon – against the defense team appointed by the Tribunal. For example, the claim that the presence of a particular lawyer on the defense team (Antoine Korkmaz, who previously defended Jamil al-Sayyed when he was falsely imprisoned for four years) means it has been infiltrated by Sayyed’s political allies. The insinuation, ultimately, is that the defense team has been infiltrated by Hezbollah, the defendant.
This political camp finds the mere existence of a defense team at the STL intolerable, and would only be satisfied if it were headed by someone like Muhammad Matar [Saad Hariri’s legal representative]. So imagine what they make of the appointment of Omar Nashabe as an expert advisor to the defense. The ultimate crime, or the ultimate heresy. How could anyone in the STL dare even think of working with a legal or media specialist these guys don’t approve of?
The political prosecution team was also quick to attribute the latest leak of documents – automatically and with certainty – to the defense team. How they came to that conclusion is an interesting question.
Who told you that the material published in Lebanese, Arab, and foreign media outlets, including Al-Akhbar, came from documents that had been submitted to the defense team?
Were you able to see these documents for yourselves in order to say that?
If so, that is a disaster. You should, according to your own prescriptions, be prosecuted by the STL yourselves. If not, that means you are continuing to play the political accusations game that led to other disasters. Do you think you will never be held accountable by any court anywhere for the harm you have brought to individuals and countries?
Whatever the case, in our view, the STL itself, and especially the prosecution team, should take the initiative in holding a serious and unrestricted investigation to determine the party responsible for the leaking of information and documents, and how these made their way to media outlets including Al-Akhbar.
If reports are true that at least two members of the STL staff are being questioned on suspicion of leaking documents, that is a good move. It may help clarify the truth about who has an interest in leaking, and in whose service.

The witnesses themselves should also be asked if they indeed agree to testify, as most have come to appreciate that they are being used in a dirty game. We at Al-Akhbar have received clarifications from many of the people whose pictures and names we published, as well as other witnesses who were not identified. Some said they were taking legal action to prevent the prosecution team from using the testimonies they had given whether willingly or through inducements to testify or intimidation into doing so. Some witnesses said they were in the process of annulling their testimonies.

Another thing the political and legal prosecution teams are aware of is that the prosecution’s strategy has become common knowledge. It has mustered a huge crowd of witnesses, said to number more than a thousand, who will be asked to testify to the court in succession, though it will not be identifying them now. They are not being summoned because they have information to reveal which dramatically aids the investigation. It is more about using the glut of witnesses as a means of putting pressure on the defense team – by side-tracking and overloading it – while also making the STL’s work seem impressive to the public, and worth the tens of millions of dollars spent on it annually.

The prosecution is also trying to persuade some individuals to appear before the court to testify with information aimed, in practice, at ratcheting up the charge levelled at the four indicted members of the Resistance to the Hezbollah leadership itself. Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah’s remarks pledging to protect the four men are to be used to try to implicate him in the Hariri killing, and thus set in motion a fresh campaign aimed at discrediting him personally as symbol of the Arab world’s most popular and effective resistance movement.

It seems that people have to be reminded that this is a political issue par excellence. Al-Akhbar makes no secret of its assessment – based on abundant factual and documentary evidence – that what we are witnessing is one of the biggest political, judicial and intelligence frauds of modern times. Its sole purpose is to damage the Resistance, which frightened and continues to frighten the powers that control the institutions of supposed international legality.

For those seeking to frighten us with the aim of silencing us, we can only say: keep trying, and try harder still. You will be wasting your effort and time.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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