December 6, 2005
Amazingly enough, many of the witnesses who earlier fingered Syria, and in particular, Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, Asef Shawkut, in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, have abruptly begun to recant, claim they were bribed by Lebanese, or claim they were kidnapped and tortured into falsely accusing Syria. Or, in one instance, to die under mysterious circumstances.
All the while, the Syrians smugly wink at the U.N. investigators and say "witnesses? what witnesses?"
- The star witness in the Security-Council case against Syria, Hussam Taher Hussam, has suddenly begun making "outlandish claims to have given false testimony after being kidnapped, tortured and offered $1.3 million in bribes by Lebanese officials - charges that even critics of the investigation say are hard to believe."
- Earlier, another chief witness, Zuhair Ibn Muhammad Said Saddik, has now "changed his testimony and confessed to participating in the attack." He's now cooling his sandals in a hoosegow in Paris.
- A pair of employees of some Syrian governmental agency say that another witness, "Abu George," is about to recant and claim he was bribed with $500,000 by Lebanese government officials.
- Nawar Habib Donna, who "was identified as having sold five of the eight cellphone cards that Mr. Mehlis's team had connected to the killing," died late last month when his car flipped over, hurling him down into a valley below the roadway.
All of these bizarre twists have two things in common: they strain credulity -- and they all serve to exonerate Syria and make it appear as though the victim-state, Lebanon, were the real perpetrator.
Oh, one more thing: they all stink like week-old fish.
The Syrians insist that the whole case against them for Hariri's assassination is blown:
Security agents escorted Mr. Hussam into a hotel room on Monday to recount for a reporter a tale that exonerates him and Syrian officials of all wrongdoing while implicating Syria's chief enemies in the killing and subsequent conspiracy to frame Damascus. He repeatedly boasted about his ability to mislead people.
"No, they are not dumb," Mr. Hussam said of the investigators, who he said never doubted his account of events even after questioning him dozens of times. "I am smarter. I penetrated through all of them. I am proud of it. I penetrated through all of them, and I acted well."
However, the chief investigator for the U.N. Security Council, Detlev Mehlis, appears to be unworried by the worrisome "recantations" and the death.
"That is why we put on paper what people tell us," Mr. Mehlis said in a discussion of the case in his Beirut office on Monday. "That is why we let them read what we put on paper. That is why after reading it, we let them sign it. That's why we have asked them: 'Have you been threatened? Have you been given promises? Have you been offered or given money?' And we let them read it and let them sign it, because it unfortunately happens that people die, that people get killed, that people get sick, or change their minds on what they have told us."
Mehlis notes that Hussam's original story was thoroughly checked out, "but we didn't find a major inaccuracy in his statements."
I think by now all of you reading this post have figured out what is going on: Bashar Assad and the Syrian generals who back him have decided to go to the mattresses on this one; so they've almost certainly called in a "fixer," an organization of people who take care of inconvenient witnesses, either by threats, bribery, or simply running them off the road. It strains credulity to the breaking point to imagine that all these witnesses would accept massive bribes from Lebanon to implicate Syria in a murder that they have all but admitted committing... and then all simultaneously get attacks of conscience and change their stories.
The United States says that we're not particularly concerned, either:
A senior State Department official said the United States had no evidence that Mr. Mehlis's investigation was encountering problems and warned that Syria was waging a "concerted effort to cast doubt on the Mehlis investigation." He said allegations about the recanting of one witness's testimony and other problems did not constitute anything like evidence that the Mehlis inquiry was running into trouble, as Syria says.
I wonder whether that is because State still thinks the UNSC will vote to hold Syria responsible for the assassination that they clearly carried out, voting sanctions and indicting top Syrian officials -- or whether we're not concerned because we never did think the Security Council was going to do anything in the first place... and we're just biding our time for our own form of American justice.
The Syrians have a soft spot we could hit blindfolded: the Syrian government depends critically upon Hezbollah's presence in Lebanon and upon the thousands of Syrian intelligence agents who were left behind when the Syrian Army pulled out shortly after the assassination. If the Lebanese government formally requested our help, we could fly a few hundred SpecOps troops into Lebanon, lead and train up the Lebanese Army, and drive Hezbollah back into Syria within a year, with virtually no risk of any significant American casualties. Likewise, with our help, Lebanon could round up many of the Syrian intelligence agents (before the rest fled east in a panic) and rendite them -- to Israel. I'm sure Mossad would be more than happy to interrogate them for a while.
Unlike Iraq, there would be neither need nor permission granted for us to invade with an army; Syria could be crippled entirely through the use of a small number of Special Ops forces, and mostly by the Lebanese Army (who would be overjoyed at getting help "disarming" Hezbollah). Being driven out of Lebanon for good would finish off Assad, and Assad knows it.
So the Syrian triumph at, as I believe, threatening witnesses into silence (or shutting their mouths more permanently) will likely be short-lived, as they discover that there are worse things in the world than being investigated by the United Nations.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, December 6, 2005, at the time of 11:58 PM
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Tracked on July 12, 2006 4:12 PM
The following hissed in response by: Gbear
Sounds kinda like Little Rock in the 80's.
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