Beware false witnesses in Lebanon
By Sami Moubayed
DAMASCUS - When the Syrians issued an arrest warrant for Lebanese Colonel Wisam
Hasan earlier this year, along with 32 other Lebanese figures, many in the
ruling March 14 coalition in Beirut cried foul play.
This man, as far as the Hezbollah-led opposition was concerned, was part of a
ring of false witnesses who had all lied under oath and distorted facts before
an international United Nations-backed commission charged with investigating
the 2005 murder of Lebanon's ex-prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
That investigation had tried to blame the Syrians for Hariri's murder and has
recently been trying to point figures at members of Hezbollah. However, a
groundbreaking report released by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
on Sunday indicates
that Hasan indeed had been a false witness, and that the Syrians were right,
Hasan, the current intelligence chief at the Internal Security Branch in
Lebanon, was described by the CBC report as a "puzzling, even feared figure in
his own country". The CBS obtained classified files from the UN proving that
when testifying before interrogators, Hasan's alibi had been "flimsy, to put it
Hasan had been in charge of Hariri's security when Hariri was killed by a
massive explosion in Beirut on February 14, 2005. Strangely enough, according
to UN investigators who drilled him in July 2005, Hasan had not shown up for
work on that fateful day, claiming that he was enrolled in a computer course,
Management Social et Humaine, at the Lebanese University.
He had said that one day before the assassination his professor had called him,
saying that he had to sit an examination on February 14. That raises the first
serious question mark: senior Lebanese officials do not go to classes or sit
for exams with other students, and professors do not call students 24 hours in
advance to tell them that they have to take exams the following day. Students
are usually informed of their exam times well in advance, certainly not by
phone through their professors.
According to Hasan's story, 20 minutes after speaking to his professor, Hariri
had summoned him and he arrived at his boss' residence at 9:30 pm, obtaining
permission to attend the exam on February 14. He claimed to have spent the next
morning studying for the exam and turned his phone off when he walked into the
university, during which, the massive explosion took place next to the St
Georges Hotel in the heart of Beirut. Hasan told investigators, "If I wasn't
sitting for that exam I would have been with Mr Hariri when he died." The CBC
twist, however, based on UN files, tells a different story.
First, it was clear from Hasan's phone records that he called his professor,
not the other way around, and that the phone call was made after he met Hariri
at 9:30 pm, not before. Second, the cell towers around Hasan's home show that
on February 14, he spent the hour before Hariri's assassination talking over
the phone, rather than studying as he had originally claimed. He made a total
of 24 calls, an average of one every nine minutes.
In 2008, UN investigators prepared a report challenging Hasan's alibi,
recommending that he be brought in for detailed questioning. They claimed "his
alibi is weak and inconsistent" and according to a confidential UN report
obtained by CBS, Hasan is "a possible suspect in the Hariri murder".
The UN report, it must be noted, was prepared by chief investigator Garry
Loeppky. The probe's second commissioner, Serge Brammertz, curtly refused to
drill Hasan as a suspect, considering him too valuable a contact in Lebanon to
alienate. According to CBC, questioning him for his alibi would have been "too
disruptive" for the Hariri affair investigation. As a result, "the UN
commission's management ignored the recommendation".
The entire ordeal adds more confusion to the already chaotic scene in Lebanon.
First it supports the Hezbollah argument that questions what kind of an
international investigation would allow files and documents are "leaked" to
The fact that files have indeed been leaked to the press could compromise the
entire investigation. If CBC has access to files, then so may intelligence
agencies around the world, meaning that the probe is politicized.
This summer, Israeli chief of general staff Gabi Ashkenazi hinted that he knew
what the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was going to say, "predicting”
indictments that would create an earthquake in Lebanon. If Der Spiegel, Le
Figaro, Ashkenazi and CBC all have access to the Hariri files, what kind of
impartial or serious investigation is the UN presiding over in Lebanon?
Second, an impartial probe would not eliminates prime suspects from the
interrogation loop, because of their current standing, and should spare nobody
in pursuit of the truth. It had already refused to even consider Israel as a
suspect in the Hariri murder, much to the anger of many Lebanese who remember
how often Israel has killed senior figures in their country in complete breach
of international law.
Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah presented audiovisual documents in August
showing that Israel had been monitoring Hariri prior this death, claiming that
this evidence should be used to open a serious inquiry with the Israelis over
the Hariri affair. Today, nearly four months later, not a single Israeli
official has been questioned by the UN probe.
March 14 members who for years had rallied rank-and-file behind the UN probe
found themselves in a very awkward position after the CBC report was published
on Sunday, immediately lashing out against it. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri,
who still relies heavily on Hasan, came to his defense, saying that the man's
loyalty "was beyond doubt".
March 14 figures did not have the nerve to call the CBC report doctored or
false, however, given that no such statement was issued by the UN. All that the
UN did was let its lawyer, Stephen Mathias, warn the CBC reporter that it was
going to raise the matter before Canadian authorities, claiming that he may
have obtained leaked UN documents in violation of international agreements.
Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists,
noted, "If the UN has an issue with the leak they need to pursue that within
the United Nations and not target journalists who have an obligation to use
this kind of information to inform the public."
Syria apparently was not "inventing" the false witnesses story against Hasan
and his comrades, as senior figures in March 14 have been saying. These men
appear to have lied under oath before international justice. If the UN intends
to maintain what remains of its integrity, the least it can do ... is do
something about it.
Sami Moubayed is editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.