May 21, 2015

Witness Majdalani testifies

Between 28 April and 1 May, witness Dr. Atef Majdalani appeared in court as a witness for the prosecution. This witness, member of Rafik Hariri's Future Bloc, is a neurologist who entered Lebanese politics in 1996, and currently functions as a member of parliament.

[Screenshot of Dr. Majdalani.]

The witness testified about his relationship to Rafik Hariri, they were friends and political allies, and met each other almost on a daily basis. They created a political group that was to become the Al-Mustaqbal movement. The witness believed the Syrians had kept Hariri from forming his own political party and his own electoral list.

The Syrians wanted to limit Hariri's influence to Beirut. The witness also testifies about the Syrians arming Hezbollah so as to reduce the power of the Lebanese army and strengthen Hezbollah. When counsel for the Prosecution asked the witness about the relations between Syria and Hezbollah, counsel for Baddreddine objected to this line of questioning, indicating to the judges that this went beyond the scope of this witness's witness statement, however, the Chamber ruled against the objection, allowing the witness to testify on this matter.

Syrian troops were deployed all over Lebanon until 2005, and Hezbollah had a heavy military presence in the South of Lebanon. There was cooperation between Syria and Hezbollah in the south of the country. There were clear Syrian orders preventing the Lebanese army from being deployed in South Lebanon. President Emile Lahoud was very proud that he left the whole situation in South Lebanon up to the Hezbollah militia and the Syrian army.

The witness testified about the problems between Hariri and Emile Lahoud concerning the latter's reelection as president. Majdalani himself was also opposed to Lahoud's reelection. He even publicly announced his opposition to Lahoud's candidacy, though emphasised that this was his personal opinion, and not the bloc's. He felt threatened by Syria, though, after he had taken this position. He was afraid of the future of Lebanon and for Hariri's security. The witness states he would endorse the position of Prime Minister Hariri because he was a member of the Future Movement, one of the MPs in that bloc, and all MPs in that bloc used to endorse the position of Hariri whenever it came to critical issues and matters regarding Lebanon's future. Prime Minister Hariri had declared publicly that in the forthcoming parliamentary elections he would not be taking on board any pro-Syrian candidates.  

Hariri's security had been reduced, and this was also discussed by the witness during his testimony in court. Whilst Hariri had been Prime Minister, he had had 20 to 30 security officers, but this was reduced to only six or seven officers after his term in office had come to an end. 

On 13 February, the day prior to his assassination, Hariri and Majdalani discussed the strategy for the upcoming elections. Hariri had been convinced that an alliance needed to be formed to establish a free and democratic Lebanon. He had not mentioned that Hezbollah was an issue in that. 

On 14 February, the day of the assassination, Abou-Tareq, Hariri's head of security, had looked very concerned and angry, and it had been obvious to the witness that he was afraid and worried about something. Normally, Abou-Tareq had been a very loveable and alive person, but on that day his face was glum, and the witness knew he had just returned from a visit to Rustom Ghazaleh, the head of Syrian security in Lebanon. It was obvious that Abou-Tareq had received a very negative message from Rustom Ghazaleh.

Hariri had high hopes for winning the parliamentary elections in May of that year, and the witness states the Syrians knew this, "and I think also that this might have been one of the reasons that led to his assassination". It was obvious that through the Bristol gathering, there was a rapprochement between Hariri, His Eminence Patriarch Boutros Sfeir and the various Christian factions. Thus, the Syrians were afraid that Hariri et al would get a majority in parliament and would ask for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. "This rapprochement would have saved Lebanon, unified all the Lebanese around one goal, and would have helped Lebanon to achieve its full sovereignty, independence, and freedom", declares Dr. Majdalani.

One interesting part of this witness's testimony that will probably not be pursued by the Prosecution is that the witness recalled having recognised Abu Adass, or a person looking like him, whilst visiting a prison at the end of 2004. Abu Adass was the person who, according to the Prosecution case, claimed responsibility for the assassination of Rafik Hariri in a video that was spread through the media. However, the Prosecution denies that this could have been the case.

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