Jun 27, 2015

Political witness Hani Hammoud testifies

Between 19 and 22 May of 2015, the next political witness came to testify for the Prosecution. The witness was Mr. Hani Hammoud, a journalist and editor-in-chief of the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal. He is also the chairman of Future TV and the (principal) media advisor of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Prior to the latter's assassination, the witness met on an almost daily basis with the former Prime Minister for many years, and accompanied him on most of his travels abroad. He was a witness to a number of significant conversations which Hariri had had with others.

[Screenshot of Mr. Hani Hammoud.]
On the 4th of January 2004 the witness as part of the media office and on behalf of Hariri, issued a statement regarding the re-opening of MTV on Lebanese television. In September of 2002, MTV had been closed down by a judicial order from the Lebanese judiciary, due to the pressure from the Syrian regime and President Lahoud. The statement resulted in anger from the Syrians. Rustom Ghazaleh, the Syrian security chief in Lebanon, delivered a request by phone from Assad to Hariri. The Syrians held Hariri responsible for the statement. “You either have to let go Hammoud or you approve his statement as your own and then I can’t protect you anymore.” Hariri told the witness about this conversation with Rustom Ghazaleh. The Syrian regime wanted Mr. Hammoud to be removed from his position as public media advisor. Because Hariri did not want problems, he removed Mr. Hammoud from the official position as a public media advisor and moved him to the official position as editor-in-chief of Al Mustaqbal. Unofficially, he retained his position as a media advisor for Hariri.

At the time MTV was closed down, Hariri was certain, ‘had direct information’, that MTV would stay closed due to direct pressure by the Syrian regime and President Lahoud. There was no possibility to appeal the judicial order of the Lebanese court. In Lebanon it always goes directly to the Chamber of Cassation and they affirmed the first order. There was no (political) hope that MTV could ever broadcast again. They waited seven years for the possibility to broadcast again. During the night of the 6 to the 7 June 2003, there was an attack on the Future TV building. Hariri told the employees of Future TV: “This attack is not targeting you. It is an attack targeting me in person. I got the message. Please go back to work”.  Later that day Hariri infomred the witness: “This is an attack on my backyard”, as the building was very close to his residence. Hariri realized very well that this attack was perpetrated by the Syrian regime and its actors in Lebanon.

The prosecutor continued by asking the witness about the so-called December meetings between Rafik Hariri and Syria’s President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus. The meeting turned out to be a catastrophe. Hariri came back as a sad and broken man. He said: “It was not a meeting, it was a trial!” Assad had been accompanied by Rustom Ghazaleh, Ghazi Kanaan and Mohammed Khallouf. They were addressing him in unacceptable terms, called him a traitor. After the meeting, Hariri had asked the witness to stop any rhetoric that might attract negative attention in the media against the Syrian regime and President Lahoud. They saw Hariri as the architect of the campaign against the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Further, Hariri had to get rid of his shares in An-Nahar Newspaper. He was also asked to put an end to any confrontation and avoid any conflict that might arise with President Lahoud. Hariri then told the witness to be very careful.

The subsequent meeting Hariri had with President Assad was at the end of August 2004 in Damascus. Hariri wanted to discuss the extension of President Lahoud's term. After this meeting the witness met wit Hariri at his residence at Faqra. It had been a very disturbing meeting again. Assad had told him: “Emile Lahoud’s term will be extended. You have not understood that I am Emile Lahoud and Emile Lahoud is myself. And if your friend is Jacques Chirac and believes that he can break my will in Lebanon, I will break the country on your head.” Hariri’s conclusion was that they had to extend Lahoud’s term.

Rafik Hariri did not take an official position on Resolution 1559, calling inter alia for the disarmament of Hezbollah, though he signaled his approval. There were allegations by the Syrian regime and their allies that Hariri was ‘the architect’ of this Resolution and accused him of not stopping the issuance of the resolution. Jacques Chirac (France) and George W. Bush (US) were the co-developers of that Resolution. However, since Hariri did not suggest to them stopping the Resolution from being issued, the Syrian allies were convinced that Hariri stood by the content thereof and held him responsible for it. After the attempted assassination of Marwan Hamade on 1 October 2004, Hariri started considering resigning from office, which he in fact did on 20 October of that year. 

The witness was subsequently questioned about a conversation he had had with Nassir Al Asaad on 11 January 2004. Nassir Al Asaad, at the time working for Al Mustaqbal newspaper and in charge of local politics, was one of Lebanon's major journalists. Witness recalled Mr. Al Asaad contacted him on the evening of 11 January, insisting the witness to contact Hariri immediately because Mr. Al Asaad had an important message for him from Ibrahim Al Sayyed, President of the Council of Hezbollah and political advisor to Hassan Nasrallah. Al Asaad told the witness: "Has Rafik Hariri gone crazy, does he not know that these people will kill him? He joins the Christian opposition and refuses to include them on his electoral list." The witness immediately informed Hariri of this conversation, and some 45 minutes later, Hariri received Al Asaad. During the conversation Al Asaad seemed very nervous and looked scared, though Hariri brushed off the incident. "These people" that the witness referred to was the Syrian regime, he explains. 

After the withdrawal of Israel from the south of Lebanon, Hariri had wanted to start a dialogue with Hezbollah. His intention was to convince Hezbollah through dialogue to join the Lebanese government. The witness told the Trial Chamber about several meetings that had occurred between Hariri and Nasrallah. On 13 February 2005, Abu Tareq had warned Hariri, and had said to the witness: "I went to see Rustom Ghazaleh and God help us, God help us". Minister Bassel Fuleihan had informed Hariri that he had been warned by the British that there was a big security operation; a danger that was being prepared in Lebanon. Fuleihan feared that it would be aimed at Hariri. 

The witness saw Mr. Hariri in the morning of 14 February 2005, as it was his habit every morning. When he arrived, Hariri was fully dressed. Normally Hariri was wearing his bathrobe or relax clothes, his habit was to get dressed at the last minute, but on that day he was fully suited. Hariri told the witness that the situation in the country was bothering him, the witness noted that the Prime Minister was not in a good mood. At that time Lebanon was under great tension, there was a very strong media and political campaign against Hariri. Few weeks before the assassination the media insulted Hariri of being ‘a snake, traitor, thief and someone who is corrupt.’

Counsel Cameron for the Prosecution took the witness through a newspaper article in which Hezbollah leader Nasrallah vowed his support for Syria, and gave information about Hezbollah organizing pro-Syria rallies throughout Beirut in March of 2005. The demonstration took place three days after the speech made by President Al-Assad before the Syrian National Assembly, whereby he declared the withdrawal of the Syrian army to the Beqaa, and thus concluding that by doing that, he would have implemented his part of Resolution 1559. The witness explains that in his view, this did not fulfill the requirements of Resolution 1559, because that requested the withdrawal of all Syrian forces from all the Lebanese territory. The witness had been surprised by the "thank you, Syria" rally organized by Hezbollah just weeks after Hariri's assassination. The Lebanese were very upset about the demonstration and Hezbollah's gratitude to Syria, and the reaction of the Lebanese was very violent. On 14 March, the opposition organized an allegiance to Lebanon and Rafik Hariri demonstration. The demonstration was the largest in the history of Lebanon; according to the witness it had over one million participants.

The witness is subsequently shown a short video clip in which Hezbollah Secretary-General Nasrallah refers to "the issued indictment against brothers in the resistance who have a radiant history in resisting the Israeli occupation of Lebanon". The witness believes Nasrallah is referring to the people against whom an indictment had been issued by this Tribunal. "Brothers in the resistance" are the members of Hezbollah who are affiliated and part of what is called the military wing of Hezbollah, the fighting forces. In another video Nasrallah states that not in 300 years will the Tribunal be able to find or arrest those people, meaning the accused.

In cross-examination, the witness is asked about the sums of money Hariri had to pay to Rustom Ghazaleh. The witness said he had no knowledge of that at the time, but became aware of the racketeering only after the assassination. Further, in cross-examination, the witness is confronted with the El-Madina Bank scandal, linking the plot of the murder to economic motives. Hariri's death has been linked to the El-Madina scandal. The witness states that at the time the Syrian intelligence asked the media in Lebanon to stop dealing with the El-Madina bank scandal. The witness recalls a phone call he received from General Mohammed Khallouf, in charge of Syrian intelligence in Beirut in 2004, threatening the witness in his capacity as head of the Al Mustaqbal media. The witness concedes that it is a reasonable conclusion to say that the Syrians were involved in the El-Madina scandal.

Jun 17, 2015

Testimony of Walid Jumblatt: The political confrontation with Syria that led to the assassination of Rafiq Hariri

On 4-7 May 2015 Mr Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party and a member of the Lebanese parliament, testified before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. He was another friend, confident and ally of Rafiq Hariri and his testimony will again deal with the political background leading to the assassination of the Prime Minister. Mr Jumblatt was born in 1949 in Beirut and started his career as a journalist with the An-Nahar newspaper. Since 1 May 1977 he is the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, which was founded by his father Kamal Jumblatt in 1949; the party draws its main support from the Druze community. Mr. Jumblatt’s relationship with Rafiq Hariri started in the mid-1980s, and continued to be a very firm and strong relationship throughout the years. They used to meet at least once a week on Sundays, and would have very frank and open discussions.

[Mr Walid Jumblatt testifying on 4 May 2015, screenshot STL broadcast]

During his examination-in-chief Mr Jumblatt describes his relationship with the Syrian regime. From 1977 until the signing of the Taif agreement in 1991, he was one of the main allies of the Syrian regime and tried to work cooperatively with them. Throughout the 1990s Mr Jumblatt had the same relationship with the Syrians, but in 1998 he (and other members of parliament) voted against the election of President Lahoud, because they did not want to elect someone who was receiving orders from the Syrians. The witness discussed this with Elias Hrawi and Rafiq Hariri, and they felt that the security and military stranglehold of the Syrian regime over Lebanon was increasing. They wanted an independent Lebanon with independent institutions; however the intelligence system (the joint Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus) did not allow any marge of maneuver.

The witness describes his two meetings with Bashar Al-Assad, before he became the president of Syria, and Bashar’s hostile tone of voice towards Hariri. The witness also describes another meeting with Bashar Al-Assad in 2001 or 2002, arranged through Ghazi Kanaan, who was keen on preserving the relationship between the witness and the Syrian regime. Mr Jumblatt did not have a close relationship with Bashar, but did have a strong relationship with other high-ranking persons in Syria with whom he was cooperating before, including the Syrian Chief of Staff of the army Himat El-Chehabi and the Syrian Vice-President Abdel Khaddam. The witness also met General Nasif on a regular basis, who was hostile towards Hariri; the witness heard this from Himat El-Chehabi.

In 2000 the circumstances changed as a result of the Israeli withdrawal and the death of Hafez Al-Assad, and the Maronite patriarch called for the withdrawal of the Syrians from Lebanon; Mr Jumblatt gave a speech in parliament, stating that it is time for the Syrians to redeploy in accordance with the Taif agreement. The Taif agreement states that after the liberation of South Lebanon the Syrians should redeploy, upon which the Lebanese state would negotiate with Syria for a full withdrawal from Lebanon. Because of this speech, pro-Syrian Members of Parliament started to accuse the witness of being an ‘Israeli agent’; the witness also reached a certain level of hostility vis-à-vis the Syrian regime, including the head of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon Rustom Ghazaleh, the successor of Ghazi Kanaan.

The relationship between the Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad and Rafiq Hariri was a strong one, but when Bashar came in power this relationship changed. For example, the Syrians and President Lahoud were hampering all the projects and plans of Hariri. In December 2003 Rafiq Hariri was summoned to go to Damascus to meet Bashar Al-Assad; also present were Ghazi Kanaan, Rustom Ghazaleh and Mohammed Khallouf. According to the witness ‘[t]hat meeting was a kind of warning to Rafik Hariri. Bashar Assad told him, "I am the one who rules here. No one rules other than me."’ Hariri told the witness about this meeting upon his return from Damascus and he seemed very concerned about the threats. This meeting was one of the factors that led to the changing of Hariri’s position towards the Syrians regime; Hariri also agreed with the witness to oppose the extension of President Lahoud’s term. Mr Jumblatt also spoke about his short meeting with Rustom Ghazaleh on 25 August 2004, during which the witness expressed his opposition towards the re-election of President Lahoud. This made Rustom Ghazaleh angry and the witness’ subsequent appointment with Bashar Al-Assad and the planned dinner with Lahoud were cancelled by Ghazaleh.

This witness listened to a tape recording of a meeting between Ghazaleh and Hariri of 25 August 2004, and part of this tape is also played in court. According to the witness, Hariri and Ghazaleh talk about the amendment of the constitution needed to extend Lahoud’s presidential term, with Hariri telling Ghazaleh that he will discuss his position with President Al-Assad himself. After his visit to the Syrian President, the witness and others met Hariri who told them that President Al-Assad had said: ‘’Lahoud is me and I am Lahoud, I want you to extent. And if Chirac wants to get me out of Lebanon I will break Lebanon, I will destroy Lebanon.” Mr Jumblatt concluded that this was a direct threat, political and physical, to Hariri, and because the witness was concerned about his life he advised Hariri to vote for the extension of Lahoud’s term. The witness however voted against the extension and afterwards Jumblatt was involved in the Bristol group meetings of the opposition against the Syrian presence in Lebanon; the witness states that although Hariri supported the extension of Lahoud, “we both had the same political conviction, that it was high time for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon pursuant to the Taif Agreement.”

Another tape recording of a meeting between Hariri and Walid Moallem on 1 February 2005 was played in court, in which the proposed new election law and the relationships with the Syrians were discussed. According to the witness, Hariri “is complaining that the Syrian intelligence has tainted his reputation and his image in the mind of the Syrian president” with the Syrian president being convinced that Hariri is behind Security Council Resolution 1559 in a conspiracy with President Chirac and the international community to get Syria out of Lebanon. Mr Jumblatt explains that in his view this was not true as Hariri would never have supported the article on the disarming of all (non-)Lebanese militias, including Hezbollah, as contained in Resolution 1559. Also, during the taped conversation, Hariri was speaking about using his international influence with France to prevent that Hezbollah was placed on the terrorism list.

The witness further talks about the attempted assassination of his friend and political ally Marwan Hamade; his friend General Himat El-Chehabi told him to be careful, which the witness interpreted as the existence of an imminent threat against him. Also, the witness concluded from comments made by the Syrian Vice-President that the Syrian regime was behind the attempted assassination. Further, Hariri told him that “They will not do anything against anyone else in Lebanon. I have spoken to Chirac and Chirac sent a message, a very firm and harsh message to Bashar Al-Assad.” The witness told Hariri that this was not enough and to be very careful. Later on Hariri also sent his political allies to represent him at the meetings at the Bristol Hotel, and after his resignation Hariri and the witness set up a joint plan for the elections in 2005.

Mr Jumblatt is asked to comment on a large number of documents from the press about his own public statements and activities, and the main political events at that time, including his confrontation with the Lebanese regime. The Prosecution explains that the relevance of the evidence about the witness' own political position, is its directly relation to the position that Hariri will adopt through his alliance with the witness in late 2004 and early 2005. The evidence about the voices expressed through the Bristol group concerning the Syrian regime is introduced by the Prosecution because Hariri indirectly joined that group in December 2014. Hariri and the witness also made public statements about their political alliance. On 8 February 2005, six days before his assassination, Hariri told the witness "Either they will kill you or they will kill me."

After a very long, detailed and sometimes repetitive examination-in-chief, the Legal Representative of the Victims is trying to draw a parallel between the assassination of the witness' father and Hariri, but the exact parallel, and the relevance thereof for the victims, remains unclear. Subsequent cross-examination by the Defence is mainly focused on trying to show that the evidence by Mr Jumblatt consists of political accusations and lacks factual basis. For example, Defence counsel Mr Aouini is pointing to the early accusations by the witness that the Syrian regime is responsible for the assassination of Hariri, but that subsequently he also accused the four generals. The witness agrees that his conclusions as to the Syrian responsibility, of which he remains convinced, are political.