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.

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