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.

No comments:

Post a Comment