Posted by Joshua on Monday, March 19th, 2007
March 18, 2007, for Syria Comment
The new Brammertz report ("Brammertz V") merits a detailed analysis. I will also try to put it in the context of the previous reports.
(All quotations from the new report will appear in italics. Quotes from older reports are referenced by using the name of the investigator and number of is report.)
"c) Aerial delivery theory
(Brammertz V, §19)
As expected. The Aerial delivery theory never sounded very plausible, but it is nevertheless important that it was included in the investigation. §55 of the previous report stresses that the "Commission believes its role is to investigate all possible hypotheses that arise from the investigation and analysis of the Hariri assassination" (Brammertz IV, §55). This is a notable difference to the way Detlev Mehlis conducted his investigation. For example, would Mehlis ever have considered writing the following paragraph? –
"59. … Another hypothesis under consideration is that apparently obvious motives were used by the perpetrators as a convenient cover, with the real intent being to propel other individuals into the frontline of accusation." (Brammertz IV, §59)
This may refer to the possibility of Syria being framed (though there are other possible interpretations) and this is clearly one of the many hypotheses that have to be considered by the investigation.
The difference between Brammertz and Mehlis is best illustrated by this nice contradiction between their reports:
Mehlis I: “175. As noted above, in the course of their investigation, the Lebanese interviewees included Mr. Abu Adass’s friends and associates, former neighbors, acquaintances from the mosque, colleagues from former jobs, and classmates. A number of these individuals were re-interviewed by UNIIIC … ; most reported that they shared with their interrogators their view that Mr. Abu Adass was a loner and introvert who did not have the intelligence to be capable of committing such a crime.”
Brammertz III: “45. Following extensive investigative steps and analysis of electronic data, documents, artefacts and other items, the emerging profile of Ahmed Abu Adass and his activities is becoming clearer. His profile is distinct in that he seemingly had more academic and intellectual interests and less technical orientation than that associated with members of terrorist groups engaged in the operational aspects of terrorist activities, at least in Lebanon.”
The conclusion is very similar, but the reasons given for it are diametrically opposed: in one case he is not intelligent enough and in the second case he is too intelligent. Needless to say that Brammertz is much more credible (and not just in this case). Mehlis also did either not know or omit that the mosque frequented by Adass and where Mehlis interviewed some of his "acquaintances" was attended by "individuals associated with extremist groups" and that "Adass was acquainted" with them (Brammertz V, §42; see below).
"f) Geographic origin of the alleged bomber
(Brammertz V, §24)
Of course, not just the lead pollution but also the source of the polluting lead may have changed in the past ten years, leading to a different isotope composition in the same place today and making identification difficult.
(Brammertz V, §25)
It is a little bit strange that they took samples from Lebanon, having already established that he "did not spend his youth" there, but perhaps this is to determine where he "was likely situated" in the last two to three months before his death.
In the previous report, Brammertz mentioned having received additional (non-forensic) information about him, but this information does not even seem to have been detailed enough to limit the sampling missions to one country:
“The Commission has also received other information concerning geographic origin which it is unable to disclose at this time.” (Brammertz IV, §31)
The same seems to be true for the distinguishing dental mark:
“The upper right central incisor found at the crime scene in February 2005 and belonging to the unidentified male shows a distinguishing mark related to the lingual surface shape of the crown, which has the form of a spade. This feature is rarely seen among people from Lebanon.” (Brammertz IV, §34)
Brammertz deems it necessary to stress the limitations of this methodology:
(Brammertz V, §26)
At least isotopes have the advantage that they do not lie (like witnesses)…
Further signs of progress:
(Brammertz V, §31)
This is in line with the previous report:
"41. …The Commission has received new information specifying details of the preparation of the van and establishment of the route of the van as it was brought to the St Georges hotel area prior to the attack." (Brammertz IV, §41)
(Brammertz V, §34)
One should note that several breakthroughs seem to have happened in that area. The first was mentioned in the third report:
"64. For example, from the perspective of mobile telephone communications traffic alone, one individual using multiple numbers has been preliminarily linked in a broad geographic context and within a specific common temporal period to a number of the attacks. Four other people have been linked to this person in some of those attacks." (Brammertz III, 64)
The follow-up in the fourth report:
"79. … One individual using multiple numbers has been preliminarily linked to a number of attacks, and the Commission has conducted a number of interviews related to this issue." (Brammertz IV, §79)
A similar breakthrough seems to have happened in regard to the Hariri case itself. It was first mentioned in the fourth report:
"43. The Commission has conducted seven interviews in connection with the alleged bombing team and their use of six telephones to communicate on the day of the attack and in the days leading up to it. … Analysis of the use of other associated SIM cards is also on-going.
44. The location of the telephones when used, and the purposes for which some of the linking numbers were used have revealed the high degree of security-aware behavior exhibited by individuals under investigation. Some persons used multiple mobile cellular telephones during a short period of time or registered telephones using aliases. …
45. During the reporting period, communication traffic analysis has continued in support of the other investigative projects. This work is comprised of interview preparation for key persons …" (Brammertz IV, §43-45)
In order to determine that a person is using several mobile phones under aliases, one has to identify that person. Interviews in connection with the alleged bombing team are also most likely conducted with persons either belonging to that team or at least knowing some of its members. It is also interesting that more SIM cards could be associated with the six telephones used in the attack, although those phones were only used to communicate with each other.
(Brammertz V, §39)
Assuming that Syria was behind the attack, would its failure make the need for a scapegoat less urgent? Obviously not.
"b) Ahmad Abu Adass
41. In this reporting period, the investigation has developed its understanding of how Ahmad Abu Adass was identified and chosen to be the person to make the video claim of responsibility, who involved him in this activity and where and when this occurred. A working hypothesis is that he was identified because of his personality and other specific characteristics. It is possible that his association and relationship with one or more individuals whom he met at his place of worship led him to depart his home on 16 January 2005, for reasons that are currently unknown.
(Brammertz V, §41-42)
The Fitzgerald report identifies the place of worship in question as the Al-Huri mosque:
"41. Enquiries carried out by the Mission established that approximately three years ago Ahmad Abu Adas changed from being a carefree teenager to becoming a religious fundamentalist. Approximately one month prior to going missing Ahmad Abu Adas informed his family that he had met a new friend at the Al-Huri mosque, where he sometimes led the prayers." (Fitzgerald report, §41)
It would be very interesting to learn if the alleged associates of Adass are also "associated with extremist groups".
(Brammertz V, §43)
I wonder if the wording is exact here. It does not seem to make sense that Adass was "duped" into making the video. What would that mean? That he stood behind the claim, but that the claim was not real? A more reasonable version would be that he was duped and lured to be in that place and then coerced into making the video.
Al-Akhbar had an interesting article some time ago analyzing his body language in the video as showing signs that could be interpreted as fear and apathy, which would be in line with the idea that he was coerced to do it.
(Brammertz V, §44)
As I noted earlier, there are two unusual aspects about the "martyrdom video" of Ahmed Abu Adass:
1. It was released very quickly after the attack. In comparison, the video of Mohammad Sidique Khan, to name just one example, was published about two months after the London tube bombings.
2. Adass is fully identified, not in the video itself but in the accompanying note. This would probably make sense in a real "martyrdom video", but we now know for sure that the suicide bomber was somebody else.
Brammertz writes that it "could have been designed to deceive", but are there any other examples of fake "martyrdom videos"? In any case it is very unusual.
As we have seen, the current report reveals that Adass was indeed acquainted with individuals associated with extremist groups who also frequented Al-Huri mosque.
The first Mehlis report quoted information allegedly linking Adass to the "Ahmed Miqati and Ismaíl Al-Khatib network" via a computer shop where he once worked and to Jund al-Sham via Ain al-Hilweh and visits to Abu Obeida, but it was highly uncertain how reliable this information was.
Why choose Adass for the video? If the extremist group was either fake or manipulated, then these links to other extremist groups may have made him a suitable candidate.
On the other hand, if the extremist group was real, then they were probably not aware that the Al-Ahbash had already taken notice of Adass and they thought that he was still completely unknown, perhaps in contrast to the real suicide bomber.
Still, from the perspective of an extremist group, there was absolutely no need to put out a video which clearly revealed the identity of one of its members. For example, al-Zarqawi himself showed his face only in his last videos; before that he always appeared disguised.
If the group was real, it is interesting to ask "what happened to him afterwards" (Brammertz IV, §46) as Adass obviously was not the suicide bomber. An extremist group would have little reason to kill one of their own, unlike an intelligence agency dealing with members of a manipulated group, but in the second case it remains a mystery why no DNA evidence of Adass was found at the crime scene, as it could easily have been planted by the intelligence agency either in the Mitsubishi van itself or by tampering with the crime scene after the attack.
As you can see from the following quote by then Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh, the concept of DNA analysis was not unknown to the Lebanese authorities:
Also interesting is the question why the suicide bomber did not take the place of Adass in the "martyrdom video" (the question is valid both for the case of a fake and a real extremist group):
1. As stated above, one possibility is that in comparison to Abu Adass he was too well known.
2. Another possibility (also considered by the famous witness Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq; Mehlis I, §108) is that he did not know that the attack was directed against Hariri and that he believed to be attacking somebody else.
Siddiq claims that he was an Iraqi and that he thought that the target was Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, but this would have created certain logistical problems for the perpetrators as they could in no way be sure to be able to carry out the attack while Allawi was still in town (cf. Brammertz V, §50, which speaks of a " “window” of opportunity to deliver the attack on Hariri rather than one specific day").
3. A third possibility that has to be considered is that he did not speak Arabic well enough.
This is what Ghassan Ben Jeddou said about the first caller to Al-Jazeera:
“In the first telephone call, a man whom Mr. Ben Jeddou described as speaking poor Arabic in an African, Afghan or Pakistani accent, claimed that Al-Nasra wal Jihad was responsible for Mr. Hariri’s execution by a suicide bomb.” (Mehlis I, §78)
(Brammertz V, §45)
The previous report already mentioned this large amount of electronic data, saying that some of it is written in code:
(45.) “Ahmad Abu Adass and associated individuals … 50. (In this regard, the Commission has) collected substantial quantities of computer and electronic information and documentation … .
51. In support of this work, the Commission has researched over 200 gigabytes of electronic data, … .
53. … To add to the complexity of this painstaking analytical work, some of the electronic data received by the Commission is written in code, some is encrypted and some had already been deleted.” (Brammertz IV, §45-53)
I had argued at the time that the fact that “some of the electronic data … is written in code” may indicate that these are the communications of an extremist group. It is well known that internet savvy extremists communicate in code in order to avoid NSA surveillance and detection.
Interestingly, Khaled Taha showed suspicious behavior that could be interpreted in such a way: “Further investigation revealed that three of Mr. Taha’s e-mail addresses went through Damascus and the fourth went through Lebanon itself while purporting to be in Turkey.” (Mehlis I, §174)
Having said that, I later discovered that the previous UN reports did mention a case of deleted data: the military intelligence archives which had been erased. –
“Likewise, the Commission’s earlier suggestion to restore military intelligence archives for its review remains an ongoing line of investigative inquiry.” (Brammertz I, §37)
“The archives have been erased, but measures are being undertaken in order to restore the deleted data for further review.” (Mehlis II, §50)
As quoted above, Brammertz says that “some of the electronic data received by the Commission is written in code, some is encrypted and some had already been deleted.”
So it could also be data from the restored military intelligence archives, but there are some hints that the "over two hundred gigabytes of data from numerous computers, USB devices, CD-ROMs, mobile telephones and SIM cards" come from a different source (e.g., military intelligence archives usually do not contain video cameras; cf. Brammertz V, §47; see below).
One possibility (and, in fact, the only potential source that is publicly known at the present time): the alleged terrorist cell possibly linked to Adass' friend Khaled Taha and arrested in January 2006.
(Brammertz V, §46)
If "group" is used here in a more general sense, it could refer to an intelligence agency (with very interesting consequences), but one would usually expect the term "organization" in that case. (Note that §96 also cites information regarding "groups" among the four formal RFAs submitted to the Syrian Arab Republic). On the other hand, "a small number of individuals belonging to a larger group" seems to make little sense in the case of an extremist group.
The wording for the recruitment of the suicide bomber is also a little bit peculiar: "acquisition". Perhaps it is just meant to be a neutral expression because the precise circumstances of the recruitment remain unknown?
While whoever made the tape had complete control over the circumstances of its production and it is hence conceivable that Adass was coerced into doing it, the same cannot be said of the suicide bomber.
It seems likely to me that the bomber acted voluntarily. While possible, it would be extremely risky to force somebody to do it and to let him drive around freely with several tons of evidence which he could simply hand over to the authorities. I also doubt that a person under duress would be in a state of mind to act with “a high degree of time precision” (Brammertz IV, §23). One cannot, however, exclude the possibility that he was duped (just as Brammertz hypothesizes in the case of Adass).
The extremist group may have acted on its own, but, obviously, collaboration, infiltration and/or manipulation are other logical possibilities. Any group can be infiltrated and it would probably also be possible for intelligence agencies to create fake groups with the sole aim of manipulating the unsuspecting members (cf. Brammertz V, §44, quoted above).
(Brammertz V, §47)
Does this mean that they have found the video camera that was used to film the Adass tape? That would be truly remarkable. And it is difficult to see any other explanation.
Interestingly, some of the reports that appeared on occasion of the arrest of the alleged terrorist cell in early 2006 explicitly mentioned that the group was involved in filming the Adass video, but one should stress that these reports were never officially confirmed.
"c) Individuals with prior knowledge of the attack
48. The Commission believes that beyond those directly involved in the crime and those who decided it should take place, certain other individuals may have had prior knowledge of the attack. …
(Brammertz V, §48-49)
Note the "still" in the last sentence. I will come back to that later. If the attack was the work of a relatively small group of extremists, the number of people knowing about it in advance should be very small. If, in contrast, a greater number of people had advance knowledge, a different explanation would be required, e.g. the involvement of an intelligence agency, etc.
(Brammertz V, §50)
Keep this in mind, as it will lead to the only clear contradiction in the text.
More signs of significant progress:
(Brammertz V, §51)
From all the paragraphs quoted above it seems likely that an extremist group was indeed involved in the attack, though it may not have acted on its own.
At the same time, the "motive to assassinate Hariri" discussed in §52-63 seems to point to Syrian and/or Lebanese opponents of Hariri rather than to an extremist group. This is all the more notable as the previous report had explicitly mentioned such a possibility:
"59. The Commission continues to work on numerous alternative hypotheses in examining the motives to kill Rafik Hariri. Included among these are the following: that Hariri was the victim of an extremist group which assassinated him because of his links to other states in the region and in the west; …" (Brammertz IV, §59)
(Brammertz V, §53)
So Brammertz did not say, as some misleading headlines had suggested, that the extension of the term of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud was the reason for the attack on Hariri.
"54. Whereas the Commission had previously adopted a broad focus in the investigation of possible motive, the current reporting period saw these significantly narrowed down to the group of inquiries linked to Hariri’s political activities. …
57. In the last months of Hariri’s life, he was very focused on the forthcoming 2005 elections. …
(Brammertz V, §54, 57, 59)
Note the slight contradiction to §50 which states that "the bomb team was working within a “window” of opportunity to deliver the attack on Hariri rather than one specific day", e.g. the day that "Parliament was scheduled to debate the electoral law".
It is unclear to me why such an extremist group should have been particularly concerned about Hariri winning the 2005 elections. They would probably have been opposed to him for more general reasons like his relation to Saudi Arabia (cf. Brammertz IV, §59).
(Brammertz V, §62)
You can read about this in Nicholas Blandford's book, "Killing Mr Lebanon". If I remember correctly, at least three initiatives of rapprochement were underway at the time when Hariri was killed. All were initiated by Hariri and directed at the Syrian president, one via Moallem and one via Nasrallah (and a third which I don't remember at the moment…).
(Brammertz V, §63)
As As'ad AbuKhalil noted, this paragraph "all but names the Syrian regime as the party that killed Hariri", but one should stress that less harsh readings are equally possible (I also disagree with his remarks regarding Brammertz' professionalism; so far it is beyond reproach. He should take into account that Brammertz is coming from an institution, the International Criminal Court, that is, by its own logic, engaged in widening the relative autonomy of the juridical field (in Bourdieu's terminology)).
In light of this paragraph we can see a possible explanation for the "still" in §49, "and most importantly, the intent still present in the minds of those who ordered the crime to go ahead with the operation" – still present because unaffected by the rapprochement initiatives started by Hariri?
However, there are some problems with this interpretation implicating "the Syrian regime" in the crime. If the Syrian regime planned the attack, could it not have stopped it at a moment's notice? Moallem would certainly not have hesitated to inform his president of the rapprochement efforts by Hariri.
If we can trust Robert Fisk on this, as I think we can, the Syrian president spent the minutes immediately before the attack with Seymour Hersh, engaging in a detailed discussion of all the problems that Hariri was causing him and his family (including a conflict over the cell-phone business in Damascus which I have not seen mentioned anywhere else, including Blandford's otherwise very detailed book). Obviously he was hoping that Hersh would be able to use the information in a future article, implying that he was expecting Hariri to be alive and well when said article would have been published. He obviously had absolutely no clue that Hariri was about to be killed, otherwise he would certainly have glossed over the issue or avoided it altogether.
Perhaps this was the tragic irony of the situation that all the rapprochement initiatives and messages aimed at preventing an attack, including the warning delivered by Richard Armitage, were directed at Bashar al-Asad, but he was unable to prevent the attack from happening because he was not the one plotting it.
Having said that, the new report does a good job in detailing A (the perpetrators, possibly an extremist group) and B (the motive of those who allegedly commissioned the crime, possibly Syrian and/or Lebanese opponents of Hariri), but (so far) it fails to link A and B in a plausible way. Any judgement about Brammertz professionalism will ultimately depend on how effectively and convincingly he manages to solve this problem.