Posted by Joshua on Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
Obama spoke out about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon today as a new phase has started. The proceedings of the STL are now in the hands of an international group of professional judges. The role of regional politics is presumably over, but of course the political implications will only grow. Purported leaks about those indicted again remind us how political it is. Some reports are indicating that the indictments will accuse Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei of ordering the assassination and that it was carried out in cooperation with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. Paul Salem says that if this is the case, it will mean war.
Paul Salem writes from Lebanon:
If the indictments indeed go in this direction, the crisis will engulf the country and the region. Iran and Syria will effectively interpret this as a declaration of war, in which case they would abandon any talk of a unity government in Lebanon and urge Hezbollah to launch a full takeover of state institutions.
If the indictments prove to be more limited, however, there would be a better chance of hammering out an agreement and putting together a coalition government.
In this crisis where issues of justice, stability and security coincide, and where a complex knot of sectarian, political, regional and international interests intersect, there is a strong chance the situation will get worse before it gets better. A solution appears a long ways away.
Judge Daniel Fransen of Belgium, who receives the indictments will take six to ten weeks to decide how to proceed before making them public. In the meantime we can expect more leaks and rising tensions.
When the neoconservatives of the Bush administration established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in 2005, a number of them argued that it would serve as a ticking time bomb that would go off in the distant future and would ensure that whatever administration came after Bush would be forced to continue fighting his war. They were right. The STL means Obama must fight Bush’s war in Lebanon, despite his attempt to bury it in the name of dialogue with Syria and Iran and settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.
President Bush is partially to blame for Hariri’s assassination and the present round of endemic civil strife in Lebanon. When he decided to ripe up the agreement on Lebanon that his father had hammered out in 1990 with Syria, he blew oxygen on the embers of the long Civil War that had never been settled but only dampened. When George W Bush proclaimed that the Syrian military was an “occupation force” and not a “positive presence” in Lebanon, the battle lines were drawn. The US had declared war on Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran. When Bush teamed up with French President Chirac to convince Rafiq Hariri to choose sides in their battle and to back UN resolutions demanding Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon, Hariri could no longer play the man in the middle. He became a combatant in a war that he did not chose and could not win. He became its most famous victim.
The STL is tasked with bringing his killers to justice. They can indict and accuse, but of course, they cannot bring his killers to justice. The investigators first accused Syria of the crime, then they jettisoned their claims against Syria as the story of the “false witnesses” and trumped up evidence was revealed; it then turned to accusing Hizbullah. Now it seems, Iran will be placed in the cross-hairs. It is not clear how this drama will play out. The Tribunal has been badly damaged by the false witnesses, Hariri tape, and unprofessional behavior all around. All the same, much of the world remains convinced that Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah are the authors of the crime. Will Turkey and Saudi Arabia side with the United States? Will the United States become isolated on the issue as Middle Eastern countries tire of endless conflict, which the US has neither the military power or diplomatic authority to resolve?
The Lebanon crisis has always been a hostage to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Now that the US has abandoned any realistic attempt to push through a two-state solution and will support Israel as it dislodges what remains of Palestinian authority in Jerusalem and the West Bank, much of the Muslim World will not side with America on Lebanon. Those who do, will be seen to be siding with Israel. This is the Saudi and Egyptian dilemma.
If the Tunisian uprising brings increasing democracy to the Middle East, it will not be good for America’s brand of justice or American policies in the region. Just as Turkey has moved away from the US and Israel in response to popular will, so will other Middle Eastern regimes should they become more responsive to their people. In the meantime, President Obama finds himself trapped in a Lebanese civil war that President Bush reignited and that he cannot win. The Lebanese state will remain inoperative. Obama will have to spend his time shoring up “moderate” Arab regimes to fight against the “radical” ones that support “resistance” and the Palestinian struggle. This is not where US policy should be – especially as Israel turns ever more to the radical right, violating international law in its rollback of Palestinian rights.
[End Landis analysis]
Obama’s Misguided Lebanon Policy: While in Lebanon or Tunisia, Iraq or Egypt, President Obama‘s policies have deepened the suffering of the people there, notes Abbas J. Ali.
President Barack Obama welcomed Monday’s indictment for the 2005 murder of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri as key to ending an “era of impunity” but urged calm amid rising tensions. “I welcome the announcement by the Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon today that he has filed an indictment relating to the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others,” Obama said in a statement. “This action represents an important step toward ending the era of impunity for murder in Lebanon, and achieving justice for the Lebanese people.
This is the judge who will decide if the indictments handed in today are sufficient to start calling in suspects and witnesses. 6-10 weeks he needs to make that decision Judge Daniel Fransen (Belgium), Pre-Trial Judge
Judge Daniel Fransen (Belgium), Pre-Trial Judge After working as a defence lawyer at the Brussels Bar from 1989 to 1993 and subsequently as a lawyer in the public service at the Société Régionale du Port de Bruxelles (1994 to 1995), Judge Fransen entered the judiciary, where he served as an investigating judge at the Brussels District Court for more than ten years. He dealt with serious and organised financial and economic crime before specialising in international humanitarian law and terrorism cases. Until his appointment as Pre-Trial Judge of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, Judge Fransen was also the dean of the investigating judges specialised in terrorism in Belgium (2006 to 2009). He has also participated in many international conferences and written several publications on terrorism.
According to the Statute, proceedings in absentia may be instituted under three sets of circumstances, namely, when the accused: i) has expressly and in writing waived his right to be present; ii) has not been handed over to the Tribunal by the State authorities concerned; or iii) has absconded or cannot be found.
If, after “reasonable attempts” the accused cannot be located and served with an indictment, the President of the Tribunal can, after consulting the Pre-Trial Judge, decide to advertise the indictment, in part or in its entirety, in an effort to inform the accused of the need to appear before the Tribunal [Rule 76(E)]. The advertisement shall invite any person with information as to the whereabouts of the accused to communicate that information to the Tribunal [Rule 76bis].
there will not be “A” local judge. Once the pre trial judge accepts the validity of the indictments, the actual trial chamber will take over (three judges: one Lebanese and two international, plus two alternate judges, one Lebanese and one international).
Judge Antonio Cassese (Italy), President of the chamber Judge Ralph Riachy (Lebanon), Vice-President of the chamber
Thirty calendar days following such an advertisement, the Tribunal can proceed to conduct a trial in absentia, i.e. with the accused absent. In such a case, a lawyer would be assigned to represent the interests of the accused [Rule 105bis]. Also, if a trial does take place in absentia but an accused is located afterwards, that person would be entitled to a new trial [Rule 109].
[Erdogan and Assad] meeting in Damascus
“affirmed their care to find a solution to this crisis based on the … Syrian-Saudi efforts to achieve harmony between the Lebanese,” an official Syrian statement said after Monday’s talks, referring to earlier failed efforts by Saudi Arabia and Syria to forge a deal. Erdogan also said Iran’s foreign minister would visit Turkey on Monday after the Turkish prime minister discussed the issue at the weekend with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Nasrallah said on Sunday that Hezbollah would fight efforts to tarnish its image. “We will not allow our reputation and our honor to be touched.” He said leaders from several countries had intervened to demand Hariri be picked again to form the next government, but defended the decision to bring down the last one…”
The subsidy cuts, which the International Monetary Fund says have amounted to $4,000 a year for the average Iranian family, began in earnest last month when the rationed price of gasoline jumped to about $1.44 a gallon from just 38 cents. With a ration of only 16 gallons a month at the subsidized rate, most motorists buy the bulk of their fuel now at the even higher market rate of $2.64 per gallon, significantly more than the $1.80 that people pay in nearby Dubai.
In recent weeks, subsidies have also been reduced on flour, water and diesel. But the spike in prices has not provoked the angry protests that followed the introduction of fuel rationing in 2007. The price of bread has tripled, on average, the government says; water, which used to be practically free, now costs between 10 cents and 85 cents per cubic meter, based on a sliding scale under which consumers pay a higher rate the more they use.
The government says these are just the first steps in what it calls an “economic transformation plan” that will also include banking reform, sweeping changes in Iran’s tax and customs system, and ever more privatization of state-owned industries.
Syria Announces USD 575 million in New Social Support Measures
In the last 4 days, the Syrian Government has announced in two separate measures that it was disbursing a total of SYP 27 billion in additional funding to help its civil servants and the neediest parts of its population, while the Ministry of Electricity has announced that it had no plans to raise the heavily subsidized electricity prices.
Ehsani Writes: “The Welfare payments are not a response to Tunisia.”
600,000 families will visit local post offices. They will qualify to receive: 1- syp 3500 ($75.3) a month. 2- syp 2500 ($53.7) a month 3- syp 1000 ($21.5) a month. 4- syp 500 ($10.75) a month The total allocation for this program can reach up to syp 12 billion ($258 million). The Hasake region is expected to see the largest families who qualify. The money will be paid every four months. This way the family will get 4 months of the above allocation upfront 3 times a year. Presumably, the 600,000 is what the government considers to live below the poverty line where the head of the family is largely unemployed. While many will view this as a response to the Tunisia situation, I can confirm that the welfare payment was already in the planning stage several months ago. It has to be viewed as part of the government’s attempt to continue to lift the extremely expensive energy subsidies with more announcements to come in April. We are likely to see a 53% increase in the price of fuel oil. I would have personally thought that the program should have been announced at the same time as the government communicates its substantial fuel price increase. The latter will hit industry (and especially textiles) very hard while the welfare program covers only 12% of the population or (600,00 families) (Sent to me by email)
Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution has been keenly watched in Syria,
by Ian Black – The Guardian
Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution has been keenly watched in Syria, one of the most repressive of the Arab regimes, though the chances of a re-run of Tunis in Damascus are slim. Syria’s benchmark experience for dealing with serious unrest remains the Hama events of 1982, when the security forces killed thousands in crushing an uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood. Syrian Islamists are largely behind bars or in exile, and liberal and democratic activists neutralised by surveillance and repression.
The Syrian military and security services are dominated by the ruling Alawite minority, which would see a sectarian or clan interest in defending the presidency and the state against the Sunni majority, especially after the lessons of Iraq’s internecine struggle and communal fissures in Lebanon next door. “The fear of civil war based on religious affiliation is the greatest legitimiser or bulwark of authoritarianism in Syria,” commented Syria watcher Joshua Landis. It is relatively easy for the state to change direction, since critical comment is unlikely. On Sunday the government raised a heating oil subsidy it had previously cut – an apparent response to economically-driven unrest in neighbouring Jordan, Tunisia and elsewhere. On Monday the government announced a plan to help 420,000 impoverished families. Official Syrian comment has been confined to lecturing Tunisia sternly on the perils of relying on fair-weather foreign allies. Events there, said the pro-government daily al-Watan, were “a lesson that no Arab regime should ignore, especially those following Tunisia’s political approach of relying on ‘friends’ to protect them.” Ian Black
First US ambassador to Syria in 5 years arrives to take up post …
The Canadian Press
“Intelligence sharing is the most promising overlap in US-Syrian relations,” said Joshua Landis, an American professor and Syria expert. …
US Ambassador to Lebanon Summoned Amid Tension
By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY 2011-01-17
Beirut (AP) — An official in Lebanon’s Foreign Ministry says the U.S. ambassador has been summoned over accusations that she is interfering with the ountry’s political process. The official said Monday that the foreign minister asked Ambassador Maura Connelly to clarify the circumstances behind her visit this weekend with lawmaker Nicolas Fattouch.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly. Connelly did not take questions as she left the Foreign Ministry on Monday.
Fattouch is seen as a key “undecided” lawmaker as Lebanon’s rival political factions scramble to form a new government.
Roger Cohen: The Arab Gdansk 2011-01-17
Last month, after a visit to Beirut, I wrote a column called “The captive Arab mind” about the psychological cost of repression in the region: the reflex of blaming others, the perception of conspiracies everywhere and the paralyzing fear of acting or thinking for oneself. Tunis can be Act One in the liberation of the Arab mind.
That will also require the West to cast aside tired thinking. You can’t be a little bit democratic any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. Holding free elections in Tunisia requires the lifting of the ban on Islamist parties. Dealing with the Middle East as it is — rather than indulging in the “Green Zone politics” of imaginary worlds — demands recognition that facile terrorist designations for broad movements like Hezbollah are self-defeating and inadequate. Peace in Northern Ireland would have been impossible if Sinn Fein’s links to violent resistance had proved an impassable barrier to negotiations with it. Western double-standards in the supposed interest of Arab stability have proved a recipe for radicalization. The West should honor Tunisian bravery with some of its own. Dynasties rusting on their thrones are not the answer to Arab disquiet. Nor is democracy a one-way street. It is about give-and-take, not irreversible power grabs. Political Islam betrayed its liberating banner in Tehran by replacing secular repression — the shah’s — with theocratic. Iran has proved more dynamic than its Arab neighbors because the Islamic Republic has at times felt obliged to reflect the “republic” in its name — but only under an unelected supreme leader. Islamist parties must commit to democracy rather than exploit democracy for despotic ends.
Nine years separated Walentynowicz’s firing from the fall of the Berlin Wall. Bouazizi’s suicide proclaimed that the shelf life of Arab despots can be no longer than that. Little Tunisia is a clarion call for a regional awakening.