A United Nations-backed tribunal, which has conducted a long and troubled investigation into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, issued a sealed indictment on Monday amid expectations that members of Hezbollah will be blamed.
The investigative report to a judge at The Hague was not released, nor were the names of any suspects, the BBC reported. So, it's impossible to know how strong the evidence is or whether the investigation made any real breakthroughs.
Based on the tortured history of the tribunal -- and the international pressures on the inquiry -- the one safe bet is that the full truth about who carried out the bombing will be enveloped in a fog of charges and counter-charges. Hezbollah leaders have denounced the investigation as an American-Israeli scheme to discredit them.
And, while operatives from the militant Islamic Shiite group have been suspects from the start -- given that Hariri was a political rival -- Hariri had a wide variety of other powerful enemies in both the political and business worlds.
The initial UN investigator also engaged in a rush to judgment, fingering Syrian intelligence based on witnesses who proved unreliable. The German investigator, Detlev Mehlis, also issued his preliminary report before following up promising leads, such as how the Japanese-manufactured van carrying the bomb reached Lebanon.
To complicate the investigation more, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel view Lebanon as an important piece on the geopolitical chessboard in their competition with Iran and Syria. So, even Mehlis's replacement, Belgian investigator Serge Brammertz knew that he risked angering influential figures if his inquiry didn't reach their desired conclusions.
Brammertz also faced pressure from the U.S. news media. Last year, the New York Times published an op-ed article, "A U.N. Betrayal in Beirut" by Michael Young, portraying Mehlis as a hero and Brammertz as an incompetent stooge serving a supposed UN cabal to protect Syria.
"Mr. Mehlis had few doubts about Syria's involvement, and said so in his first report," Young wrote. "He asked for President [Bashar] Assad's testimony (over Syrian protests), interviewed Syrian intelligence officers in Vienna and arrested suspects. When Mr. Mehlis stepped down from his position in December, 2005, he felt he had enough to arrest at least one of the intelligence officers.
"However, the investigation wilted under his successor....Mr. Brammertz issued uninformative reports and displayed a lack of transparency that discouraged potential witnesses, unsure of whether he had solid evidence in hand, from coming forward;...he failed to follow through on the interviews with the Syrian officers; and though he met with President Assad, he apparently did not formally take down his testimony."
Young's narrative fit with the Times' previous hostility toward the Syrians over the Hariri case and other issues, much as the Times regularly tilted its coverage against Iraq prior to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and currently slants its reporting against the government of Iran.
Young's article failed to disclose that Mehlis's initial investigation fell apart when the testimony of his two key witnesses was discredited or retracted. Brammertz had no choice but to retrace Mehlis's steps because there had been so many slip-ups.
This complex murder mystery began on Feb. 14, 2005, when an explosion destroyed a car carrying Hariri through the streets of Beirut. Twenty-two other people also died.
Because Syria was then on President George W. Bush's hit list for "regime change" -- and Syria was considered a front-line enemy of Israel -- speculative evidence of Syrian guilt was an easy sell to the U.S. news media.
So, when Mehlis's preliminary report was issued in 2005, there was little U.S. media skepticism about its assertions of guilt regarding Syrian leaders and their Lebanese allies.
"There is probable cause to believe that the decision to assassinate former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services," declared Mehlis's report on Oct. 20, 2005.
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