In hope of justice
Illustration by Sarah John
I want justice. I want to know who killed Rafik Hariri. I want to know who planned it. I want to know why. Most of all, I want to see his murderers humiliated beyond their dreams and admitting their crime at an international tribunal.
I want them to hear the testimonies of thousands of Lebanese who will tell them that Hariri represented their dreams and future. I want them to know that they have taken Lebanon’s soul and we are, to this day, still lost.
Justice is coming in the form of a German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis. Since June, Mehlis, assisted by a team of 100 legal experts and technicians, has doggedly tracked Hariri’s killers as part of a United Nations investigation.
And then came a shock: four senior generals were arrested and later charged as accomplices to the murder. Those officials were the commanders of Lebanon’s security and intelligence agencies – the very ones we trusted to keep us safe.
But they were not the brains behind the operation. As Lebanese, we knew who was behind the plot but we needed Mehlis to confirm it. Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, was killed in a huge bomb blast on St Valentine’s Day. The massive explosion, which was heard all over Beirut, killed another 22 people, including a former minister who was travelling with Hariri.
Blaming Syria, thousands of angry Lebanese took to the streets in an unprecedented series of demonstrations over the next month demanding the withdrawal of Syria’s 14,000 troops and intelligence officers. Syrian troops first entered Lebanon in 1976 and by the end of the civil war in 1990 Damascus had taken control of the country, dictating almost every move practically at gunpoint.
For many years Hariri had accommodated the Syrians, believing that one day they would leave. But his patience ran out and he joined the opposition ranks in late 2004.
Throughout the summer and early autumn, all we could talk about was the upcoming report by Detlev Mehlis. We followed every press leak and his every reported movement religiously. Our desire to know exactly who ordered Hariri’s murder was strengthened by a periodic campaign of assassinations and bomb attacks against Lebanese journalists and politicians who were against the Syrian domination. The people behind Hariri’s assassination were most likely the ones terrorizing us now. International pressure against Syria may deter further bombings, we hope.
Finally, in October, Mehlis released a 54-page report, based on 400 interviews and a review of 60,000 pages of documents. It confirmed that the decision to kill Hariri ‘could not have been taken without the approval of top-ranking Syrian security officials and could not have been further organized without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services’.
The report named as suspects several members of the inner circle of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, including Maher Assad, his brother, and Assef Shawkat, his brother-in-law. Syria denied any involvement. President Assad insisted that his country was ‘100 per cent innocent’.
Justice is still far from being achieved. Mehlis reported that the Syrian Government was unco-operative during the investigation. The UN Security Council has ordered Syria to co-operate and allow Mehlis to interrogate top officials or face the prospect of UN sanctions being imposed.
I read and reread the report. It was a true Hollywood plot involving spies, financial scandals, assassinations and months of meticulous planning. The 54-page document was read in its entirety on several local television stations.
The day it was published, hundreds of Lebanese made their way to Hariri’s grave in downtown Beirut, the area that he had rebuilt after the 16-year civil war. His grave has become a shrine where a steady flow of visitors continue to pay their respects.
Some people prayed by the grave, some carried Lebanese flags and others held on tightly to copies of the Mehlis report. ‘This is for you,’ said one woman crying as she held out the report.
I find myself often thinking of the killers. Are they wishing that they could turn back time? Are they shocked at the reaction they provoked? Is there possibly any remorse?
Until they are brought to trial, I will not know. But I do know that only then will justice be served.