The following is one in a series of articles leading up to the start of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the court prosecuting those accused of the Feb. 14, 2005 attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others. The series explores the tribunal’s creation, unsolved political assassinations and the views of victims in the run-up to the trial.
BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is tasked primarily with prosecuting those responsible for the Feb. 14, 2005, attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 21 others.
But the court’s mandate also covers “connected cases,” attacks or political assassinations that occurred between Oct. 1, 2004, and Dec. 12, 2005, if the tribunal’s prosecutor can prove that they are connected to the Hariri assassination.
Connected cases can be linked to the Hariri attack if they have the same motive, purpose or modus operandi, if the perpetrators are the same or if the victims targeted by the attack are similar in nature.
Political assassinations outside that timeframe can be included if Lebanon and the United Nations agree to the request.
So far, the STL has established jurisdiction over three attacks other than the Hariri bombing – the attempted killings of MP Marwan Hamade and former Minister Elias al-Murr, and the assassination of Lebanese Communist Party leader George Hawi. No further progress in the cases has been publicly disclosed by the tribunal. The STL has not claimed jurisdiction over other cases that fall within its mandate, such as the assassinations of Samir Kassir and Gebran Tueni, and the attempted killing of May Chidiac.
STL Prosecutor Norman Farrell created a team last year tasked primarily with reviewing cases that could potentially be linked to the tribunal. He told The Daily Star in an interview last week that he is working toward issuing indictments in the connected cases.
May ChidiacMay Chidiac limped down the staircase to the funeral hall for Mohammad Shatah, the assassinated former finance minister, on a recent, dreary Sunday afternoon.
Her struggle betrayed wounds that had not yet healed.
Now nine years after an assassination attempt against the TV personality, there has still been no progress in the investigation into her case. But Chidiac believes the start of trial in the Hariri killing will reveal dormant truths in her case and others.
“When the truth is revealed, I will be satisfied,” she says.
“My hope is with the international investigation,” she adds. “Unfortunately with the local investigation that is not the case.”
Chidiac says the start of trial is an important milestone.
“I was hoping for things to move on faster, but in the end the most important thing is what we’ve reached so far,” she adds. “I always look at the full part of the cup.”
But she says there is little hope any of the suspects will be handed over to the court, accusing Hezbollah of setting up its own “republic” in Lebanon.
The five suspects accused of complicity in the Hariri assassination so far are all members of the party.
The former TV anchor says she believes the same factions are behind her assassination attempt.
“The execution can be done by anybody, any local agent,” she says. “But the orders and those who planned for this are the same, behind all the crimes.”
Chidiac says she doubts whether the start of trial will change the minds of those staunchly opposed to the tribunal. But she adds that the court is still crucial.
“We were waiting for this day,” she says. “They want us to forget about it, but we believe in the STL and want it to be a success and are waiting desperately for the results.”
Gebran TueniMichele Tueni did not know her father was back in Beirut.
Gebran, the journalist and MP whose open letter in 2000 demanding Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon was a watershed moment in the opposition to Syrian domination, had spent some time in Paris amid fears that an attempt would be made on his life.
He had returned home on Dec. 4, 2005, but hadn’t told his daughter over the phone during their last conversation that he was coming back as a security precaution.
He was assassinated the next day in a car bomb attack.
“I started worrying that something happened, and then people started coming to our house,” she says. “That’s when I knew.”
Gebran’s killing set in motion a series of diplomatic maneuvers that would eventually lead to the creation of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Tueni’s assassination is the last political killing that falls under the tribunal’s mandate.
Michele says there has been no apparent progress in his case.
“The last thing we know is that they haven’t found a link between it and Hariri,” she adds.
She says she hopes the trial, as well as other investigations, will help unravel the conspiracy that killed her father as well. “There is nothing at all from the Lebanese authorities,” she adds. “There is no intent to reach anything.”
Some of those who tried to untangle Lebanon’s bloody history of political assassinations paid the ultimate price, she says, like Captain Wissam Eid, who uncovered much of the telecommunications evidence that would form the backbone of the case in the Hariri assassination.
Regardless of the trial, Michele says, political killings in Lebanon will continue until there is a broader political reconciliation.
But the STL trial’s value lies in establishing what exactly happened during those turbulent months.
“At least the truth will be there, for history,” she says. “We’ve never seen that in Lebanon.”
Samir KassirIt was 5 a.m. in Atlanta when Giselle Khoury was woken up by a text message.
A friend told her there had been an explosion in Beirut near her home.
She tried to call her husband, the journalist Samir Kassir, but the phone was switched off. When she finally was able to speak to her son, he told her Kassir had been assassinated.
Khoury’s voice catches as she recalls the emotional flight home.
She has no doubt the killing of her husband is linked to the Hariri assassination, and thinks there is a strong possibility her case will one day be taken up by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
“I hope so,” she says. “I hope so. I have a big chance.”
“He was one of the architects of March 14,” she adds, referring to her husband’s political bloc whose creation heralded the end of Syria’s formal tutelage in Lebanon. The STL prosecution is not pursuing a case against Syrian officials, but many believe Damascus may have acted through its local allies.
Even now, nearly nine years after a car bomb claimed her husband’s life, the crime remains incomprehensible to her, a savage attack against free thought.
“Who is this person who can command a crime against an intellectual?” she asks. “I can’t put my mind in the mind of the criminal. They think differently.”