October 23, 2005
October 23, 2005
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United Nations report implicates the Syrian government in the
assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, giving a
lift to George W. Bush’s demand for "regime change" in Damascus. But
the investigation has many holes, including failure to follow up on a
mysterious van connected to the Feb. 14 bombing.
54-page U.N. report concludes that the bomb that killed Hariri and 22
other people in Beirut was likely in a white Mitsubishi Canter Van that
closed in on the convoy of cars carrying Hariri and his entourage
before a suicide bomber detonated the powerful blast.
the identity of the bomber remains a mystery, a Japanese forensic team
matched 44 of 69 pieces of the van’s wreckage to Canter parts
manufactured by Mitsubishi Fuso Corp. and even identified the specific
vehicle. The chain of possession for that van thus would seem to be a
crucial lead in identifying the killers.
that central point, the U.N. investigation made little headway,
devoting only a few paragraphs to how the van ended up in Beirut. On
page 42, the U.N. report states that the Japanese forensic team
reported that the van was traced back to Sagamihara City, Japan, where
on Oct. 12, 2004, it was stolen.
report contains no details about the Japanese investigation of the
theft, nor does it indicate what Japanese police may have discovered
about the identity of the thieves or how they may have shipped the van
from a suburb of Tokyo to the Middle East in the four months before the
the investigation of a vehicle theft may have attracted little Japanese
police attention a year ago, the van’s apparent role in a major act of
international terrorism would seem to justify a redoubling of those
minimum, the U.N. investigators might have insisted on including
details such as the name of the original owner, the circumstances
surrounding the theft, and the identities of car-theft rings in the
Sagamihara area. Plus, investigators could have checked on shipments of
white Mitsubishi Canter Vans out of Japan to Middle East destinations.
the time frame between the reported theft and the bombing was less than
four months, Japanese authorities could have at least narrowed down
those possible shipments and Middle East customs services might have
records of imported vehicles.
the U.N. investigation concentrated on far flimsier and more
circumstantial pieces of evidence, such as phone records showing
communications between various security officials near the route of
reaching its tentative conclusions fingering Syria, the U.N. probe also
relies heavily on two witnesses of uncertain credibility who implicated
Syrian security officials, although with accounts that are partially
instance, the two supposed witnesses differed on the fate of the
Lebanese youth, Ahmad Abu Adass, who claimed responsibility for the
suicide bombing in a videotape released to al-Jazeera television after
the Hariri assassination.
to that video, Hariri was slain by Islamic militants because of his
work as "the agent of the infidels" and Abu Adass identified himself as
the suicide bomber.
U.N. report used the supposed witnesses to dismiss the videotape as
part of a disinformation campaign to deflect suspicion from Syria.
witness – described in the U.N. report as "of Syrian origin but
resident in Lebanon who claims to have worked for the Syrian
intelligence services in Lebanon" – said Abu Adass "played no role in
the crime except as a decoy," who was detained "in Syria and forced at
gunpoint to record the videotape" before being killed.
alleged witness, Zuhir Ibn Mohamed Said Saddik, claimed he saw Abu
Adass at a camp in Zabadani, Syria, where, Saddik said, the Mitsubishi
van was filled with explosives. Saddik said Abu Adass planned to carry
out the assassination but changed his mind and was then killed by
Syrians who put his body in the vehicle carrying the bomb.
the problems with such "witnesses" is that they can be unreliable for a
variety of reasons, including the possibility they are paid or
otherwise induced to present false stories to help achieve a result
favored by powerful political figures or countries.
United States – and the New York Times – learned this lesson during the
run-up to war in Iraq when Iraqi exile groups arranged for supposed
witnesses to approach U.S. officials and journalists with information
about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, claims that turned out to be
risk is strongest when allegations are directed against countries or
political leaders already held in disdain – as was the case with Iraq
and is now the case with Syria. With most everyone ready to believe the
worst, few investigators or journalists are willing to risk their
reputations and careers by demanding a high level of proof.
Hariri case, the chief U.N. investigator, German prosecutor Detlev
Mehlis, found himself under intense international pressure that some
observers compared to the demands on U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix
in early 2003.
to find Iraqi WMD but facing U.S. insistence that the WMD was there,
Blix tried to steer a middle course to avert a head-on confrontation
with the Bush administration, which nevertheless brushed aside his
muted objections and invaded Iraq in March 2003.
the Bush administration has stepped up its rhetorical pressure on
Syria, blaming the government of Bashar Assad for the infiltration of
foreign jihadists into Iraq where they have attacked American troops.
So, any additional negative attention on Syria would be helpful to
Bush’s anti-Syrian agenda.
the U.N. report was released on Oct. 20, Bush immediately termed its
allegations "very disturbing" and called for the U.N. to take action
while Syria and its freewheeling intelligence services may remain prime
suspects in the Hariri assassination, the bitter Iraq experience might
justify at least the running down of obvious leads that could either
strengthen or disprove the case, like the mystery of the white
Mitsubishi Canter Van.
might get much closer to the truth if they could determine what
happened to the van between the moment it disappeared off the streets
of a Japanese city and reappeared almost four months later, rolling
toward Rafiq Hariri’s motorcade.
blast not only rocked Lebanese politics. It may now give the Bush
administration a new rationale for taking on another Arab adversary.
Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the
Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy &
Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be
ordered at http://secrecyandprivilege.com. It’s also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.’