Middle East

Slanting Rafiq Hariri's Assassination

A United Nations Special Tribunal received a mandate to investigate the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and handed down indictments to prosecutors in Lebanon. Its indictments named four men—Mustafa Badreddine, Salim Ayyash, Asad Sabra and Hasan Ainessi—claiming they have ties to Hezbollah. The U.N. Tribunal did not mention a political assassination, refer to the involvement of any political party or indicate that the indicted acted for a specific organization. 

It is possible that future events will prove Hezbollah involvement. After all, Hariri impeded Hezbollah's entrance into the higher echelons of government. However, the U.N. Tribunal did not mention any involvement in its indictment. It is reasonable that we might eventually learn that the bombing was a contract and occurred due to other reasons, such as a conflict between business relationships. 

Nevertheless, the media slanted the news to an indictment of Hezbollah and strained to find information to support its revelations. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah added fuel to the embers by permitting himself to be quoted as saying "he would never surrender the indicted to authorities." A reading of Nasrallah's speech on July 2 does not reveal any statement that approached this quotation, which appears often in the press. The closest statement made by the Hezbollah leader is: "This investigation, tribunal, resolutions, and what is issued by it are to us clearly American and Israeli. Accordingly, we refuse it and we refuse all … groundless accusations or groundless sentences."

Characterized as a "terrorist crime," it marks the first time that a U.N.-based "quasi" court tries a crime committed against a specific person. More significantly, the United Nations never investigated the 1948 murder of U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte during the British Mandate, nor assassinations of their officials in Sudan, Ethiopia, Bosnia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Southern Lebanon and elsewhere.

The indictment does not mention that the killing was a "terrorist" crime of political origins. Hariri had many business enemies and the assassination could have had many origins.

The four indicted men might have been sympathetic to Hezbollah, as are most Shi'a in Lebanon, but are they formal members? Does Hezbollah have applications, review committees, and a formal and available membership list?

Also, member action does not automatically correspond to sponsored organization action.

The misplaced, contradictory, fabricated and poorly cited reports demonstrate how the media misrepresents events and prejudices reading. In the following excerpts, note the contradictions, fabrications and dubious language. Reports seem composed from a macro phrase with an editor filling in the blanks.

Note: Dubious wordings are shown in italic.

The Associated Press on June 30 started the confusion with, "One of the people named is Mustafa Badreddine, believed to have been Hezbollah's deputy military commander. He is the brother-in-law of the late Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh."

The Lebanon Journals set the pace for dubious information on June 30, reporting, "Mustafa Badreddine, the brother in-law of assassinated Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyah, is the prime suspect in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005. Badreddine replaced Mugniyah as Hezbollah's chief operations officer after he was killed in a mysterious explosion in Syria on Feb. 12, 2008. The 50-year-old is a member of the Hezbollah Shura Council.

The Daily Star on July 1 followed with, "Four members of Hezbollah, including a senior military commander, were accused Thursday of the 2005 assassination of former statesman Rafik Hariri, as the U.N.-backed court probing the crime issued its first indictment to authorities in Beirut. Badreddine, Hezbollah's military commander, was accused of masterminding the plot to kill Hariri. Ayyash, another senior party official, was accused of carrying out the attack."

Credit to The Los Angeles Times on July 1 for being more, but not entirely, objective. "The identities of the four suspects were not released, and the indictment remained sealed. But local news reports suggested all four were Lebanese nationals linked to Hezbollah, a major militia and political party backed by Iran and Syria".

Soon the narratives gained their own lives. The Hague Justice Portal on July 1 added its own interpretations from unofficial information. "Multiple media reports stated that those indicted were high-ranking Hezbollah members, including Mustafa Badreddine, the head of external operations and cousin of the deceased prominent Hezbollah official Imad Mughnieh."

Relating unproven assertions became standard. CNN World entered the murky accountings on July 1. "Badreddine—who is the brother-in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, a former Hezbollah commander who was assassinated in Syria in 2008—is reported to be a member of Hezbollah's advisory council."

The SF Gate on July 2 gave its own spin with, "Badreddine is a Hezbollah military commander and brother- in-law of Imad Mughniyeh, who was blamed for the 1983 attack on the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, and who died in a car bomb in Syria in 2008."

The yellow journalism grew in intensity with fireworks from NY Daily News on July 4. "There was never a scintilla of doubt that Hezbollah terrorists were behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and now it's official. A United Nations tribunal issued indictments after a long investigation into the 2005 attack that killed Hariri and 23 others. The panel asked Lebanon's government to arrest ranking Hezbollah operative Mustafa Badreddine and three accomplices. Badreddine is also a leading suspect in the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans."

Not to be undone, Israel's national newspaper Arutz Sheva added, "Rafik Hariri's assassination was directly motivated by the political aspirationsof the Hizbullah terror-organization, London-based Asharq al-Awasat reported Friday. Four Hizbullah members were indicted for the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Thursday. Quoting reliable sources, al-Aswat said the 183-page indictment lists the reasons and political motivations behind the assassination as well as the planning, execution and cover-up stages." (Note the contradictory misspellings of Asharq Al-Awsat.)

Although the initial indictments became history, the falsification of that history continued. Al Hyat on July 8 wrote, "The first indictments of the tribunal have been issued, naming four individuals from Hizbullah. In a fieryspeech, Nasrallah renewed his accusations that the tribunal was an American-Israeli instrument and warned that neither Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government nor any other government could reach or arrest these individuals 'in 300 years.'"

Actually, in a calm speech, Nasrallah said, "Consequently, let things move in their natural track. Indeed, we are working in a way not to embarrass the government or anyone else, and I believe that not in 30 days or 60 days or one year or two years or 30 years or 300 years, they would find, detain or arrest them. The whole play with its minute details is very clear."

Imad Muyginieh had no known position in the Hezbollah organization. He lived in an apartment in Damascus, Syria, with limited protection. Are we to believe that a person who has been described as Hezbollah's commander, military leader and head of operations conducted party activities from an apartment in a foreign nation?

Google any of the indicted individuals and the results reveal nothing, no information on any of them. According to the media, they all held positions in Hezbollah, two of them important positions. Nevertheless, there is no online information on any of them. Where did these media sources obtain their contradictory information?

Dan Lieberman is the editor of Alternative Insight, a monthly web-based newsletter. His website articles have been read in more than 150 nations. He can be reached at alternativeinsight@earthlink.net