The Mehlis Report: Crime, as in Gotham City
The assassination of Rafiq Hariri is looking more like a script for Batman than the Day of the Jackal (the 1973 film about an attempt by French military officers to assassinate DeGaulle because he was willing to give Algeria its independence).
The Mehlis Report has been released and at a first look, it's a narrative of dirty cops, corrupt bosses, and abuse of power and privilege by the insiders to run a lucrative crime syndicate rather than a serious effort to destabilize Lebanon. In other words, the Penguin pulling the strings of the Gotham City Police Commissioner.
Is Syria involved? Syrian actors, certainly, regarded Lebanon as a booty of conquest entitling them to run monopolies, distribute the spoils, and enforce a racket of patronage and corruption. The Syrian crime lords may have had a falling out with Mister Big--Rafiq Hariri--and rubbed him out. But it will be difficult for Condoleezza Rice to nail Bashir al-Assad for a probable rogue crime operation run by corrupt security officials in search of lucre. How high did the corruption go? The Syrian Foreign Minister appears to have attempted some clumsy ass-covering which failed to convince the intended audience--the UN. So far, it's unclear if the actual murder strays beyond the Syrian and Lebanese security establishments.
And speaking of pulling strings and dark conspiracies, may I also point out the shameless hypocrisy of Washington, baying like a hound for Syrian blood. Without mentioning the Iraq debacle, the US only recently had a hand in the kidnapping and sequestering of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
BTW, Helena Cobban has two excellent posts on the Mehlis Report:
Asef Shawkat and Karl Rove
Mehlis Report accusing Syria
...as well as Joshua Landis:
Mehlis Report: Shades of Grey
From Agence France Presse: [Translated from French]
Syria, as well as Lebanon, are implicated in the assassination of Lebanese ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, concludes the report of the UN Independent Commission of Investigation. There is "convergent evidence" which reveals both Lebanese and Syrian involvement in this terrorist act, relates Detlev Mehlis, the head of the commission, in his report submitted on Thursday to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan after four months of investigation and made public Thursday night.
The German magistate emphasizes that the assassination could not have been committed without the knowledge of high-ranking Syrian officials. It is a well-known fact that Syrian military intelligence had a pervasive presence in Lebanon at least until the pullout of Syrian forces in compliance with Resolution 1559. Former high ranking Lebanese security officials had been appointed by [Syrian military intelligence]. Given the infiltration of Lebanese society and institutions by Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services working in tandem, it would be difficult to imagine a scenario whereby such a complex assassination plot could have been carried out without their knowledge, Mehlis added. One can reasonably think that the decision [to assassinate Rafik Hariri] could not have been made without the approval of high-ranking officials inside Syrian intelligence and could not have been orchestrated without the complicity of its counterparts inside Lebanese security, continued Mr. Mehlis. The motive for the assassination was probably political, Mehlis added. However, because the crime was not the work of an individual but of a group having access to perfected means, it is very possible that fraud, corruption and money laundering motivated certain people to participate in the operation, the text continues.
Mr. Mehlis also declared that Syrian officials, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Farook al-Shareh, "attempted to put investigators off the trail of the crime." While Syrian authorities, after initial hesitation, cooperated up to a certain point(...), several persons who were questioned attempted to send our investigation down the wrong path, he said. The letter addressed to the Commission by the Foreign Minister of the Syrian Arab Republic was revealed to contain false information, Mehlis accuses. The Commission concluded that after having interviewed witnesses and suspects in Syria and having established that several trails of evidence lead directly to Syrian security officials and implicated them in the assasination, it is incumbant upon the Syrian state to provide clarification to a significant potion of our unanswered questions.
The assassination of Rafiq Hariri and 20 others by a bomb planted in downtown Beirut on 14 February plunged Lebanon into a crisis. Several Lebanese held Syria, a neighboring country which held its smaller neighbor under its tutelage for three decades, responsible for the crime. Damascus has always denied any involvement. The crime also raised cries of indignation throughout the world and accelerated the departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon, which was one of the demands of UN Security Resolution 1559. The Mehlis Report was distributed to the fifteen members of the Security Council as well as to Lebanon, said the UN. In a cover letter, Mr. Annan indicated his intention of asking the Security Council to extend the mandate of the Mehlis Commission until 15 December as requested by the Lebanese government.
An interim report also implicated four Lebanese generals, now in preventative custody, who worked closely with Syrian intelligence Investigators went to Damascus in September where they took depositions from Syrian nationals, including Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's former strongman in Lebanon and Interior Minister who according to Syrian officials committed suicide on October 12 in his office in Damascus.