05 April 2016

ON TRIAL: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon

The Washington Spectator

On Valentine’s Day 2005, a suicide bomb blast close to Beirut’s seaside promenade killed billionaire former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, along with 21 others.
The crime was catapulted to the front lines of international jurisprudence, thanks to the diligent work of Lebanese political partisans and like-minded forces in the global community—who shared a less-than-thinly-veiled goal of sticking it to Syria and/or Syria’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah. The result: a Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), which operates in The Hague with United Nations backing. On trial are five Hezbollah members accused of orchestrating the bombing.
The selective nature of justice in this case is rather obvious given that Lebanon’s veritable glut of political assassinations over past decades has not produced any similar effort, even on the domestic level. As Lebanese criminal justice expert Dr. Omar Nashabe notes in a paper published by the American University of Beirut, assassinations and “numerous other serious crimes committed in Lebanon since 1975 have either gone unresolved, unpunished, or were white-washed by amnesty laws and international silence.”
And while apologists for the STL cast it as a precedent-setting move in the fight against impunity, the fact that the court has hosted testimony by Lebanese sectarian warlords-cum-politicians—themselves with the blood of Lebanon’s civil war still on their hands—would seem to nip that claim in the bud.
Nor have the tens of thousands of victims of regular Israeli rampages across the country been deemed special enough for a tribunal aimed at holding their murderers accountable. Never mind that the court, which advertises itself as “the first tribunal of its kind to deal with terrorism as a distinct crime,” defines terrorism in part as something “liable to create a public danger.”
In wantonly bombing Lebanese apartment buildings, family vehicles, and the like, Israel would seem to have terror down to an art.
Israel, it bears mentioning, has been categorically exempt from suspicion in the Hariri killing, despite its history of interference in Lebanese politics and the fact that it benefited mightily from the withdrawal of Syria from Lebanon—one outcome of the assassination.
Beyond its focus on “terrorism,” the STL is unique in other ways, as well. For one thing, it’s a trial in absentia, since none of the defendants has been delivered to the court. As former defense counsel member Philippe Larochelle recently explained to me, the best-case scenario for the prosecutors in the end is that “you get a conviction for five ghosts.” READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.