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Interview with Franklin Lamb in Beirut on the latest Wilkileaks from US Embassy Beirut and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)
Franklin Lamb, a former Assistant Counsel of the US House Judiciary Committee at the US Congress and Professor of International Law at Northwestern College of Law in Oregon, earned his Law Degree at Boston University and his LLM, M.Phil, and PhD degrees at the London School of Economics. Following three summers at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Lamb was a visiting fellow at the Harvard Law School’s East Asian Legal Studies Center where he specialized in Chinese Law. He was the first westerner allowed by the government of China to visit the notorious “Ward Street” Prison in Shanghai. Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and works with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon and the Sabra-Shatila Foundation. His new book, The Case for Palestinian Civil Rights in Lebanon, is due out shortly.
Q: Lebanon, for well-known geostrategic reasons is fixed in the cross-hairs of the conflict of the Middle East. Some analysts believe that there is more foreign intervention in Lebanon than in any Middle East country except Iraq. As tensions rise between Iran and America for influence in Lebanon, the issue of loyalty to Lebanon or Israel has entered the public discourse with new intensity. One issue hotly debated today in Lebanon is whether there were political leaders within the Lebanese government who assisted Israel in its invasion of Lebanon in 2006? Were there?
Franklin Lamb: Yes. Several members of the pro-US-Saudi March 14th “Team” regularly met with US officials during the 33-day conflict including then US Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman and then Undersecretary of State David Welch. Meetings, often secret, were also held after the 33 day conflict. At these meetings some of the Lebanaese officials tried to influence the terms of the cease fire. Some Lebanese officials wanted to delay a ceasefire in the hope that Israel would perform better and destroy Hezbollah, the political adversaries of the March 14 group.
Some Lebanese asked the US Embassy to forward advice to Israel or, in the case of Samir Geagea, asked Jeffrey Feltman to tell Israel not to bomb Christian areas as that would increase Christian support for the Lebanese Resistance but rather to instruct Israel to direct their bombings against Hezbollah areas.
Today the same individuals continue to meet with US Ambassador Maury Connelly and with now Undersecretary of State Jeffrey Feltman.
Most were asked for their advice and gave it while others wanted the US and/or Israel to take certain actions that would undermine the National Lebanese Resistance lead by Hezbollah while enhancing the political position of the person and his political allies or confession
Q: Who are these people and what would possibly be their motive for this serious accusation?
Among those who have been publicly identified and have admitted the accuracy of Wilkileaks cables and media reports include Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea, former Prime Ministers Fuad Siniora and Saad Hariri, current care taker Labor Minister Boutros Harb, then Minister of Defense Elias Murr, Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, and half a dozen others.
Their common motive was to see Hezbollah defeated so that their team could continue to govern Lebanon without serious opposition. Some no doubt felt Hezbollah’s defeat would be good for Lebanon and expressed the view that Lebanon would benefit more from US-Saudi affiliation than building relations with Iran.
Q: If these men helped Israel or gave them a “green light” to commence military operations against Lebanon, what are their critics in Lebanon and the Lebanese media saying about their actions?
FL: Critics of the pro-US March 14th team are claiming that those who aided Israel have a direct shared legal responsibility for the deaths of the 1,200 Lebanese civilians who were killed in the invasion.
Q: Walid Jumblatt is head of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party and the most prominent leader of the Druze community. Here’s an excerpt from a Wikileaks cable that suggests that he felt Israel should have continued the war.
Excerpt: “Jumblatt noted the heavy destruction of Lebanese infrastructure but bemoaned the irony that Hezbollah’s military infrastructure had not been seriously touched. Jumblatt explained that although March 14 must call for a cease-fire in public, it is hoping that Israel continues its military operations until it destroys Hezbollah’s military capabilities. “If there is a cease-fire now, Hezbollah wins,” said Jumblatt. “We don’t want it to stop….Responding to Jumblatt’s complaint that Israel is hitting targets that hurt the GOL while leaving Hezbollah strategically strong, the Ambassador asked Jumblatt what Israel should do to cause serious damage to Hezbollah. Jumblatt replied that Israel is still in the mindset of fighting classic battles with Arab armies. “You can’t win this kind of war with zero dead,” he said.
Jumblatt finally said what he meant; Israel will have to invade southern Lebanon. Israel must be careful to avoid massacres, but it should clear Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon. Then the LAF can replace the IDF once a cease-fire is reached.”
Q: I think most Americans would see Jumblatt’s comments as proof of treason—that he actively conspired with a foreign power in a way that assured the violent deaths of his fellow countrymen. Am I getting this wrong?
FL: No you are not, your assessment is exactly correct. Jumblatt has admitted that the leaked US Embassy cables accurately report his words. His explanation is that at that time he was a pillar of the March 14th team and wanted to see Hezbollah out of the South and out of Lebanese politics. “That’s how we play politics in Lebanon” he commented to a visiting American delegation. Today Jumblatt strongly supports Hezbollah and says that Lebanon must return to its Arab identity and commit to helping Palestinians obtain civil rights in Lebanon while declaring that only Israel is the enemy of Lebanon and that Palestine must be liberated. It is not known to what extent Jumblatt will be held accountable for his statements during the July 2006 War.
Q : How has Hezbollah responded to the release of the Wikileaks cables? Is the public more supportive of Hezbollah than before? What does the future hold for the conspirators?
FL: The Resistance expects any conspirators to stand trial and more Embassy cables are expected to provide specific details relating to a number of Lebanese officials.
Evidence continues to be gathered confirming earlier expressed suspicions of Lebanese politicians collaborating with Israel while having knowledge of, but failing to report, Mossad units in Lebanon.
Hezbollah has said that there are more revelations to come and that those who can be proven to have worked for Israel must be tried for treason. The Resistance believes that many Lebanese were killed by Israel during the July War as a direct result of March 14th collaboration with Israel and with the US Embassy which they believe functioned as a branch operations center for Israel.
Many more US Embassy and State Department memos are expected and observers here emphasize that this is why there is currently such an intense contest on the new government’s appointment to fill the Ministry of Interior cabinet position and this has delayed government formation for the past two months. Whoever becomes Interior Minister will have a major influence over who is brought to trial for treason stemming from collaboration with Israel before, during, and following the July 2006 War.
Regarding whether the public is more supportive of Hezbollah than before, I would say the public supports Hezbollah’s domestic legislative program and its resistance to Israeli aggression. Some of Hezbollah’s achievements have been blurred a bit by the US-Israel campaign of defamation and vilification of the Resistance. Nearly daily attacks on the Resistance, its arms, accusations that it was involved in the 2/14/05 assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, US threats against Lebanese banks, cutting off aid to Lebanon etc. have taken at least a modest toll in public confidence.
Among the US Embassy-State Department cables made public this week in Lebanon are the following revelations:
Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea informed then US Ambassador Sison on May 9, 2008 that” he has 10,000 Fighters ready and willing to fight Hezbollah but that they “may need to be provided with weapons and some more training would be good.” In addition, Geagea stressed to Sisson the need for the U.S. to pressure the Lebanese army to perform its duties because he wasn’t sure that it was capable of doing so, noting that the army failed in protecting Christian areas in Lebanon. He also suggested that Arab peacekeeping forces be deployed in Lebanon, which according to Sison was first proposed by Saudi Arabia.
Some examples of recently leaked US Embassy cables include:
- In 2008 an Israeli official requested in that the United States directly support the March 14 camp instead of the Lebanese state out of fears that Hezbollah would soon take over the cabinet. This leaded US Embassy cable came to light on 4/6/11.Nimrod Barkan, then head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry Center for Policy Research, made his statements during a meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman in Israel. “The March 14 camp is brave, but it has been castrated,” the Israeli official said. Feltman regularly briefs Mossad on developments in Lebanon in the run up to the next Israeli invasion. Feltman emphasized the need to support the Lebanese army against Hezbollah, to which Barkan chastised Feltman that it would be useless “because the LAF would never directly confront Hizbullah and it could eventually fall under its control.” Barkan called for a US-Saudi funded Sunni militia to be organized. Feltman replied that it was an idea worth exploring.
- Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat stressed in a number of leaked U.S. Embassy cables from 2006 and 2009 published on 3/6/11, Lebanon’s need for funds after the July 2006 war. A July 11, 2006, cable spoke of meeting between the MP and then U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffery Feltman during which he told him about his July 7 visit to Saudi Arabia which he said was aimed at convincing newly crowned Saudi King Abdullah to finance the March 14 camp.He told the monarch that the funding “was aimed at confronting the Shiite expansion in Lebanon and the region.” “King Abdullah was not receptive to the suggestion … his predecessor was much more generous,” noted Jumblat.
- During a later cable, dated August 21, 2006, Jumblatt said that the Lebanese government should “act quickly to defeat Hizbullah’s reconstruction efforts” after the July 2006 war. Jumblat calculated that the some 200 million dollars would be needed to rebuild the 15,000 residential units Israel destroyed during the war, saying: “This is a tiny figured compared to Hariri’s capabilities!” “We currently don’t need democracy, but money,” the MP declared. A May 14, 2009, cable revealed that Jumblat and a number of March 14 officials “finally received Saudi funds.” What happened to these funds remains a mystery.
- A leaked U.S. Embassy cable published on 4/8/11 revealed that Defense Minister Elias Murr had initially rejected on 12/16/08 a Russian grant of 77 tanks and 50,000 of their ammunition, saying that the Lebanese had no need for them.
- Murr changed his mind and told then U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Michele Sison that he had no choice but to accept the offer because if he rejected it, he would have been labeled as a traitor who is following an American agenda. According to Sison’s cable, Murr added that the Russian equipment could be used against Hezbollah, noting that it could also bolster the March 14 camp’s chances of winning the 2009 parliamentary elections, according to the cable. “The MiG jets are the best way to combat and destroy Hezbollah”, Murr stressed. The 12/18/08 cable revealed that Sison had opposed the MiG deal because they might be used against Israel were Israel to attack Lebanon. Murr later told Sisson Lebanon would not accept the MIGS before 2040. Sison reportedly quipped that Israel might not be around in 2040.
- According to a WikiLeaks cable published on 4/8/11 then Prime minister Saad Hariri said during a meeting with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Hale on 12/17/08 that the ownership of MiG jets by the army might complicate Israeli over flights but on the other hand the planes would further “weaken one of Hezbollah’s excuses to hold onto its arms.” Hariri told Hale: “Hezbollah is feeling threatened by the MiG deal and the party’s al-Manar TV station dealt with it (the issue) negatively,” he said, according to the cable. But then U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison contradicted Hariri in the cable that there was no negative reaction from the Shiite group on the MiG deal.” Sison wrote: “A Hezbollah representative has stressed in an official statement his support to arm the Lebanese military to confront Israel.” During his meeting with Hale, Hariri also stressed the importance of delivering MiG fighter jets to Lebanon to “fight terrorism in the Palestinian camps.” Ambassador Sison reportedly found this idea of Hariri’s a little bizarre.
- A leaked U.S. Embassy cable published in Lebanon on 3/6/11 revealed that then Prime Minister Fouad Saniora had rejected a transfer of 500 and 300 million dollars to Lebanon aimed at rebuilding the country after the July 2006 war.The WikiLeaks cable spoke of a meeting between Saniora and then U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman on August 18, 2006, during which the former explained that he rejected the aid money from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait “because he didn’t want the money to go to Speaker Nabih Berri’s pocket given that the man is a thief.” Regarding the war, the premier said that the Israeli attacks are only strengthening Hezbollah and not weakening it. Furthermore, he rejected accusations that the Lebanese government was ignoring United Nations Security Council resolution 1701, asking Feltman: “Doesn’t your government understand that the deployment of the Lebanese army in the South is an historic achievement?”
- A US Embassy cable published on 3/6/11 asserts than Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat voiced his concern over reports that the Mustaqbal (March 14th) movement was training 15,000 Sunni militias in Beirut and Tripoli. The MP stated that MP Saad Hariri’s establishment of private security companies in Beirut and Tripoli is a sign that some individuals are providing him with bad advice, especially ISF chief Ashraf Rifi.
Q: Does this derail US-Israeli plans for Lebanon? Will there now be less foreign influence on Lebanese politics?
FL: Maybe slightly in the near term these revelations may curtail US-Israel plans a bit.
But we must remember that the US-Israel axis is committed to the destruction and eradication of the Lebanese Resistance and curtailing Iranian influence in the Levant and while perhaps a dozen of US-Israel projects, including igniting a Sunni-Shia civil war in Lebanon have failed to date, we are actually seeing an intensification of foreign influence in Lebanon. One imagines there are many more pressures beyond the banks, US aid and a possible sanctions regime following any Special Tribunal for Lebanon convictions which we could see in late 2011 or 2012.
Q: What’s next for Lebanon?
FL: That is one tough question and I trust my motorbike mechanic or green grocers analysis more even though some of we foreigners here are daily asked this question by our Lebanese friends and neighbor as if we know something they don’t.
However my 2 cents worth is that there will not be a civil war here. There will not be an Israeli invasion for at least the next year but more psych warfare in various forms that we have become used to here.
Domestically, I believe that Hezbollah will solidify its power in the new government and will have the opportunity to convince a majority of the Lebanese public that its domestic program can change their lives for the better. Hezbollah has the political power to enact broad domestic reforms that will affect nearly every Lebanese life for the better, regardless of Confession.
Hezbollah will face fierce opposition from some officials, even some allies, who may have been regularly pocketing a sizable chunk of Lebanon’s GDP. Hezbollah has the political power to enact exactly the reforms being demanded around the region in the Arab Awakening we are all experiencing.
What Hezbollah can do is historically breathtaking But do they have the political will to do it? Will they make good on their pledges to grant Palestinian refugees in Lebanon the most elementary civil right to work and to own a home and thus be true to their religion, morality and politics? I think they do but the road will be tough and it will test them. If they succeed, the era of Resistance in the Middle East will have significantly matured.
Q: Before we end, could you answer a couple of questions about the rather confusing status of the so-called Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)? What is the status of the Rafiq Hariri Assassination case with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL)?
FL: As you may recall the Prosecutor of the STL, Canadian jurist Daniel Bellemare has handed down a first batch of indictments to trial judge Daniel Fransen. Fransen is now reviewing Bellemare’s indictment. Fransen has to be satisfied that this is a prima facie, meaning that on the face of it there is enough substantial evidence that makes it likely that the Trial Chamber would be satisfied that the burden of proof has been met. The material presented by Prosecutor Bellemare to the pre-trial judge is not the ultimate test. It is only a pre-trial test to see if a trial is possible based on what the Prosecutor has submitted.
Pre-trial Judge Fransen raised certain questions of law with the Appeals Chamber and asked for their legal opinion. Their answers included decisions on the questions of law raised and their work amounted to 153 pages of fairly technical material. Presumably it will take Judge Fransen more time to digest it. There is no way to be sure but I would guess we might expect Fransen’s decision sometime in June.
Q: Can the new government of Lebanon stop the STL from continuing its proceedings? After all that’s why the former government collapsed.
FL: Not in my opinion. The STL was created by the UN Security Council. As the International Court of Justice has decided years ago, UNSC actions are the highest law in the international community and what the UN Security Council decides is binding on all members of the UN and I would argue on every country that is not a UN member state.
That is why jurists by and large are of the view that what the UNSC did with Resolution 1973 regarding the Libyan “no fly zone” is legal. This does not mean it’s necessarily legitimate. But for the international community it is legal because the UNSC decided it.
In addition, Lebanon signed an initial agreement with the United Nations back in 2007 but it failed to complete the process. Nothing happened in Lebanon after it was signed. It was not ratified by the parliament, The UN waited and waited until they decided not to wait any longer. The UNSC declared that it was going to proceed with the establishment of the tribunal based on the signed agreement. I believe the UN Security Council has the legal power to do so.
However, it will give the Office of the Defense an argument to challenge the legitimacy of the STL at trial by arguing that the STL was not established in a legitimate way and that therefore the STL has no jurisdiction to even hear the case. This same argument was made in the first trial of the Yugoslavia Tribunal. Once the names of those indicted are made public look for the Office of Defense to make this same argument in the Hariri assassination case
Q: If trial judge Daniel Fransen confirms Prosecutor Bellemare’s indictment what happens next?
FL: The indictment will be sent to Lebanon and Syria and anywhere else those indicted are thought to be residing. An effort will be made to serve personal copies on all those named in the indictment. If they cannot be located another method such as publication in the media might be used to give those indicted fair notice. If those indicted decide to appear at the Tribunal for trial they can have their own lawyers or use those at the Office of Defense which has great power and equal standing with the Office of the Prosecutor and the Trial Chambers.
If those indicted decide to ignore the proceedings they will be tried in absentia as though they were present and lawyers acting on their behalf from the Office of Defense will defend them.
Q: For the past couple of months we have read in the media that Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare asked the Lebanese authorities for more information. But this was after he handed in his indictment. Why does he want more information if he has completed his indictment which should have included all his evidence to support it?
FL: Actually, Bellemare has every right and arguably a duty to try to gather more evidence while he is awaiting the decision of the pre-trial judge on his submitted indictment. Bellemare is presumably doing everything he can to convince pre-Trial Judge Daniel Fransen to confirm it. He is free to file everything he can to present the strongest case he can muster. Once Bellesmare has submitted all else he has discovered that he thinks is relevant then it is up to the Trial Chamber to accept or reject his case against those he suspects of the Hariri assassination.
Veterans Today / Managing Editor: Thank you Mr. Lamb.