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“I Knew, and I Have No Authority"

“I Knew, and I Have No Authority"

Thursday, 22 July, 2021 - 11:30

As the first anniversary of the August 4 crime draws closer, scenes from the catastrophic explosion that struck Beirut invariably come to mind. And with the approach of this day, glaring questions return to mind: Why was the capital targeted? For what reason? Who is responsible for the largest explosion the world has seen apart from nuclear blasts? Was the whole calamity the result of mere negligence on the part of welders, as Hassan Nasrallah tried to “convince” the Lebanese, begging for pressure on the judiciary to adopt the results of the preliminary military investigation, announce its results and be satisfied with it, even though the results of this investigation were acknowledged by neither investigative judges Tarek Bitar nor his predecessor Fadi Sawan?

Questions pile up, especially regarding this insistence to obstruct any detailed inquiry and integrated judicial investigation that could uncover the factors that caused the mass murder, the destruction of the port and a historical part of downtown Beirut, and left in its wake, a trauma that affected all of Lebanon? Why are various pressures being exerted to “halt” this investigation, in callous disregard of the popular will expressed by the broadest segments of Lebanese that citizens, and not only the families of the victims and those directly affected, will not forget and will not forgive, who all insist on accountability?

Why do they want to cover up the entry of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrates, when they knew that it was a very dangerous substance unfit for agricultural use, storing it instead in hangar no. 12 by promoting a poorly contrived story? Who is responsible for the policy of turning a blind eye to this grave danger for all of these years? Why is it forbidden to reveal the plot related to the smuggling of more than 2,000 tons of this shipment of nitrates, with the cranes that were used to extract this stock and trucks to transport them from the port, crossing public roads to the factory, and the border crossing between Lebanon and Syria? Didn’t this whole process raise any questions? Was it done under the eyes of the military, security, and customs agencies? Some of these agencies contented themselves with issuing reports which seemed to be necessary for archiving, to absolve themselves of future responsibility.

All of the developments that cascaded from August 4th, and the global interest in this serious crime, required Lebanese officials to admit that they knew something, but they sought to evade responsibility. In a televised interview, the president of the republic confirmed that two weeks before the explosion, he received a written report about the danger of the shipment of ammonium nitrates stored there. The president added that he had no direct authority over this matter, and therefore he forwarded the report to the Supreme Defense Council. Although the president is himself the head of this council, he did not follow up on the matter. Being a former army general, he must know the extent of the disaster if the foreseen would occur, as the written reports pointed out. Similarly, the prime minister presented futile excuses that cannot absolve him of responsibility, such as saying that someone had assured him there was no risk, and to date, he has refrained from informing the public who is this nameless person was who had this much sway over the head of government. Mouthpieces clamored to defend some ministers, by asking “how could a minister who had received a paper (…) in 2014 have known that an explosion of this magnitude would occur six years later? What is perhaps most dangerous is that a minister admitted he did not follow up on the matter, citing the existence of a judicial decision to seize the ship and unload its cargo and to place it under a judicial security detail affiliated with another ministry. The report reaches the army commander, who is only concerned with the lack of military need for this shipment! Such were the positions of all senior officials.

The claim by Investigative Judge Tarek Bitar against all individuals who received a written report that highlighted grave risks, but who refrained from assuming any responsibility, raised the concern of the ruling system. This is especially the case because the investigation will have repercussions, even on the organized pillage class and the general state of collapse. Bitar did not ask them to be witnesses, but accused them of the felony of “probable intent” that the crime had occurred, and “possible intent” as relates to Article 189 of the Lebanese Penal Code as it claims: A person is involved if he had anticipated that a crime might arise from this act, but who accepted the risk and turned a blind eye to it, and neglected their responsibility for what led to the resulting crime. In such a case, there is “deliberate” murder. The real question is this: Who is this supreme authority that prompted the entire political class and the military and security leaders to turn a blind eye and accept the risk?

This development, and the accompanying popular pressures demanding the right to know the truth and achieve justice, initiated an open conflict between the law and its implications on the one hand and the “strongest parties” on the other. However, those strongest have underestimated the citizens’ pain and continued their approach of contempt for the public. In this regard, all Lebanese remember what Nabih Berri, the head of the legislative authority, once said: “Only the weak resort to the law and the judiciary.” This line of thinking assumes that the righteous are only those with power and authority. It also assumes that no party undermines the protections of the perpetrators of this crime, at the expense of law, truth, and justice, and in the current Lebanese situation at the expense of the blood that has not yet died as a result of the mass murder that struck the heart of Beirut!

In all of Lebanon’s history, no accountability has taken place against political officials or senior military and security leaders, starting with the murder of Saida representative Maarouf Saad in 1975 and all the major crimes that have hit Lebanon to date. So, why should accountability take place today? Given the fact that all of the accused enjoy political immunity, why should they submit to a judicial request for prosecution, even if the crime is one against humanity that targeted Beirut and all of Lebanon? Therefore, it is not surprising that the minister of interior announced that he would not grant permission to prosecute Major General Abbas Ibrahim, Director of the General Security. President Aoun and Prime Minister Diab also made moves granting permissions to pursue Major General Saliba against the Supreme Defense Council in an attempt to evade responsibility. Meanwhile, in parliament, and especially the parliamentary blocs affiliated with Berri, Hariri, and Hezbollah, they are striving to establish “immunities” bypassing the bucket of persecution of the defendants, along with the Prime Minister, to a non-existent, even farcical, Supreme Council created only to protect the president, ministers, and representatives when they are tried.

Three decades ago, the “infected blood scandal” took France by storm, and then Minister of Health Georgina Dufoix said: “I am responsible, but I am not guilty!” However, because she was at the helm of the ministry, she was unable to evade responsibility, and the judiciary took its course, and she was tried. At the time, accountability even reached French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius. Of course, detractors will say, “this is what happens in France where there is no impunity, but we are in Lebanon!”

This is true, but it is perhaps to say that the post-October-17 era is not the same as what came before, and while the country is a few days ahead of the first anniversary of the port blast, the Order of Engineers and Architects elections inflicted a resounding defeat to the entire ruling regime –foremost among them Hezbollah. This event highlighted the depth and breadth of disengagement of Lebanese society in general, and its elites in particular, from subordination to the political class and from its incitements and manipulations. This provided evidence of the emergence of a crystallized popular front that can defend society and its rights, first through accountability and justice in the crime of the port, and secondly by addressing the series of crimes of impoverishment and methodical pillaging of public wealth that facilitated their subjugation of Lebanon!

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