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Lebanon: A Series About Evading Justice and Accountability

Lebanon: A Series About Evading Justice and Accountability

Thursday, 14 October, 2021 - 12:15

All the Lebanese are faced with a TV series, with the bogus lawsuits aimed at removing Judge Tarek Bitar being filed in succession. The lead investigator into the Beirut port blast crime is facing off against governmental and political interference and Hezbollah’s threats of “removing him,” the judge was officially appointed to investigate a major crime against humanity.

The lawmakers charged with the felony of “probable intent to murder” and negligence have been filing lawsuits to get the judge’s “hands off” the investigation under the pretext of “legitimate suspicion!” At the very least, the aim is to impede the investigation and suspend questioning. At most, the aim is to transfer the file to another judge whom they hope will be “obedient,” who would clear their records, which have provided almost comprehensive evidence, and so Judge Bitar filed lawsuits against an array of the pillars of the political clique running the country and, with them, their security and military arms!

On the fourth of October, the court rejected the lawsuit to have the judge removed filed by Deputy Nohad Machnouk, who was interior minister between February 2014 and late 2018, the period during which the cargo on the Rhosus ship was offloaded and stored in the notorious Ammonium Nitrate hangar!

That same day, the court refused to issue a verdict on the lawsuit filed by Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaiter to have Bitar removed. The former had been finance minister and the latter public works minister when the ship of death entered “hangar 12” in the Port of Beirut. Attention was drawn to the fact that the two plaintiffs were fined after the court affirmed that they aimed to impede justice.

On the eleventh, the Court of Cassation rejected a lawsuit filed by Khalil and Zaiter, while Machnouk filed a “legitimate suspicion” lawsuit, complementing that which had been filed by former minister Youssef Finianos, whom Bitar has issued an arrest warrant against after he refused to go in for questioning. That warrant was followed by another, this time against Ali Hassan Khalil. The judge thereby finds himself in an unprecedented surreal situation: in the world of reassured authoritarians confident in their ability to evade justice, with citizens bewildered by officials’ reluctance to implement judicial decisions!

As for the former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose departure to the United States is said to be an escape from the investigation, he entrusted his case to a long line of lawyers, including prominent syndicalists and major law firms... On the other hand, Machnouk referred to French constitutional expert Dominique Rousseau to obtain an interpretation that favors him. He shared excerpts of that interpretation stating that ministers can only be tried before the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers. Machnouk’s attorneys accused the judicial investigator of violating the constitution and the principle of separation of powers!

However, Deputy Machnouk removed a key paragraph of Rousseau’s interpretation. “The question is not whether the minister should or should not be tried. The question is, which court has that authority?” Thus, the consultation is invalid because it was based on a false premise about the “Supreme Council.” It is a council that exists only on paper. It has not ever convened and never will. Two-thirds of the deputies in parliament have to approve the request for a trial! While it can only accuse and try the President of the Republic, who: “can only be accused by the parliament,” the same does not apply to ministers, whom: “parliament can accuse,” meaning that it is not the only body that can do so! It goes without saying that this is a phantom court. People only hear about it when a judge dares to request a minister’s prosecution, so they rush to defend the accused under the pretext that the judge’s judicial body does not have that authority. The matter is then closed, and the defendant escapes accountability! Going back to Rousseau, whose interpretation has not yet been published, he considered, last March, the trial of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy before the judiciary was “nothing but an application of the principle of equality before the law.”

It is understandable for accused deputies to use every trick in the book to prevent the truth from coming out as they strive to prevent justice from being served and to turn a war crime that targeted Beirut into an accident at a “fertilizer” storage facility. The question is about the role of the judicial authorities, especially the Public Prosecution Office, which has sided with the defendants, against the victims and the public. Thus, the investigative judge seems bereft of support. Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oweidat said: ministers appear before the Supreme Council, and that is that! The Public Prosecution Office did not grant permission to prosecute the General Security Director Major General Abbas Ibrahim and the State Security Director Major General Tony Saliba, and it has refrained from acting on the arrest warrant issued for former Minister Fenianos. Acting Public Prosecutor Imad Kabalan claims that the defendants’ knowledge of the Nitrate’s presence is not sufficient to cause for prosecution, overlooking the reports that warned of Beirut’s obliteration and that those concerned did not react in accordance with their responsibilities.

A surreal situation: The Supreme Defense Council headed by Aoun refuses to allow the prosecution of Major General Saliba, and Prime Minister Najib Mikati declares that the country “cannot afford to change a second investigative judge,” adding, as though he were a legal expert, that the accused should be tried before the Supreme Council, accusing the investigative judge of populism before going on to deny the fact that Bitar had been directly and publicly threatened by Hezbollah security official Wafic Safa! After former Minister of Interior Mohammad Fahmy announced that he would not act on the warrant for the General Security Director’s arrest and would prevent his prosecution, the current minister of interior, Judge Bassam Mawlawi, prevented the judicial police from carrying out its role and notifying the deputies that they had been summoned before denying permission to prosecute Major General Ibrahim!

What have you done to them, Tarek Bitar? They have stood united against a court that they had chosen because they rejected having an international investigation. It is a glaring indication of how weak and fragile the whole system is after having been corrupted, looted, impoverished and sheltered by illegitimate guns! Because taking the investigation to its conclusion could shake the entire political class, which is condemned domestically and accused externally, Hassan Nasrallah, the man who holds the reins, intervened again. He asked that Bitar be sidelined because he is choosing” political targets,” calling for “satisfaction with the preliminary investigation that had concluded that welding had been behind the crime.”! He warned the Judicial Council and the government to get rid of Bitar, or else, and yet the brave judge continues to refuse to back down! The party threatens to root out the “Americans” from the country’s institutions, and MP Hassan Ezzeddine claims that “America wants an open-ended investigation to influence the elections to change the status quo!”

Finding out the truth about the port crime, realizing justice and holding those responsible accountable have become requisites for changing the situation in Lebanon. Every step forward in this regard brings the Lebanese people closer to holding their corrupt rulers accountable and realizing the broader goal of retrieving the state that has been hijacked by the force of arms. Truth and justice are one side of the coin, and on the other is the retrieval of sovereignty. Moving forward on ensuring accountability is realized by not praying for the investigative judge, but by taking all forms of mass action to protect the course of the investigation and the judge, and it is time for the Lebanese to rise from their terrifying clinical death!

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