Hanna Saleh

August 4, Justice is Coming!

On this day two years ago, on August 4, a massive blast destroyed Beirut’s port, flipped the city on its head, and left a genocide in its wake. Not a single official pleaded for forgiveness or apologized to the people. No one was held accountable; they are all still in their seats, leaning on the statelet and its weapons. Lebanese citizens remember how they were left to fend for themselves that dark evening. The victims who had been in or around the port, in the streets, on the road, and in their homes, the wounded left to bleed out amid the destruction, Beirut is no longer Beirut. However, from under the rubble and ashes emerged young men and women. Rushing to the area from across the country, they came to treat the wounds of the capital and its people.

The people also remember that the Nitrate regime hastened to evade accountability. They remember that the President, who “knew” what had been in Hangar 12, claimed that there had been nothing he could do but promised the Lebanese that investigations would be launched immediately and that the truth would come out within five days! To be fair, he did not tell us when the five-day countdown would begin. Still, 730 days have passed since the promise, and unless “fulfilling the promise” means launching a “preliminary investigation” and replacing Abu Adass (the scapegoat of the Hariri assassination) with “negligence” and “welding work!”

The authorities tried to contain the mass fury by referring the case to the Judicial Council, and they were confident that the winds of the investigation would not knock them down because they knew that they had not allowed the judiciary to be independent. However, the judicial process led by Judge Tarek Bitar terrified them, and so they woke up to the veracity of the statement he made the day he was given the case: “Nothing will stop me… I will not allow for the deviation of the course of justice.” And so, a Hezbollah-led charge targeted him, accused him of acting with “discretion,” hid behind their “immunity,” and decided to destroy all remnants of the crime as they fled justice.

To this end, they sought to bring down the silent witness to the blast, the silos that absorbed the force of the blast and protected the Western half of Beirut. We have to accept that they have succeeded. On the evening of July 31, negligence and collusion brought down segments of the silos (two of them, on the northern side) after they had been left to burn for several weeks, which it seems sufficed to crumble up the cement and bend the iron! They are betting that getting rid of this witness would erase the horrific events of that day from the traumatized Lebanese people!

Before setting their sights on the silos, they succeeded in totally disrupting the investigation around eight months ago. They launched lawsuits “in response” to the courageous steps taken by the Judge, who summoned those who had received written reports highlighting the threats that the Ammonium Nitrate posed to the capital and failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect citizens’ lives. Prime Minister Hassan Diab, and the ministers: Nohad Mashnouk, Ali Hassan Khalil, Ghazi Zuaiter, Youssef Fenianos, Major General Tony Saliba, and GS General Director Abbas Ibrahim, were called in, and Bitar left the door open to summing others based on the defendant's statements.

This is a precedent in the history of Lebanon’s judiciary, which never pinned the blame for major crimes on those responsible; indeed, the perpetrators were not summoned as witnesses but were charged with the felony of “possible intent to murder” and criminal negligence. “Possible intent” is covered by Article 189 of the Lebanese Criminal Code, which stipulates that the relevant officials must anticipate such crimes and that if they see the risks and ignore them, they are criminally responsible for this negligence allowing the lethal threat to materialize. Here, the threat left 230 casualties and wounded over six thousand others.

One question is in the back of all of our minds: What higher authority compelled the officials, politicians and security officials alike, to turn a blind eye and accept the risks? Is it true that some of them were informed that the material had been needed for the barrels bombs killing the Syrian people? Did they ignore the ammonium because they saw Syrians as dispensable (...) and were subsequently shocked to see what remained of this ammonium blew up in Lebanon? If it was not for the silos, we would have seen double the damage, so are they furious with Judge Bitar and the silos for witnessing the crime?!

It dawned on them that a time may come when a judge would dare to persecute those who had put themselves above the law. Unable to point to errors or find loopholes, they came up with stories and spread fake news. Bitar ignored the attempts to sideline him, satisfying himself with a brief response to Hezbollah security official Wafiq Safa’s threat to “pluck him out,” saying: I can depend on him. Nasrallah then personally demanded that the Judge be “plucked out” by either the Judicial Council or the government. He turned the government into a corpse forbidden from both adjourning and dissolving until it complies with his dictates! Hezbollah escalated further, taking the country to the brink with its escalation and launching a brief civil war rerun of the civil war with the Tayouneh crime of November 14, leaving the government paralyzed for three entire months, with the resumption of its sessions conditioned on burying the investigation! And so the people paid the costs, and the goals were not achieved!

The divisions in this country over justice for the victims and Beirut are deep and sharp. Achieving justice would open the floodgates to holding those who defrauded and humiliated the Lebanese accountable and allow the judiciary to become part of the battle to retrieve the hijacked state. Thus, nothing deters the authorities from continuing to take the course of criminality; in Parliament, they followed their play of appointing the members of the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers, slamming citizens’ ambitions against the wall as a majority of the deputies in Parliament voted to protect those accused of blowing up the port and the capital.

When Judge Bitar was handed the port blast case, he said that “Justice, in such cases, can only be achieved through the conviction of the senior political and security officials.” The course that the investigation would then take demonstrated just how right he had been. With the elections that saw the October revolution yield a bloc of 13 deputies, the revolution reaffirmed its keenness on actualizing change through institutions, but not all the change materialized. The people who took to the streets on October 17 reiterated their commitment to impose change on May 15, when hundreds of thousands voted for the revolution’s candidates, declaring their willingness and ability to go further.

There is only one path to change and ensuring that justice is not delayed further: The street becoming a politically influential force once again, which would elevate the work of the revolution’s deputies by synergizing the efforts made in Parliament and the energy of the streets. A “historical bloc” would thereby emerge, with new parties representing the country’s cities and regions and creating a political alternative. Only then will it become possible to break the cycle of impunity,” safeguard justice, reject subjugation, and begin the process of accountability. These goals can only be achieved through the reflection of the strength and the impact of the revolution and its scale; only with hoards of people in the streets can the hijacked state be retrieved.