Murder Made Easy

UN badly bungles investigation of Lebanese prime minister’s assassination.

All criminals intending to commit a political murder take note. To delay, or even escape, justice, you only need to arrange for the United Nations to investigate your crime.

That at least seems to be the case regarding the drawn-out UN investigation of the February 14, 2005, assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri by a massive bomb in Beirut that killed 22 people. What little credibility the UN had left concerning this investigation was damaged even further by a highly critical piece of investigative journalism by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) released last week.

The CBC report’s main accusation is the UN commission investigating the murder that shook Lebanon to the core failed for three years to examine evidence in the form of cell phone records that would have tied Hezbollah to Hariri’s death. Even worse, it actually possessed such evidence, provided by a Lebanese police investigator, but sat on it for a year and a half without taking any action.

“A months-long CBC investigation…found examples of timidity, bureaucratic inertia and incompetence bordering on gross negligence,” stated CBC journalist Neil Macdonald, the report’s author, of the UN inquiry.

The CBC story made headlines across the Middle East for its detailing of the

commission’s incompetence and for the fact that, after five years and tens of millions of

dollars spent, indictments are only now about to be handed down. This long overdue move, the CBC states, will probably occur at the end of this year or early next year. Almost six years after the sensational murder, the UN special investigators have concluded Syria probably ordered the killing and a team of eight men, supported by others and connected to Hezbollah, carried out the actual hit.

The conclusions the commission, originally titled the UN International Independent Investigation Commission, reached are not surprising. In a report soon after Hariri’s assassination, the UN’s first commission chief, Detlef Mehlis, indicated that Syria was behind the killing. Hariri was a “powerful force for change” in Lebanon and “the hope of the international community.” The well-liked, billionaire politician, known for his philanthropy, wanted Syria’s twenty-five year military occupation of his country ended and also wanted Hezbollah disarmed. Which were sufficient reasons for both terrorist entities to want the five-term Lebanese prime minister dead.

But after Mehlis was replaced by the Belgian Serge Brammertz in January, 2006, the UN investigation began “to plod towards nothing.” The Bush White House, which, along withFrance, had urged the UN to investigate Hariri’s murder, became frustrated with its pace. Brammertz, according to people the CBC said had worked for him, “…seemed to be more interested in avoiding controversy than pursuing any sort of investigation…”

“Under his leadership, the commission spent most of its time chasing what turned out to be false leads and disproving wild conspiracy theories,” stated Macdonald.

The question now arises whether Brammertz’s appointment was meant to deliberately hinder the investigation. This conjecture is not beyond the realm of possibility, as it was later believed that Hezbollah had infiltrated the inquiry early in the investigation. And Hezbollah also has friends at the UN who would lend the terrorist entity a helping hand.

The ineffectiveness of Daniel Bellemare, the next UN appointee to head the commission after Brammertz’s term had expired, even caused one former commission employee to wonder whether Bellemare, a Canadian, was a plant. The employee told the CBC: “If I was given to conspiracies theories, I’d think he was deliberately put in there so as not to achieve anything.”

When one considers the most egregious example of UN negligence, the ignoring of the cell phone evidence, that statement is not so far fetched. A brilliant young Lebanese police investigator with a computer engineering degree, Wissam Eid, patched together evidence from cell phone records that showed a hit-team of eight men was involved in Hariri’s assassination. The hit team had followed Hariri “for weeks” as part of “a well-planned, disciplined, long-term operation.”

Eid’s outstanding skills showed the hit team’s phones were used at the assassination site on the day of the bombing. He further revealed through his analysis other networks involved in the assassination, which all seemed linked to the Great Prophet Hospital in Beirut, a suspected Hezbollah stronghold. Hariri turned all his evidence over to the UN commission in early 2006 where it sat dormant on its computers until January, 2008.

The commission itself had excellent investigators on its staff, but Brammertz never allowed them to examine cell phone records, a move Macdonald terms unbelievable. Again, the question arises why such basic police work was forbidden?

Only towards the end of his term in January, 2008, Macdonald reports, did Brammertz finally allow an examination of the vital cell phone records. A British analyst then subsequently revealed what Eid had put together months earlier regarding the hit team. But the only problem was, Macdonald says, is that the best moment for such investigations had passed. Time and opportunities had been wasted.

“The trouble was, the traces were now nearly three years old, long past the “golden hour” for harvesting the best clues,” the CBC journalist stated.

It was also in January, 2008, that the commission “discovered” Eid’s report on their computers. It actually revealed more than the British analysis in that it exposed “the networks behind the network” and implicated Hezbollah. The British analyst was stunned to learn that Eid had discovered so much without his having had any proper training and having used only Excel spreadsheets. Eid was subsequently asked, and agreed, to help the UN commission.

But the commission’s “reaching out” to Eid, caused the greatest tragedy of its already troubled existence. Hezbollah quickly learned of Eid’s agreement to co-operate with the UN and threatened the young policeman. Eid, however, ignored the terrorist group’s warning and, like Hariri, was assassinated in his vehicle in January, 2008, with a bomb after having met only twice with UN investigators. Nine others died in the attack. Eid, a captain posthumously promoted to major, was only in his thirties.

A major suspect in Eid’s death was his superior, Col. Wissam al Hassan, the head of Lebanese intelligence and Eid’s boss. Hassan had also been Hariri’s chief of security, but he was not in the motorcade when Hariri died, saying he had had a test to write at the university. Hassan’s weak excuse did, however, make him a suspect in the Hariri assassination. But Brammertz ruled out any investigation of Hassan, calling him “a key interlocutor for the commission,” even though the CBC reports his phone records for 2004 and 2005, examined by UN investigators, show he had talked to a Hezbollah leader 279 times.

“Several former UN investigators, though, are unanimous. They believe Hezbollah infiltrated the commission and used Hassan in the process,” Macdonald states.

If indictments are handed down against Hezbollah for Hariri’s murder, it is doubtful they can be enforced in Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has already said he will “cut off the hand” of anyone who tries to arrest Hezbollah members. But these indictments, if they do occur, will still constitute a moral victory albeit delayed.

In the case of Wissam Eid, justice and a moral victory can only be achieved if the UN commission itself is now investigated. But don’t hold your breath. As far as the UN is concerned, evil does not investigate evil; it encourages it.