Mixed news for the UN tribunal designed to investigate the assassination four years ago of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. On the one hand, the tribunal’s work is scheduled to begin in The Hague on Sunday, a welcome milestone for a process that some feared would never get underway. On the other hand, though, three of the seven suspects held in Lebanese jails were summarily released by a judge yesterday, a mysterious development to say the least, given the proximity of the tribunal’s start date.

The judge did not have to give a reason for his decision, which is perhaps discomfiting but also perhaps understandable because of various legal restrictions, et cetera. The timing of the release, though, coupled with the celebrations of the news in a reputedly “Islamic fundamentalist stronghold” to which the three civilian suspects returned, do add a certain questionable aura to the proceedings.

This is not to say that there is reason for skepticism about the tribunal itself. It is rigorously supported by many Lebanese, and its staffing and funding is split relatively evenly between international and Lebanese sources. The same questions still loom, though: if the chain of suspects does in fact lead up to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, how will the tribunal handle this tricky issue? I imagine the folks working on this one are relieved that the ICC’s potential indictment of Sudanese president Bashir is going to come down first.

(image of Rafik Hariri, 2003)

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