The UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon, designed to investigate the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri four years ago, yesterday released the only four suspects — all “pro-Syrian security generals” — that it still had in custody. The news prompted celebration — featuring the mandatory firing of guns into the air — in some quarters of Lebanon, including Hezbollah’s. But what seems most remarkable about this development is how calmly the Tribunal’s supporters, such as Hariri’s son Saad, a leader in his party’s campaign for June elections, have reacted to what could have been seen as an embarrassing failure of evidence in highly contentious proceedings. Said Saad Hariri:
“I … don’t feel one iota of disappointment or fear over the fate of the international tribunal. What has happened is a clear declaration that the international tribunal has started work and it will reveal the truth,” Hariri said on television.
Though the Tribunal took years to assemble, had to release three suspects shortly upon assuming jurisdiction of the case in February, and now finds itself back at square one, it is in fact working. The decision made by the Tribunal yesterday was not a political one, bolstered by the fact that it resisted calls to postpone its pronouncement until after elections, as well as by its release of the pro-Syrian generals, since it had been accused by opponents of being biased against Syria. Rather, the Tribunal will continue, and with continued support and opportunities to accrue more evidence, it just might get to the bottom of this nasty business.
(For what it’s worth, I disagree with what seems like the conventional analysis that the Tribunal’s decision should be seen as a “blow to [the] anti-Syrian political alliance” led by Hariri. Had the four pro-Syrian generals been found guilty, particularly if credible evidence against them was lacking, that would have galvanized Hezbollah and other opposition groups skeptical of the Tribunal. As it is, they won’t have that card to play in the June elections.)
(image of Rafik Hariri, from flickr user madmonk under a Creative Commons license)