Thursday, October 27, 2005

Landis at "Daily Kos:" Readership of "Syria Comment" doubles

Thanks to Sue Hudgens at the Booman Tribune little "Syria Comment" has been getting some traction in the US.

Her story NSC Chief Hadley asked Italy for Syria Replacement Name which relies heavily on Sryia Comment, was run as the lead story on the "Daily Kos," which is read by millions, and the European Tribune. It is a good read and doubled Syria Comment's readership overnight. Thanks Susan. You are the woman!

Frosty forecast for Syria's democratic Arab Spring
(Taken from a Farid Gadry and the Syrian Reform Party circular)

UN report reignites opposition's debate about whether Assad can be toppled

Washington DC, October 24, 2005/Globe and Mail - MARK MACKINNON

The man seen as the de facto leader of Syria's opposition took a few rapid puffs on a cigarette as he considered the question: Are the country's democrats ready to challenge President Bashar Assad's hold on power if international pressure succeeds in weakening it?

"No," came the one-word confession from Riad al-Turk, the 75-year-old former political prisoner who is Syria's most broadly respected opposition politician.

He acknowledged that the country's democrats, persecuted by the regime and divided until recently into myriad factions, are in no position to stage the sort of mass demonstrations that took place in Lebanon earlier this year, which sparked talk of an "Arab Spring" that optimists hoped might eventually reach Damascus.

But Mr. al-Turk was quick to add that if the United Nations Security Council decides to put even more heat on the Syrian government at its meeting tomorrow, the pendulum could rapidly swing in the opposition's favour for the first time since Mr. Assad's father, Hafez, seized power in 1970.

The United States and Britain ratcheted up pressure on Syria yesterday, saying a UN report that implicates Syria in the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was "very serious," and the world must act, Reuters reported. They, along with France, are said to be considering sanctions or other measures aimed at further isolating Mr. Assad's regime.

In the first arrest since the report was released, a suspect accused of calling pro-Syrian Lebanese President Émile Lahoud minutes before the killing was detained over the weekend. (Mr. Lahoud has denied any involvement in Mr. Hariri's death.)

"The internal opposition is against the regime, and the international community is against the regime, so our interests should meet," Mr. al-Turk said yesterday. "Right now, the system appears very strong, but if you analyze it carefully, it is really very weak. A small kick could cause it to fall."

That blow, Mr. al-Turk hopes, will spring from the report, which was released last week. The evidence compiled by UN investigator Detlev Mehlis is damning in its suggestion that the killing was organized at the highest levels in Damascus.

Although the Syrian government yesterday repeated its denial that it had anything to do with Mr. Hariri's death, one or more resolutions condemning Syria are expected to be proposed at tomorrow's Security Council meeting.

Mr. Hariri's death sparked street protests in Beirut last spring and eventually forced an end to Syria's 29-year military occupation of its smaller neighbour.

But Syrian politics, unlike the politics of fractured Lebanon, have been dominated for three decades by one party and one family. Strict state control of the media during that time has meant that most ordinary Syrians know little about the opposition or its platforms.

There's no single figure who could be named as a serious rival to Mr. Assad. Mr. al-Turk is revered in opposition circles as a symbol of resistance to the regime, having spent some 17 years in prison for membership in the banned Communist Party. But he said he would refuse the mantle of leadership even if others tried to thrust it upon him. Stooped and frail, he said the country needs hundreds of new leaders to emerge, not just one man.

The chances of that happening, he said, were advanced last week by the signing of the Damascus Declaration, a two-page document in which a hodgepodge of Communists, Islamists and liberal democrats came together to demand peaceful regime change in Syria. It was the first time the disparate parties were able to put aside their quarrels about what should follow the Baathist regime in Syria, and agree to work first on their common goal of ending Mr. Assad's rule.

"There's a window of opportunity right now," said Farid Ghadry, president of the Reform Party of Syria, a U.S.-based pro-democracy group. "With the Damascus Declaration and the Mehlis report, it feels like it's all coming together and that real change could happen. When it's going to happen, or how, we don't know."

Mr. Ghadry, like Mr. al-Turk, said he hoped the UN would be careful to impose only targeted sanctions on the Syrian leadership. Broader economic sanctions, he said, would do unnecessary harm to the Syrian people, an estimated 30 per cent of whom already live in poverty.

While much of the world was shocked by the allegations contained in the Mehlis report, it contained few surprises for Syrian opposition figures, who say they've known for decades that they're up against a regime that has no qualms about using violence to achieve its desired ends.

Anwar al-Bunni, a prominent opposition figure and human-rights lawyer, was attacked by thugs on Thursday, one day after he met in his apartment with a reporter. He believes the assault was related to a personal project he has been working on, drafting a constitution for a post-Baath Party, democratic Syria

"Nobody knows what they'll do next. This is a very dangerous time. Very serious."
RPS Notes

Although we support unity with other opposition leaders, we have some concerns about the Damascus Declaration the way it was drafted. We believe that separation of religion and State is essential to building a modern and peaceful country. We also believe that "Minorities" are Syrians and we must give them the room to decide what is best for them. We also object to dealing with the Assad regime as is suggested in the Damascus Declaration.


Ma'ariv -- The conclusions of the UN report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri have aroused a great deal of interest among the highest political and diplomatic echelons in Israel, but the silence of Israel is has been the loudest of all.

The entire upper Israeli echelon has refrained from commenting on the findings in the media, and Israeli officials said that a response would only assist the Syrians to present the report as an Israeli plot. "Any response on our part will play into Syria's hands, so Israel will not respond or comment on the matter," a high-ranking Israeli official said.

However, political officials said off the record that the report is impressive and interesting, and it will lead to aggressive measures by Washington. Israeli officials point out that the publication of the report will also increase the pressure on Syria to implement carry out Res 1559 to disarm Hizbullah. "It looks as though both the Americans and the French are determined to reduce Syria's involvement in terrorism," a high-ranking Israeli official said yesterday. State officials also said that this is a bomb that threatens Assad's regime.

At the moment, it appears that among the members of the Security Council, only Russia is trying to defend the Syrians. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavarov, who will be visiting Israel on Wednesday and will meet with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, is trying to delay the Security Council meeting. Shalom is expected to put pressure on Lavarov to fall in line with the United States and the other members of the Security Council regarding the Syrians.


At 10/29/2005 06:27:00 PM, Blogger ugarit said...

UN's Mehlis report discredited :: International espionage over Syria? ::

by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed

"Detlev Mehlis’ role in the investigation into the La Belle bombing raises disturbing questions about his role in the investigation of the assassination of Hariri. As Berlin public prosecutor, Mehlis inadvertently but consistently covered up the dubious involvement of US, Israeli and German intelligence interests in the 1986 terrorist attack; actively built a selective politically-motivated case against suspects without objective material proof; while ignoring and protecting a group of suspects with documented connections to western secret services. This background fundamentally challenges the credibility of his investigation of the Hariri assassination."


The Bush and Blair governments have rallied together on the back of the new UN report, released last Friday, into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, drumming up international pressure on Syria. President Bush and Secretary of State Rice, along with Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, called for urgent Security Council action in response to the report’s findings that Syrian military intelligence officials were behind the plot.

*Man behind the report*

But the background of the UN report’s author, Detlev Mehlis - Commissioner of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission into the Hariri assassination – raises disturbing questions about the integrity of the UN investigation, and indeed about the wider role and motives of the US and British governments.

Mehlis is currently Senior Public Prosecutor in the Office of the Attorney General in Berlin, and has prosecuted numerous terrorism and organized crime cases including most prominently the 1982 bombing of the La Belle Discotheque in West Berlin. That terrorist attack was promptly blamed by the Reagan administration on Libya, justifying the US bombing of the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi, killing at least 30 civilians including children.

*Concocting evidence*

The immediate evidence used to blame Libya consisted of alleged National Security Agency intercepts of coded exchanges between Tripoli and the East Berlin Libyan Peoples Bureau saying “We have something that will make you happy”, and another after the bombing: “An event occurred. You will be pleased with the result.” But according to former Israeli intelligence colonel Victor Ostrovsky in his sworn testimony for the Lockerbie trial, Mossad commandos had set up the transmitter in Tripoli generating false telex signals about the “success” of the Berlin bomb. The intercepts had been concocted by Mossad, he said.

*German TV reveals all*

An investigation by German public television’s Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) broadcast on 25th August 1998 reported that several leading suspects in the Berlin disco bombing were being protected from prosecution by western intelligence services. These included a group of terrorists led by “Mahmoud” Abu Jaber, a man “particularly involved in the preparation of the La Belle attack.” The group lived in East Berlin and met almost daily with the official suspects who were defendants in the court proceedings. According to Russian and East German intelligence services, the group worked for western intelligence.

*KGB and Stassi files*

KGB files reviewed by reporter John Goetz in the Spring 1996 edition of Covert Action Quarterly revealed that Abu Jaber was a CIA informer. Indeed, one KGB report documented a meeting between Abu Jaber and his CIA handler two days before the La Belle bombing. Abu Jaber apparently told his handler that the price of the bombing would be $30,000. Colonel Frank Weigand, who defected from the Stassi (East German police), recounted a conversation between a Berlin official involved in the La Belle investigation and a high-ranking West German intelligence officer. The Berlin investigator told his West German colleague: “Well, when I add it all up, I think the Yanks did this thing themselves.” Even the German role is questionable. According to the German Law Journal, two of the defendants charged as conspirators in the bombing, Ali Chanaa and Verene Chanaa, were agents of the East German Ministry of State Security since 1982, responsible for gathering intelligence on Arabs in West Berlin.

*Mehlis: covering up US and Israeli espionage*

One man in particular, Mohammed Amairi - Abu Jaber’s right-hand man - was according to his own laywer Odd Drevland an agent for the Israeli Mossad, revealed the German TV documentary. After fleeing to Norway, Amairi was arrested and investigated. According to Drevland, however, Mossad quickly got involved and “everything changed” – Amairi was granted asylum. Detlev Mehlis as Berlin public prosecutor lifted the German police warrant against him.

The ZDF broadcast also found that the lead suspect in the 1986 Berlin disco bombing, Yasser Chraidi – found guilty by a German court in June 2004 – was scapegoated by American and German authorities. Former public prosecutor Mounif Oueidat and his deputy Mrad Azoury independently confirmed that German authorities had fabricated evidence to secure Chraidi’s extradition from Lebanon in May 1996. On 9th September, a Berlin judge concluded the prosecution’s case was so weak that Chraidi ought to be released in the absence of further evidence.

On the same day, Berlin public prosecutor Detlev Mehlis teamed up with Berlin police inspector Uwe Wilhelms and an official from the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in Malta, where they met with another key terrorist suspect Musbah Eter, who had worked for the Libyan embassy in East Berlin at the time of the bombing. According to German interrogation transcripts, Eter confessed to having delivered the bomb’s operating instructions to another defendant.

Eter, who was already wanted by the Germans on a charge of murder, reportedly ran an international business as cover for regional CIA intelligence collection operations. Mehlis and his colleagues struck a deal for Eter at the meeting. If he testified against Chraidi for the La Belle bombing, the Germans would grant him immunity. On 10th September, Eter testified to the German embassy in Malta and Mehlis deleted his warrant, allowing him to travel to Germany. Eventually, however, Mehlis went back on his word. Eter was convicted for 12 years as an accomplice in the bombing.

*Whitewashing the Hariri assassination?*

Detlev Mehlis’ role in the investigation into the La Belle bombing raises disturbing questions about his role in the investigation of the assassination of Hariri. As Berlin public prosecutor, Mehlis inadvertently but consistently covered up the dubious involvement of US, Israeli and German intelligence interests in the 1986 terrorist attack; actively built a selective politically-motivated case against suspects without objective material proof; while ignoring and protecting a group of suspects with documented connections to western secret services. This background fundamentally challenges the credibility of his investigation of the Hariri assassination.

An electronic version of Mehlis’ report for the UN commission sent to various media outlets identifies Maher Assad, brother of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and their brother-in-law Asef Shawkat, the chief of military intelligence, along with three others, as the key alleged conspirators behind the plot. Yet Mehlis cites as his source for these officials’ names – the crux of his report’s allegations - a single anonymous Syrian living in Lebanon purportedly in contact with Syrian officers posted there. Explaining why the names were removed in the version transmitted to the Security Council, Mehlis noted the importance of the “presumption of innocence,” since the entire accusation of Syrian government culpability boiled down to only one anonymous source. “It could give the wrong impression that this was an established fact”, he cautioned.

Indeed, UN sources cited by the respected German newsmagazine Der Spiegel on 22nd October identified Mehlis’ central source as Zuheir al-Siddiq, a criminal convicted of fraud and embezzlement, who had clearly lied in his testimony, contradicting himself several times. At first, sources said, he claimed to have left Beirut in the month prior to the assassination of Hariri. In late September, however, he went so far as to admit involvement in the assassination. According to his brother, al-Siddiq was paid a substantial amount by an unidentified third party for his testimony for the Mehlis report. Sources within the UN Commission investigating the Hariri assassination also said that Mehlis had made contact with al-Siddiq through Syrian dissident Riffat al-Assad, an uncle of the incumbent president opposed to the current regime.

*Broader strategy: regime-change*

As early as 1996, before their current government posts, David Wurmser, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser; Douglas Feith, Undersecretary of Defence for Policy; and Richard Perle, former Defence Policy Board Chairman, co-authored a report for then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling for a plan to “contain, destabilize, and roll-back” Israel’s rivals. Among its recommendations were “removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq” along with “striking Syrian military targets in Lebanon, and should that prove insufficient, striking at select targets in Syria proper.”

In 2000, Wurmser, Feith and Perle joined up with Paula Dobriansky, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs; Elliot Abrams, National Security Council Senior Director for the Middle East; and Michael Rubin, Pentagon adviser on Iraq; to sign a report by the Middle East Forum advocating “the use of force” against Syria to disarm its weapons of mass destruction and withdraw its troops from Lebanon. “If there is to be decisive action, it will have to be sooner rather than later.”

Such grand designs are very much alive in current administration policy. In her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 19th October, Condoleeza Rice confirmed that the administration’s strategy after 9/11 had always been to redesign the Middle East. Iraq was merely the first step in that broader strategy.

According to Syria expert Joshua Landis, an assistant professor in Middle East Studies at Oklahoma University currently on a Fulbright Scholarship in Damascus, informed sources confirmed that “Steven Hadley, the director of the US National Security Council, called the President of the Italian senate to ask if he had a candidate to replace Bashar al-Asad as President of Syria.” Regime change, the end-goal of US policy in Syria, has been lent a new lease of life by the politics of the Hariri assassination.

In this context, the Mehlis report provides the Bush and Sharon administrations the ammunition needed to galvanise support for the neoconservative plan for military action against Syria. Given his role in the 1986 La Belle bombing, the possibility remains that his investigation has firstly concealed the role of US and Israeli intelligence interests in relation to the Hariri assassination, and secondly been politicized to support US and Israeli grand regional designs.



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