Will Michel Suleiman be tried?

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French President Francois Hollande (R), welcomes Lebanese counterpart Michel Sleimane as he arrives at the Elysee Palace for a meeting on June 19, 2014 in Paris. (Photo: AFP-Alain Jocard)

By: Jean Aziz

Published Saturday, July 5, 2014

The step that former Lebanese deputy speaker, Elie Ferzli, took against former Lebanese President Michel Suleiman is remarkable and quite bold, both in its timing and substance. While the judicial system in Paris detained former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for questioning, Ferzli was discussing with legal experts in Beirut the possibility of holding Suleiman, who left the presidential palace 40 days ago, legally accountable.

The former deputy speaker was not alluding to the link between Suleiman and Sarkozy. And surely, he does not wish to open a new phase of pursuing officials, lackeys and policies during coinciding terms in France and Lebanon. Former French President Jacques Chirac evaded justice on corruption charges under the pretext of having dementia and current French President Francois Hollande is concerned over what might be in store for him due to similar conduct.

The most important aspect of Ferzli’s endeavor is that it points to the concerns and the debate around the presence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its activated cells in Lebanon while many men of power and politics are fast asleep. This raises questions about the similarity between the position that these men are taking today and the position that Suleiman took in the past.

Ferzli is looking into whether the former president can be prosecuted for his alleged responsibility for the terrorism that has been plaguing Lebanon in the past few years. At least for his negligence in carrying out his duty as head of state to “preserve Lebanon’s independence, unity and territorial integrity” and for violating his constitutional oath in that regard.

Ferzli began from the moment former Lebanese defense minister, Fayez Ghosn, announced in December 2011 the presence of al-Qaeda in Lebanon. Ferzli remembers that the president at the time took the initiative, on his own or at the prodding of others, to respond to Ghosn’s warnings, denying and refuting what the defense minister said. It is important to note that Ghosn had based his statement on information provided by official security agencies. Ferzli therefore points at that first incident as an indication that Suleiman was somehow responsible, directly or indirectly, for failing to uncover the presence of a terrorist organization on Lebanese territory.

Ferzli records this incident before he links it to another more dangerous and more serious accusation related to what al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s important message revealed on April 19. In a videotaped message, Osama bin Laden’s successor revealed the reason behind the dispute between him and ISIS regarding the conflict that both terrorist organizations are leading in the east, from Iraq to Syria, and of course including Lebanon.

In that message titled “Reality between Pain and Hope,” Zawahiri says the main reason for this dispute is that “there was an agreement between both sides not to make public al-Qaeda’s presence in the Levant.” It was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’ leader, who breached this agreement by going public with his violent project. Zawahiri believes that this issue is “not only technical but also strategic.” In other words, he wanted to keep his terrorists’ work under wraps until they achieve their goals. Then, and only then, will they reveal themselves, announce their victory and proclaim their state. What he means is that revealing the identity of these terrorist organizations before they establish power and authority over the land is dangerous for them and undermines their project.

Ferzli records this second incident and juxtaposes it against the first one. Zawahiri’s plan was not to reveal al-Qaeda’s presence in several areas, including Lebanon, so that it won’t be confronted until it manages to achieve its objectives and fulfil its purpose. A Lebanese official announced publicly that there are terrorists in Lebanon while another official was quick to reject that claim and worked as though it is not true.

Ferzli then asks a string of accusatory questions. Doesn’t the latter official’s position intersect, by knowledge or ignorance, intentionally or unintentionally, with what the terrorists wanted? And didn’t that position lead somehow to the Lebanese authorities’ failure to do their job of protecting Lebanon and the Lebanese? Isn’t this conduct, even if it is seen as mere negligence and nothing more, legally responsible for the death of Lebanese and non-Lebanese victims in the past four years due to terrorist attacks that could have been avoided, preempted and foiled before they were carried out just as security agencies did recently after they mobilized against the presence of terrorists?

The issue does not end with Suleiman’s position regarding al-Qaeda then. It is being repeated every day. Yesterday, the same scene was evoked once again with the presence of ISIS in Lebanon under various labels, including perhaps names of sectarian brigades that issued certain threats. It is interesting that some politicians repeated Suleiman’s position, denying the issue and asserting, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it is fabricated. This raises the same question regarding the legal responsibility of these people.

There is one more issue about the veracity of these terrorist statements or lack thereof. It reminds one of a scientific rule widely-known in archaeology. Archaeologists ask, if we find an artifact that is a piece of currency and it is scientifically proven that it dates back to past centuries, do we wonder for a moment whether the piece is authentic and issued by the authorities of that era or is a counterfeit made by someone else in that same era? Of course, there is no room for this question. Because either way, the piece still serves as historical evidence for us of the shape of the currency in that era, the way it was engraved, its painted features, size and all its details. A counterfeit is a replica in terms of its significance across time.

In the same way, threats issued in the name of terrorists are a mirror of terrorism, its intentions, goals and purpose. We should treat them as such, unless we are terrorists or we want to become historical remnants.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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