SNC Emails: Clinton, Kilo, and Al-Farouq Batallion
Published Thursday, May 3, 2012
Additional emails leaked from Syrian National Council (SNC) President Burhan Ghalioun’s inbox offer some insight into the inner workings of the Syrian opposition, including some of the armed groups on the ground in Homs. In its third installment, Al-Akhbar is publishing three of the newly-leaked emails.
US State Department: Consider Safe Haven for Assad
Among the emails found in SNC President Burhan Ghalioun’s inbox is an exchange with Matthew Irwin, Political Officer at Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace in the US Department of State.
After a series of meetings conducted by the State Department with SNC representatives at the end of 2011 – one of which included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – Irwin sent a document (see below) to the SNC detailing some of the difficulties it had in finding a safe haven for Syrian President Bashar Assad.
From: Irwin, Matthew T [mailto:IrwinMT@state.gov]
Sent: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 12:35 AM
Subject: Asylum Considerations
Friends, as you prepare for discussion with the Arab League of the issues you raised with Secretary Clinton, we wanted to pass along the attached paper for your consideration. This is not a USG document but was composed by people who we trust and who follow the situation in Syria very closely. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments.
This email is UNCLASSIFIED
Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace US Department of State
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, December 07, 2011 3:05 AM
To: Irwin, Matthew T; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com
Cc: Miller, James N; firstname.lastname@example.org; Burhan Ghalioun; Bassma Kodmani
Subject: Re: Contact Information
It was a pleasure to see you again and thank you for all your help, interest and support.
I have added in the reply Burhan and Bassma who were missing from your recepients list.
From: Irwin, Matthew T
To: Nibras El Fadel
Cc: Miller, James N
Subject: Contact Information
Sent: Dec 7, 2011 06:57
It was a pleasure to see all of you yesterday and to meet you, Wael and Abdulbaset, for the first time. Thank you again for taking the time to come to Geneva. It meant a lot to us and to the Secretary to be able to have such a frank and productive exchange. It won't be the last! I wanted to ensure you knew how to find both me and Jamie. Feel free to contact us anytime for any reason.
I can also be reached by phone at +1-202-596-9626.
Best regards and safe travels,
---- Envoyé avec BlackBerry® d'Orange ----
CONSIDERING SAFE HAVEN FOR ASSAD
With political change in Syria now considered by most to be inevitable, President Bashar Assad could avoid greater bloodshed – including, likely, his own – by stepping down to a “soft landing” in some neutral country. Because Assad is not, in the words of The Daily Telegraph reporter Andrew Gilligan, "the stereotypical blustering and aggressive Arab dictator," some would imbue him with a rational actor’s calculus that would incline him to accept such a landing. They imagine him preferring to live out his days comfortably practicing ophthalmology in a hospitable third country rather than embracing the grizzly fate of Saddam or Qadhafi.
Though Assad is on record telling ABC’s Barbara Walters on December 4th that when he loses the support of the people, he would leave, neither signs that Assad is roundly despised by his people nor offers of safe haven have been wanting. From rumors of high-level envoys entering Syria unaided by their diplomatic passport to the offer of a back bedroom by a private New Zealander named Bruce, the world has already given Assad numerous opportunities to avail himself of its hospitality. Arab leaders are privately telling the United States they have offered the Syrian President safe haven in a bid to get him to step down. Spain is said to have secretly offered Assad a deal that included safe haven in that country in August. The Syrian National Council has confirmed that Assad has indeed received several offers of asylum in addition to offers from The Arab League and Turkey to help find him a safe haven. SNC President Burhan Ghalioun has said, “It is clear that he wants to continue and I believe he is not mature and he doesn’t have a grasp on reality. He is delusional.”
Despite this, it may still be possible that an offer package that includes considerations about his successor along with guarantees about the welfare of him and his family could be crafted that could have appeal. However, even if Bashar were wise enough to step down, exile isn't what it used to be. Over the last 30 years, things have gotten increasingly difficult for former dictators after they have left power. Successor regimes launch criminal probes; major efforts are mounted to identify assets that may have been stripped or looted by the autocrat or members of his immediate family. In order to persuade Assad to leave, it may be necessary to find him a safe haven: a government that will protect him from attempts to prosecute him and separate him from his assets. It is increasingly difficult for states to make such promises. And this significantly restricts the number of realistic exit options for him.
Furthermore, any offer of safe haven would need to include guarantees as to his protection from criminal prosecution as well, potentially, some mechanism for ensuring his financial well-being. Any commitments in this regard will have to be credible and specific enough to convince Assad and his family, without being untenable politically for either the post-transition government or the country of safe haven. There are five overall categories of difficulty that would need to be thought through:
Threat of International Tribunals
Assad may be concerned about his exposure to criminal prosecution in a number of different contexts:
– International tribunals (primarily the ICC, but others might be possible).
– Domestic criminal prosecution in Syria under a new government.
– Domestic criminal prosecution in another country – for example, prosecution by a country which may have had one or more nationals killed in Syria during the crackdown, or killed by Syrian state-sponsored terrorism.
Any country that offers asylum would have to do so first in light of the ICC’s jurisdiction, which is three-fold:
– If the country itself refers a case to the court. This is easiest: The country can promise Assad it will not refer him to the court.
– If the UNSC refers a case to the court. This is also doable should the delegation approaching Assad have previously coordinated with the UN and come prepared with a promise from the UNSC that it will not refer him.
– If the court takes the case propio motu, on its own. The court can do this for anyone held in a country that is party to the Rome Statute. This is the toughest condition since it would seem to eliminate from the running any country that is party to the Rome Statute.
Would it be possible for the ICC to provide some kind of guarantee that it would not initiate a case propio motu on Bashar?
In addition to considerations of the ICC, there are bilateral and multilateral extradition treaties by which countries could be bound to extradite Bashar back to Syria.
To What bilateral and multi-lateral treaties is Syria party?
Accountability mechanisms in Syria
Political will post-transition for domestic criminal inquiries into corruption and theft involving the Bashar and his family will be high even if capacity is limited.
There will be no shortage of third parties, Western and otherwise, who will have interests in pushing the agenda but by trying Assad in absentia, much of this could be diffused.
International and Syrian Interest in Recovering Assets
If he has personal wealth that is distinguishable (politically as well as financially) from Syria’s, this reduces or eliminates the need for the hosting country to provide for him and his family.
Such assets of his are best if they are liquid. Cash is king. Businesses, sovereign wealth funds, state-owned corporations could not be relied upon.
The ideal probably would be that he left without a thing and relied entirely on the hospitality of the hosting nation. Whether he could accept a situation like this in which he had no means of his own is another matter.
Visibility on the personal assets of Bashar and his family that would seek asylum would be helpful for considering many of these points.
Negotiating around or through a global freezing order: Has a Mareva injunction been applied?
Pressure on the safe haven country and any third country post-transition
Any Western government that may become known to have aided in creating an asylum option for Bashar will have to contend with internal elements that will accuse it of favoring political expedience over the rule of law.
The reduced death toll implicit in the offer may not convince on its own and will require careful emphasis, framing, and bolstering with additional pros of the decision.
Political problems a post-transition government may face
Unless the opposition is confident it can argue that raiding the treasury was necessary price for saving lives and giving Syria democratic self-government, it will be extremely difficult to separate out any personal wealth of Assad and his family from wealth which properly belongs to Syria. Given his family’s multi-generational hold on the country, it is difficult to see how a penny he has made, apart perhaps, from his days as a practicing ophthalmologist, could be perceived as his own.
No future Syrian government would want to be perceived to have let Bashar raid the treasury on his way out. Any transitional council that accedes to financial demands of Assad will have to deal with the popular reaction once it assumes power – if not before.
Kilo to Ghalioun: Turkey and Qatar’s Positions Not Positive
The second email is a correspondence from the well-known opposition intellectual Michel Kilo declining an invitation to meet with the SNC in Istanbul because of what he considered negative positions toward Syrians’ struggle on the part of Turkey and Qatar.
Sent: Friday, March 23, 2012 7:51 PM
Subject: Re: The National Pact for a New Syria
Greetings and affection,
You know how much I appreciate you and how hard it is for me to decline a request from you.
But I learned from Hazem that the invitation for the meeting came from the Turks and the Qataris, while the Arab League has nothing to do with it and was not consulted on it. You know that I prefer Cairo to Istanbul and Egypt to Turkey, and that the positions of the Qatari and Turkish capitals were not positive when it comes to us and our struggle.
That is why I would like to apologize for not coming to Istanbul to sign the document which I fear is meant to preempt effective Russian intervention in the crisis, and we know that the Russian role could be to our advantage.
Fighters in Homs: The al-Farouq Battalion is Killing Us
In a third email, a report recaps a meeting with al-Haj Khodr al-Halwani (the leader of fighters in the [Khalid Ibn] al-Waleed’s Grandchildren Battalion in old Homs, Hamidiyeh, and Bustan al-Diwan), Abu Qais (Baba Amr), and a number of leaders of different groups in Homs.
Strong pressure in addition to criticism of the behavior of the al-Farouq Battalion forced a large number (24) of free brigades in the city to work together. It is a good opportunity to contribute to unifying their efforts and linking them, one way or another, to the Syrian National Council (SNC).
The leaders of the aforementioned brigades met repeatedly in the past few days and put together a document consisting of nine points in which they criticize the mechanism of work and behavior of the al-Farouq Battalion.
They criticize the al-Farouq Battalion for its monopoly over decision-making in its areas, its attempts to subjugate whoever is outside its command by force, and adopting what they call a “big stick policy” in dealing with other fighters.
In addition, they accuse them of unjustified violence against their adversaries and other anti-regime groups that are not subsumed under the rubric of al-Farouq Battalion resulting in a heavy human toll. (For example, al-Farouq’s mild punishment/warning to fighters in Bab al-Sibaa led to the death of five martyrs.)
The basic focus of the conversation therefore was on unifying their work. The men insist that they are able to rid Homs of internal disagreements that have plagued the revolutionary movement there.
They insist that certain groups within the Syrian opposition and external/regional forces have pushed fighters in Homs to this divided state of affairs but that it is possible to overcome this crisis if political and financial support is made available.
Even though the young men are convinced that the regime started the arming of civilians by using Alawite thugs (shabiha). They explain that they are aware of the difference between civilian regime loyalists and armed killers, and they condemn the few armed men in Homs who have committed violence against civilians in neighborhoods loyal to the regime.
They stress that such actions were the result of younger men making decisions on their own in line with the language of violence popularized by al-Farouq Battalion and made possible through generous external financial support.
The leaders on the ground surprised us in the meeting for being different from the image that had previously reached us about them from others in the city. They are open to all parties and are ready to cooperate and admit that there have been mistakes and shortcomings.
They blame international actors for delaying intervention and hold them responsible for having to take up arms. They did not want to take up arms originally and they blame the political opposition (SNC) for not quickly playing an active role in helping them.
They believe they are misrepresented in the SNC through the members that represent the revolutionary movement. They completely disown the member of the general body whom they know (likely from the Shimali family) and say he claims to be from Baba Amr while he is from a nearby village and he represents al-Farouq, not Homs...
But they unequivocally appreciate the work of the SNC in general and they need its support. They would prefer to receive support from the SNC as opposed to other groups.
They realize that the problem in Homs is the lack of coordination between all of them and they want to overcome this problem. They believe the problem today lies in a few people in Homs and not even in all the members of al-Farouq Battalion who are cooperating with each other.
The 24 brigades have started to work on creating a common committee. In principle, they need counsel, support, and some mediation between them. They need someone to mediate between them and the leaders of Al-Khalidiyeh neighborhood to end a big discord that has been exacerbated by al-Farouq’s monopoly over decision-making in Al-Khalidiyeh, which resulted in the neighborhood being targeted with strong artillery strikes due to what some saw as recklessness in attacking Al-Matahen checkpoint (which has continued for days along with shelling Al-Khalidiyeh).
This has resulted in the shelling of Al-Khalidiyeh and the displacement of hundreds of its residents because certain people, exercising exclusive control over decision-making, made an irresponsible decision.
Having good and close-up knowledge of the groups working on the ground in Homs and the disagreements between them in the past months, I emphasize that now we have reached a historic moment, where we have the opportunity to solve the city’s problems. This opportunity might not come again.
Perhaps solving the problem plaguing the revolutionary movement in the city, especially if the SNC plays a role, will be the beginning of a qualitative leap in the revolution, and an opportunity to restore the moral high ground and collective action ethos that has been recently developing all over Syria, leaving Homs as a negative example of division between its groups, even if the reasons are understandable.
Help in forming a body that would include the 24 brigades in Homs and the surrounding areas with real leaders supporting it, encouraging the assignment of a defected officer as a field leader, and successfully linking them with the SNC politically and their fellow fighters in other areas would be a victory and have a great impact.
Surely, the SNC cannot evade its role in supporting these groups and helping them strengthen their positions. They are all steadfast but they are in dire need of ammunition or money to buy ammunition.
The basis of the crisis in the city today is groups receiving uneven amounts of money from direct sources in Saudi Arabia some of whom are urging the targeting of loyalist neighborhoods and sectarian escalation while others are inciting against the SNC.
They are not national, unifying sources of support. On the contrary, mature field leaders have noted that receiving aid from them [Saudi Arabia] entails implicit conditions like working in ways other than the desired direction.
The role of the SNC today is needed and the opportunity is available to move forward, help Homs to stay steadfast, and enable the position and authority of wiser parties in the city instead of what the world sees today.
25 March 2012
To communicate with the coordinator of the concerned groups: Abu Qais, Skype: baba.aamr
And Abu Qais will be waiting all day and tonight in the hope of receiving a call from you.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.