Lebanese general seeks court record in Hariri case
LEIDSCHENDAM, Netherlands—A former Lebanese army general asked an international court on Tuesday to release his secret case file in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to learn why he was jailed for nearly four years without charge.
The hearing by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is the first since Maj. Gen. Jamil al-Sayyed, the former chief of general security, and three other pro-Syrian army officers were freed from a Lebanese jail for lack of evidence in April 2009.
Despite being limited to procedural issues, the hearing revived attention to a case that has been languishing. No other suspects are in custody and prosecutors won't say how their investigation is progressing.
The four officers were detained for six months after Hariri and 22 others died in a massive truck bomb explosion in Beirut, and suspicion fell on Syria and its Lebanese allies. Hariri, a billionaire businessman credited with rebuilding Lebanon after its 15-year civil war, had been trying to limit Syria's domination of Lebanon in the months before his assassination.
Since the release of the four suspects, investigators have interviewed members of the Iranian-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah, possibly exploring any link to broader Middle East rivalries. Hariri, a Sunni, was close to Saudi Arabia.
Both Syria and Hezbollah have denied involvement in the bombing.
Addressing the pretrial judge in Arabic, al-Sayyed said his detention was based on false statements and he wants to seek a "legal remedy" against those responsible, which he said can only be done if he has access to the prosecution's case file.
He said he had applied more than 100 times to the tribunal and to the Lebanese authorities for access to his file, but was never allowed to see any of it.
"We fall into a legal vacuum, a procedural vacuum," he told Judge Daniel Fransen.
Al-Sayyed, speaking after his attorney laid out legal arguments that the court has jurisdiction to order the case file released, said his detention was based on statements from at least 10 witnesses, some of them Syrian nationals.
Perjury from one person could be a mistake, he said. But "this was truly a large-scale plot" and he said it was important to uncover the reasons behind it.
Prosecutors objected, saying the tribunal has no authority to deal with al-Sayyed's demand since its mandate is limited to prosecuting those responsible for the Feb. 14, 2005, bombing and "to bring terrorists to justice."
"International courts have narrow jurisdiction for a reason," said prosecutor Daryl Mundis.
In addition, he said al-Sayyed has no right to turn to the tribunal since he is no longer a party to the case.
In its earlier written submission, the prosecution said, "The investigation is still ongoing. The prosecutor has not filed an indictment. Without an indictment, there is no accused."
Fransen said he would make his decision in early September.
Al-Sayyed was considered Syria's strongman in Lebanon. He and the other three generals directed the chief security, military intelligence services and the presidential guard. They were instrumental in implementing Syrian policy in Lebanon.
Hariri was Lebanon's most prominent politician since the civil war ended in 1990. His death set off political turmoil in Lebanon that led to the withdrawal of Syrian troops after almost 30 years of military presence in the country.
The tribunal, set up by the U.N. Security Council in 2007, is made up of seven foreign and four Lebanese judges, and is grounded in Lebanese law. The court is based in this suburb of The Hague to ensure the safety of the staff and an impartial trial.