Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Mehlis' "Naïveté," according to the NYT

The Cairo-based New York Times reporter Michael Slackman has an Op-Ed in today’s Week-in-Review section of the paper under the title, Who Killed Hariri? Searching for the Truth in the Middle East.’ Here are the interesting segments:

Hussam Taher Hussam, for example, told the Mehlis team that he had worked for Syrian intelligence and had crucial information about the assassination. He told investigators that a final meeting to plan the February assassination was held in the home of President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, the head of Syrian military intelligence. And he offered testimony linking the Syrian government to the white van packed with explosives that killed Mr. Hariri.

Then Mr. Hussam asked a Lebanese television reporter, Zahra Badran, for $25,000 to tell his story on television. But when Ms. Badran broadcast his name and role as a witness on the news, he rushed back to Syria where he said he had lied to the Mehlis team about everything after being tortured, kidnapped and drugged by Lebanese officials.

Top Syrian officials noted soberly that Mr. Hussam was not a credible witness.
But even before Mr. Hussam's self-exposure, many analysts outside the investigation doubted his spectacular account because it did not ring true to Syria. People like Mr. Shawkat, they knew, rarely get their hands dirty, and would be unlikely to let someone like Mr. Hussam, who worked as a barber in Lebanon, know about it.

"For him to know that would be very difficult socially," said a political analyst with residences in both Lebanon and Syria who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because his remarks could compromise his ability to work in both places. "Syria is a country where the leadership and the security chiefs have a small circle around them. They are not deeply engaged in society."

And yet to many political analysts and diplomats involved the region, the investigation also appeared to reflect a certain naïveté about political and cultural realities.

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