It wasn’t until late 2007 that the awkwardly titled UN International Independent Investigation Commission actually got around to some serious investigating.
By then, nearly three years had passed since the spectacular public murder of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Hariri, the builder. The billionaire tycoon who’d reclaimed Beirut’s architectural heritage from the shattered cityscape of a civil war and made it his mission to restore Lebanon’s mercantile leadership.
Hariri, the nationalist who’d had the courage to stand against Syria, Lebanon’s longtime occupier; and in his day was the most important reformer in the Middle East.
The massive detonation that killed him on Feb. 14, 2005 unleashed forces no one knew were there. All of Lebanon seemed to rise up in the murder’s aftermath, furiously pointing at the country’s Syrian overlords.
Who killed Rafik Hariri? His assassination in February 2005 rocked the power arrangements in the Middle East and turned him into an overarching symbol of everything that was wrong in Lebanon. Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
The not unreasonable assumption was that Hariri had died for opposing Damascus.
Lebanon’s fury quickly accomplished what the assassinated leader had failed to achieve in his lifetime.
The murder gave rise to the so-called Cedar Revolution, a rare Lebanese political consensus. Syria, cowed by the collective anger, withdrew its troops.
At the UN, France and the U.S. pushed the Security Council into dispatching a special investigative commission.
For a time, it actually seemed that Lebanon was moving toward the rule of law and true democracy.
But, by the end of 2007, all that had ebbed. The killers remained uncaught. Syria was gradually reasserting its influence. And assassinations of other prominent Lebanese continued.
In the White House, senior administration officials began to conclude that the UN’s famous clay feet were plodding toward nothing.
It turned out they were right.
A months-long CBC investigation, relying on interviews with multiple sources from inside the UN inquiry and some of the commission’s own records, found examples of timidity, bureaucratic inertia and incompetence bordering on gross negligence.
Among other things, CBC News has learned that:
- Evidence gathered by Lebanese police and, much later, the UN, points overwhelmingly to the fact that the assassins were from Hezbollah, the militant Party of God that is largely sponsored by Syria and Iran. CBC News has obtained cellphone and other telecommunications evidence that is at the core of the case.
- UN investigators came to believe their inquiry was penetrated early by Hezbollah and that that the commission’s lax security likely led to the murder of a young, dedicated Lebanese policeman who had largely cracked the case on his own and was co-operating with the international inquiry.
- UN commission insiders also suspected Hariri’s own chief of protocol at the time, a man who now heads Lebanon’s intelligence service, of colluding with Hezbollah. But those suspicions, laid out in an extensive internal memo, were not pursued, basically for diplomatic reasons.