UN Tribunal releases 4 generals charged in former Lebanese PM's death

It's not as bad as one would think because the release was ordered by the Tribunal judge and it doesn't mean they aren't still suspects in former Prime Minister Hariri's death.

But Hezb'allah is treating the release of the generals who plotted with Syrian intelligence (and the highest levels of the Syrian government) to kill the popular ex-PM as a great victory and will almost certainly give them a psychological boost going into June's crucial parliamentary elections.

The release was recommended by the UN special prosecutor Daniel Bellemare whose investigation has turned up little new information in the case. He has even praised the "cooperation" of Syrian authorities who have resisted the very idea of a tribunal from the beginning.

The evidence against the 4 generals is in the Mehlis Report, named after the original UN Special Prosecutor whose intitial investigation revealed a conspiracy between the 4 Lebanese generals and Syrian intelligence, including President Assad's brother in law who ran the intelligence agency at the time of the assassination.

Needless to say, those who love democracy and freedom in Lebanon are not pleased with the decision of the UN judge Daniel Fransen. Dalila Mahdawi of the English language
Daily Star in Lebanon reports:

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon ordered on Wednesday the release of four Lebanese generals held without charge since 2005 on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, although officials say the men can still be indicted at a later date.

"The pre-trial judge orders, unless they are held in another case, the release with immediate effect of the four generals," judge Daniel Fransen announced in a decision broadcast live via the Tribunal's website and on Lebanese television.

The highly anticipated verdict came after prosecutor Daniel Bellemare submitted a report on Monday saying there was insufficient evidence to detain the men any longer.

Based on that and the fact that these persons are presumed innocent, the prosecutor does not believe there is a need to keep them in detention at this point in the proceedings," Fransen said.

 Meanwhile, Naharnet, online English language website for the Arabic daily An-Nahar, reports on the Hezb'allah response:

Fears of renewed tension and political bickering between the Hizbullah-led opposition and the parliamentary majority rose following the release of the four generals after a long imprisonment that was accompanied by Hizbullah accusations toward its foes and calls to hold accountable those responsible for the "arbitrary" detention.

Hizbullah hailed Wednesday a U.N. court ruling ordering the release of the four generals after a long "arbitrary" detention imposed by those in power following the 2005 murder of ex-premier Rafik Hariri.

"Hizbullah welcomes the release of the four generals and congratulates their families after a long arbitrary detention in prison cells without any evidence," it said in a statement.

It accused its political foes of "flouting all laws and established procedures" and politicizing Lebanese jurisdiction.

"The priority should now be to hold accountable and prosecute all those responsible for years of deception and procrastination," the statement read.

Sources loyal to the government described as an "atmosphere more like a coup d'état" the mood that surrounded the aftermath of the generals' release, according to the daily Al Liwaa on Thursday.

They said they feared the atmosphere will look similar to the one that prevailed after the generals' arrest in August 2005.

Al Liwaa pointed to the huge Hizbullah presence -- including several Hizbullah MPs who gathered along with well-wishers at the generals' homes.

The paper, however, noticed the absence of lawmakers from Nabih Berri's and Michel Aoun's parliamentary blocs.

That last is very significant because Berri's Amal Party and Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement group are Hezb'allah's coalition partners. Aoun, a Christian, is especially displeased given the sentiment in the Christian community against the generals. It doesn't make his task any easier as he is trying to unite Christians under his banner so that through their support, Hezb'allah can achieve power and he can get the presidency.

But as long as Hezb'allah remains the only organized group in Lebanon with guns (the army is ill trained and not very capable), they can play hardball all they want. The release will no doubt embolden them, making the democrats in Lebanon even more uneasy.