In this exclusive interview with Now Lebanon by Arthur Blok , Daniel Bellemare, The Canadian prosecutor of The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) revealed that the indictment in the case of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has not been drafted yet . In other words, no indictment is expected to be announced in September as some newspapers have been speculating .
Bellemare reacts in disbelief to some recent rumors that have been circulating in the Lebanese media and said : People should remember this: “Unless they can read into my brain, everything else is just speculation”
When will the indictment be handed in?
Daniel Bellemare: I have read articles saying that some people had already seen the indictment. Let me state clearly that the indictment has not been drafted yet. As I have previously said, I will only file the indictment when I am satisfied that there is enough evidence.
So you are still not satisfied? We are now in 2010, more than five years after the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. How much more time do you need?
Bellemare: I have a very impressive team that has been working in the past months with all their energies to generate the evidence. Currently I am working on what I would call the evidentiary process; I have to make sure that the evidence I will produce is admissible in court. That is exactly the key. If I file an indictment and there is no evidence, the whole structure collapses, and we will [have] found ourselves in trouble.
I want to make sure there is as much convincing evidence as possible.
Tribunal President Antonio Cassese said in May that you would file it before year’s end. Was he too optimistic?
Bellemare: All I can tell you is that I am still very optimistic. We are moving as fast as we can. Let’s say as soon as possible, but not sooner than possible.
But was he too optimistic or not?
Bellemare: I will not comment on that. I am optimistic as well.
Almost daily, new articles pop up in the Lebanese media quoting “sources close to the STL,” “exclusive secret reports” or “anonymous diplomatic sources.” What do you say to that?
Bellemare: I think it is sad for the people who read those newspapers. All these things are more confusing than anything else. They are purely speculations, and frankly, while reading these papers I learn myself as much [as] everybody else. I made a list of at least 30 of those things; some of them are truly outrageous.
Let me give you one example. Not that long ago I read a piece that said I was about to resign. When I read it in the morning I was very surprised. Imagine all the phone calls we received. They phoned to the head office of the UN in New York. It did not seem to end.
The problem of these so-called sources is that people think that everybody who talks in the media about the case is a source. That is sad. Sometimes I wonder, “Why do they do this?” But of course, I am not going to speculate myself.
The one who knows about the case is me. People should remember this. Unless they can read into my brain, everything else is just speculation.
Sometimes these reports are very convincing, especially the ones about talks between France and Saudi Arabia on the fate of the STL, and the role of Washington. Are you really completely independent?
Bellemare: Journalists have asked me this question before. I said, and I will repeat it, the day I am faced with political interference I cannot deal with, I will resign. To those who say I am influenced by this or that person, I will tell them, “Sorry, but I am not!”
All of them should remember that I was retired when I accepted this job. I do not depend on it for my career. If I wanted to, I would just go back to my retirement, and I can tell you that my wife would be quite happy to have me back.
What bothers me is that people tend to focus on the negative instead of the positive. For example, the last job that we advertised here, we received over 100 applicants. For the position of chief of the investigation, we had more than 33 applicants from all over the world. When we asked these people in their interview, “Why did you come to the STL?” they all tell us, “We like the team that we see, and we want to be part of that.” I would like to illustrate this with the saying: Success breeds success. Those highly-qualified people, those applicants, sure do not think there is a malaise in the tribunal. You do not want to join a place that is dysfunctional, do you?
Do you have a strong case? Do you have more than some telephone calls? I remember that former chief investigator Detlev Mehlis was very open in his first report in 2005 with what he found. He showed the world his case, which was based on some statements and a telephone call. Maybe it is not the best thing to throw it all out in the open?
Bellemare: Sure, you do not want me to make the same mistake. I simply cannot go into the details of the investigation, so I cannot answer that question.
Would you see a telephone call as conclusive evidence?
Bellemare: Well, I would call circumstantial evidence conclusive. I think there has been some confusion on what circumstantial evidence means. I have read in a Lebanese newspaper that circumstantial evidence was no good. In the system I come from, circumstantial evidence is a number of little facts that, when you look at them on their own, they might mean nothing. But when you put them together, then the whole picture becomes irrefutable.
Let me illustrate that with an example: You want to prove that it rained today. You prove that the pavement is wet, you prove that there was nobody who cleaned the street, etc. In itself each of these facts does not mean anything, but if you put them all together, you can conclude at the end of the day that it rained. This is what circumstantial evidence is. I am strongly of the view that circumstantial evidence is more powerful than direct evidence.
So from that perspective, you would definitely call a telephone call circumstantial evidence?
Bellemare: That would be part of the whole thing. You have to look at the whole package. But again, I do not want to go into the content of the case.
In September 2008, Mehlis told me in Berlin that he did not understand what former Prosecutor Serge Brammertz was doing after him. According to Mehlis, the case needed maximum six months to a year of investigation to be ready for court. He said that there were “enough statements” and that only the telephone link needed to be further investigated. Was he wrong?
Bellemare: The policy I have taken is not to comment on what my predecessors have done. Obviously, if I would have been of that view, we would be in court right now.
Currently the situation in Lebanon is explosive. A new round of tension started when Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah attacked the STL in his July speech, calling it an “Israeli project” and warning that his men would be falsely indicted. What was your first reaction when you heard his speech?
Bellemare: I cannot say that I listened to it carefully, because I do not understand Arabic. But I read the transcript with interest.
Did it change anything for you?
About the evidence that Nasrallah sent you through Lebanese Public Prosecutor Said Mirza: In a press release last week you asked him for the rest. Does that mean that what you received was not solid or convincing enough?
Bellemare: We asked for all of the information that he had, including the audio and video material. What we got was what was shown on TV, while he said at one point that there was more. And “more” was not part of what we received. So I asked for that.
Could you use what was given to you?
Bellemare: The position I have taken is that I do not have tunnel vision, meaning that when you have a theory, you try to fit all the evidence you have to that theory. This is something we have to get absolutely away from. If somebody comes to me with credible evidence that shows me that I may not be on the right path, whatever path I am on, then of course I will look at that material. That is exactly what we are doing. Mr. Nasrallah says I have material, and we are looking at it. But in order to make an assessment you need to work with a complete record. That is why we asked for the rest.
Are you saying between the lines that he has tunnel vision?
Bellemare: No, absolutely not. I am not commenting on Mr. Nasrallah or Hezbollah. I am only saying that my investigation cannot show tunnel vision. I have to be open-minded and look at everything.
Will it delay the indictment even more?
Bellemare: I cannot comment on this. Simply because I do not know how long it will take to review the material.
Did you interview anybody in Israel or any Israeli citizen?
Bellemare: At this point this is part of the ongoing investigation. What I said before is that I will go where the evidence leads me.
That is very nice, but my question was: Did you talk to any Israeli?
Bellemare: I am not ready to answer that question. It is part of the investigation.
Why not a simple “yes” or “no”? It is a very delicate issue for the Lebanese. You are not denying that you questioned individuals from Hezbollah, and it is not that the investigation team ever made a secret that it talked to Syrian nationals. Is it not exactly the same thing?
Bellemare: What I am saying is that we are reviewing all the possible existing evidence.
So if somebody like Hassan Nasrallah comes out with a DVD accusing Israel of involvement in the Hariri assassination, it is very likely that you investigate that lead, because you do not have tunnel vision. Am I right?
Bellemare: What I can say is that we are not taking this lightly. I want to make a serious analysis of this. The biggest frustration that I have – maybe not the biggest, but a very serious one – is when we are qualified as being politicized. It is frustrating to have this accusation coming at you. The fact of the matter is we are not politicized. We operate in a political context, no question about that. But the decision that will be made is not a political decision. It would be a political decision if the decision would be influenced by politics. The decision that will be made is completely out of these things. It is made independently; nobody will tell me what to do.
You have spoken to many Hezbollah officials. Did they ever mention the information Nasrallah came up with?
Bellemare: No, it is not related at all. They were interviewed like any other witnesses. It has nothing to do [with] what we saw from Mr. Nasrallah on TV.
Did the wave of arrests in Lebanon of Israeli spies in the past year influence you at all? For example, the telephone calls in the investigation; what if it turned out there were some people who could alter these calls before they reached your desk?
Bellemare: This is all part of the investigation. My only worry is that the evidence I put forward is credible and solid.
Do you realize that the relatively slow pace of the investigation made the March 14 coalition lose its momentum?
Bellemare: I am not influenced by what is said on TV. If I was to gauge my investigation along this, then I would be politicized. I have to go through the steps to make sure the result is a credible stop. And that the people – the victims and their relatives – will have an outcome they are able to believe. I saw those reports from March 14 saying, “We won’t accept the indictment if it is not based on solid proof.” They have put out several statements. I agree with this.
The pace of the investigation is fairly steady at this point. We have made huge progress. You have to put things in context. Look at other large investigations: the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia or the Oklahoma bombing. They all took time.
The Hariri case is probably one of the biggest murder investigations currently under development. Look at the Lockerbie trial; it took years before the whole process was finished. Even though I have to be very careful when I compare the Hariri case with something else.
Still, do you realize that your pace has its consequences in Lebanon? March 14’s momentum is lost.
Bellemare: I fully understand the question, but if that was what would drive my pace, I would be politicized. Frankly, I would like to reach a result tomorrow. But I want to reach a result that is credible and solid. At the end of the day, we will talk through our indictment. That would be our response to everything.
What about former witness Mohammed Zuheir Siddiq? Last week he claimed that Hezbollah is sponsoring “false witnesses.”
Bellemare: I will not comment on what Mr. Siddiq says. Basically, he is not somebody we will produce in court as a witness.
Hussam Hussam was, just like Siddiq, stamped a false witness. Still, he is walking free in Syria, making statements every once in a while. What do you say to that?
Bellemare: Who stamped him and Siddiq false witnesses? I never used that expression. At this point, he is not a suspect. Just like Siddiq. I will just leave it to that.
What about the Lebanese justice minister? He was asked to look into the issue of the false witnesses. Are you happy with that?
Bellemare: He was tasked by the Lebanese cabinet. We have to respect the decision of the Lebanese government. Of course, I have the primacy over the investigation. So we will see where this leads.
In case of a delay in the indictment, is it likely there will be new arrests?
Bellemare: That is something I cannot answer. Many people have told me that justice has to be transparent. I agree with that. But the question is: What has to be transparent? Not the investigative process. It is the judicial process that has to be transparent. I think many people are confused with that.
Do you realize that people can easily disappear in Lebanon or Syria?
Bellemare: All I can say is that there are a lot of considerations I have to take into account.
Are you afraid what will happen after you file your indictment? Last week we saw how tense the situation on the ground still is.
Bellemare: I look at the situation. I read the papers, and I am sensitive to what is going on. I would be irresponsible if I would not be sensitive to what is going on.
Does that make you hesitate to actually file the indictment?
Bellemare: I will let nobody rush me with anything. It is a full circle. You just asked me about the impact of not going fast enough. Let me say that the impact of going too fast would be much worse. As I said before: The indictment has to be based on solid evidence.
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