Lebanese courts have a visible phrase inscribed over their bench: “Justice is the pillar of Governance”.
This ethos was recently put to the test, not to say shattered, with the decision of Judge Tarek Bitar, the special investigator into the August 4 2020 Beirut Port explosion, to summons Lebanon’s top political, security and judicial officials to appear in front of him. It paved the way for his final indictment which he announced would be shortly released.
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Bitar’s colossal move came after a 13-month suspension of his duties brought about by several judicial acrobatic appeals and manoeuvres by those accused of the port blast in the hope of forcing the judiciary to appoint an alternative.
Coincidently the political establishment hit back through Prosecutor General judge Ghassan Oueidat who declared Bitar’s actions as unlawful. To add insult to injury, Oueidat released all 17 of the suspects detained in the investigation - one of them has fled the country to the United States.
Naturally, this judicial implosion led many to conclude that the Beirut port investigation would never see the light and that what Oueidat did was enough to seal the fate of Bitar. The former’s combination of ego and righteousness drove him to challenge a political and judicial establishment that lacks morals and views accountability and justice as a mere inconvenience.
Since the ousting of the investigation, the Lebanese political establishment, chiefly amongst them Hezbollah, has insisted that this explosion was merely an accident. Thus, those who should be held accountable are junior bureaucrats whose negligence and lack of foresight led to the destruction of the city of Beirut. Coincidently, while Bitar has named more major figures as guilty of this heinous crime, his approach to the investigation has purposely shied away from the Hezbollah elephant in the room and the responsibility for Iran’s Lebanese proxy.
Instead, Bitar has cast a wide net of accusations against tens of individuals representing the Lebanese political establishment with all its sectarian and political makeup. Yet, he has failed to summon or even allow himself to publicly question of Hezbollah using the Beirut port to stockpile tons of explosives, weapons and ammunition. The majority of Lebanese citizens are convinced of it. Hezbollah, whose operatives were found guilty of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, saw it convenient to dispatch its head of intelligence Wafik Safa to meet Judge Bitar.
It was of little concern to Safa who threw the ominous words to the press: “‘We will remove you.”Equally, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s Secretary General, made malicious and menacing comments against Bitar. The port explosion paved the way for the attack on the judiciary and the infamous clashes of Hezbollah against the Lebanese Army, which led to Bitar’s probe being blocked. Despite Bitar’s recent courageous legal actions, Hezbollah’s bullying of him has helped to create internal strife where different groups are at odds with each other.
Yet, what has transpired over the last few days has nothing to do with a divergence of opinion over legal jurisdiction. No one should presume that Bitar’s crusade for justice, regardless of its validity, will bode well for the fight for justice.
Suppose the people of Lebanon wish to gullibly assume that thousands of tons of explosives have nothing to do with a trained army of killers working for the Iranian revolutionary guards. In that case, perhaps, they deserve to be joshed around by their so-called political elite, so long as the Lebanese side steps Hezbollah and assumes that going after small fish such as Beirut port officials and corrupt ministers without bringing the terrorist faction into the fold will only divert the quest for justice.As it stands, the Lebanese are not only left alone to fight for themselves, but the international community, led by the United States and France, has agreed to let the port investigation peter out as a reward for signing the maritime boundary with Israel.
As brave as he is, Tarek Bitar is one man who will sooner or later hit the rooted wall of impunity unless the people demanding justice realize that they need to be aggressive. They must start by going after the head of this toxic political system that is Hezbollah.
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