Friday, October 21, 2005

Mehlis Softened Assassination Report

UN investigator Detlev Mehlis deleted sections of the report on the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri after a copy was sent to journalists but before it was made public. The deleted sections implicated Syrian President Bashar Assad's brother Maher Assad, and his brother-in-law, Assef Shawkat in the decision to assassinate Hariri. ( U.N. investigator concedes report changes).

Mehlis' excuse for altering the report appeared as watered down as the version released to the press. When pressed by journalists, he stated that he didn't want to publish their names because they hadn't stood trial and didn't want them to appear guilty. A more plausible reason would be Kofi Annan's desire to avoid confrontation between the west and Syria, a goal also shared by Mehlis' native Germany. It's not coincidental that the deletions were made around the time Mehlis handed the report to Annan.

President Bush wasted no time in pressing for UN action against Syria. The President said, "The report strongly suggests that the politically motivated assassination could not have taken place without Syrian involvement," and urged the UN to deal "quickly and seriously" with the report. (Union-Tribune: Bush says world must hold Syria accountable for Lebanese killing, asks quick U.N. action).

The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet next Tuesday regarding the report. While the US has called for swift action, a meeting before Tuesday is not anticipated. What sanctions will be introduced against Syria are not yet known, however Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is already laying the foundations, challenging the credibility of the world body if they do not take appropriate action.

Syria is clearly on the defensive and is facing a rare unified front between the US and France. The credibility of the UN Security Council is clearly at stake as Rice suggests, however, and a watered down report is not the best opening move in restoring any measure of respect to that body. We will see what Tuesday brings and what form the joint US / France resolution takes. Let's hope that resolution has more substance and less spin than the report that is prompting it.


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