US diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks have exposed backstage manoeuvres surrounding a UN investigation into the murder of the former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.
WikiLeaks reveals frustrations over UN Hariri probe
The cables, which were among 4,000 secret documents on Lebanon expected to be released by the whistleblower website or its affiliates, revealed UN frustrations with Syria and France over their level of co-operation with the probe.
They also detailed repeated appeals from investigators for US assistance and showed their deep concern over the detention without charge for four years of four Lebanese security officials in connection with Hariri's 2005 assassination.
The new WikiLeaks revelations came as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), tasked with investigating the Beirut bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others, was reportedly poised to indict members of Hizbollah in connection with the murder. Hizbollah, which fought a devastating 2006 war with Israel, has warned any indictment would have grave repercussions in Lebanon.
Yesterday, the new head of the tribunal said he expected the court's prosecutor to file his first indictment "very, very soon". Herman von Hebel has not given more details about the timing or content of the indictment, which would remain confidential until it was confirmed by a tribunal judge, probably early next year. Mr Von Hebel said a trial could be staged about four to six months after an indictment was confirmed, a process which could take six to 10 weeks.
According to a series of cables obtained by WikiLeaks, the STL prosecutor Daniel Bellemare last year complained to the then-US ambassador Michele Sison that Syria, initially accused of Hariri's murder, was treating his investigators as "school kids in short pants".
"They provide us with 40,000 pages in Arabic. After we translate them and find nothing of interest, they feign surprise and hand us another 40,000 pages," read a cable dated January 27, 2009.
According to a cable, published by the British Daily Star newspaper, Mr Bellemare's predecessor, Serge Brammertz, complained in 2006 to then US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, now a deputy secretary of state, that France was withholding its co-operation from the investigation. Mr Brammertz was quoted as saying that even Syria had been more co-operative than some EU countries.
Both Mr Brammertz and Mr Bellemare voiced concern that the detention of the four Lebanese generals, who were released last year, violated international law.
Another leaked cable that detailed a request from Mr Bellemare for additional assistance from the United States, a major donor to the STL, made headlines in the Lebanese press. The prosecutor was quoted as asking Ms Sison for information on Syria and, in a separate cable, requesting that the United States loan his inquiry two analysts whose salaries, along with others, would be paid for by the FBI.
"Bellemare showed a good understanding of the problems associated with complying ... but his frustration was nonetheless evident: 'You are the key player. If the US doesn't help me, who will?'," reads the cable, dated October, 2008.
Hizbollah has said the leaks were further proof the United States was manipulating the probe.
"The information leaked on meetings between the prosecutor and the (then) US ambassador confirms what we have always said - that the US administration is using the court and the investigation committee as a tool to target the resistance," the Hizbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said.
Another cable published by the Daily Star quoted a security official as saying he believed the Hizbollah operative, Abdul Majid Ghamloush, was linked to Hariri's murder and two other political assassinations.
* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Associated Press