Hussam Taher Hussam, the 'Masked Witness'
How badly does the unveiling of the 'Masked Witness,' Hussam Taher Hussam, hurt the Mehlis Report? The Lebanese are claiming his Syria testimony is all crap in an effort to keep . Syrians have been loving it. I watched the series of interviews and the press conference with Hussam Taher Hussam, which have been continuously aired on Syrian TV yesterday. They were riveting TV. Hussam was good. He is smart and articulate in a "simple" way, peppering his responses with folksy aphorisms, which lent authority and seeming wisdom to normal Syrian talk. He didn't hesitate or look to the Syrian authorities sitting next to him for guidance in his testimony. He answered tough questions by journalists. He had clearly done his homework and was well prepared. He was also well groomed and had a youthful and energetic demeanor, which showed he had lived in Lebanon for a long time. The visual effect of seeing him answer the questions of Syrian and Lebanese journalists with spirit and confidence was powerful. Everyone here in Damascus was watching him and believing. Today, having been subject to the counter-attack from Lebanon, they are less sure.
What made Syrians believe him is that he was forthright about a number of small things most Syrians would hide. He said he had been working for Syrian intelligence while employed as a barber in Lebanon for over a decade. He said his Lebanese captors and handlers had treated him as a Kurd who could be easily bought, claiming that as a Kurd he should be against the government in Syria and that the Sunnis who are 80% of the Syrian population should be ruling and shouldn't let a minority of 10% rule them - a clear reference to the Alawites. The reason for making up such stories is obvious to non-Syrians, but to a Syrian, it made the speaker convincing because no Syrian would dare say such a thing on Syrian TV, even though the majority thinks just that. It is hard for a Syrian to believe that Hussam’s Syrian handlers would coach him to say something so forthright, because mentioning the issue of Alawi rule, even in such a case, is totally taboo. To hear someone mention Alawi rule on Syrian TV is a shocker. He was also forthright about the lures of money and the good life he was offered for his testimony. Syrians can identity with that.
What was not credible was his claim that Saad Hariri actually spoke to him about money. The Lebanese who prepared him for his false testimony were a "Whose Who" of Syria's enemies - Jubran Tueni, Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblat, etc. He even got May Shidiac’s name on record, claiming he had seen her from a distance while giving his false testimony at Monteverdi. (Shidiac denies even knowing where Monteverdi is.) None of these encounters would seem likely. The problem is that his testimony to Mehlis was exactly like his testimony against the Lebanese. He claimed to Mehlis that he had personal knowledge of all the top Syrian intelligence officers being involved in Hariri's murder. He also tied the Palestinians and fundamentalist Sunni Lebanese into the plot - much too neat. His Mehlis testimony was as fantastic as his testimony against Mehlis. The conclusion will have to be that he is completely discredited as a witness.
The most concrete evidence in Mehlis' report, directly linking the Hariri murder to the top Syrian intelligence personnel, is now unusable. Saddiq and Hussam were the two witnesses that allowed Mehlis to name the 6 top Syrian intelligence officers, including Maher and Asef, in his report. Both witnesses were plants. Stern magazine exposed Saddiq, who claimed he had been paid by Rifaat al-Asad, as a shyster. Now Syria has exposed Hussam.. My taxi driver yesterday said that Mehlis was not believable because three different people have said they were offered money to give him false testimony - the Syrian who languishes in a Turkish jail who went on TV to say he had been offered a lot of money to do what Mussam did, Saddiq, and now Hussam. This has become a pattern. Beginning with the double report issued by Mehlis - one naming names and the other not - and ending with Hussam's testimony, the Mehlis operation is beginning to look rather unprofessional. It is all getting curious and curiouser, as Alice said.
Whatever one may say about Syria’s use of Hussam, it has succeeded in punching a further hole in the original Mehlis report. It has also tarnished the image of Mehlis himself. No longer does he seem like the tough, Teutonic, no nonsense, investigator who can discriminate between wild stories and hard evidence. He used both Hussam and Saddiq’s testimony to spearhead his assault on Syria and give force to the list of names he insisted on investigating. That assault is looking a bit more questionable today. The testimony of both discredited Saddiq and Hussam was remarkably similar; it suggests that someone was working hard to put together evidence against Syria’s top officials and to link specific names to the more copious, but circumstantial evidence that a Syrian hand was behind Hariri’s killing. If it was not Hariri’s people, as Saad insists, who was it? Some good investigative reporter will make a name for themselves by getting that story.
Nibras Kazimi writes on his blog: "Confirmed: Hosam Taher is Mehlis' Witness No. 1." He quotes the parts of the Mehlis report that depended on Hosam's testimony. Here are the important bits:
96. One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, senior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that a senior Lebanese security official went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of a senior Syrian security official. The last meeting was held in the house of the same senior Syrian security official approximately seven to 10 days before the assassination and included another senior Lebanese security official. The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.
97. At the beginning of January 2005, one of the high ranked officers told the witness that Rafik Hariri was a big problem to Syria. Approximately a month later the officer told the witness that there soon would be an “earthquake” that would re-write the history of Lebanon.
98. The witness visited several Syrian military bases in Lebanon. At one such base, in Hammana, he observed a white Mitsubishi van, with a white tarpaulin over the flatbed. The observations were made on 11, 12 and 13 February 2005. The Mitsubishi left the Military base in Hammana on the morning of 14 February 2005. The Mitsubishi Canter van, which was used as the bomb carrier, entered Lebanon from Syria through the Bekaa border and a military hot lane on 21 January 2005, at 1320 hrs. It was driven by a Syrian Colonel from the Army Tenth Division.
Here is Katherine Zoepf's article in the New York Times, along with a few from al-Nahar. By the way, she is stuck in Lebanon. The Syrian government no longer issues visa's to Americans at the Lebanese border. They must be purchased in Washington. Friends of Katherine have interceded to get a special telegram from the Ministry of Information sent to the border crossing, permitting her to reenter the country. So be warned: don't try to get a visa at the border anymore.
Syrian Witness in U.N. Inquiry on Beirut Killing Reports Bribes
By KATHERINE ZOEPF
November 29, 2005
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Nov. 28 - A man claiming to be a former Syrian intelligence agent in Lebanon has said on Syrian state television that Lebanese officials tortured him and offered bribes to persuade him to present false testimony against Syria to a United Nations commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.U.S. Leaves it to Mehlis to Decide what is 'Credible and not Credible'
The man, Hussam Taher Hussam, said he had been held in Lebanon by supporters of Saad Hariri, the son of the former prime minister, and subjected to torture and drug injections to force him to testify. Saad Hariri, he said, offered him $1.3 million if he would lie about senior Syrian officials. Mr. Hussam did not say whether he had accepted any money.
Mr. Hussam, a slim, bespectacled Syrian Kurd, looked composed and unemotional as he spoke on a program originally broadcast Sunday.
He said Mr. Hariri and his associates had asked him to tell investigators that he had seen a truck used in the assassination at a Syrian military camp, and to present false evidence implicating Maher Assad, the younger brother of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Asef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law, in the killing in February.
"It was a ploy," Mr. Hussam said, adding that Mr. Hariri and his associates were desperate to accuse Syria. Syria agreed last week to allow five of its intelligence officials to travel to Vienna to be interviewed by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor leading the inquiry. His findings are to be presented to the Security Council in mid-December.
In an interim version of the report, released last month, he presented evidence that strongly suggested that high-level Syrian officials were involved in planning the assassination.
Mr. Hussam was not identified as a witness in the interim report. However, the commission issued a statement confirming that he was a witness, saying he had come forward voluntarily. He told investigators several times that he feared that Syrian authorities would take revenge on him or his family, the statement said.
Saad Hariri's office issued a statement denying that there had ever been any contact between Mr. Hussam and Mr. Hariri or his associates.
Elie Fawaz, a Lebanese political analyst, said Mr. Hussam's television appearance had been widely mocked in Lebanon as a clumsy attempt by President Assad and his allies to discredit the investigation.
"The image that pops up in my mind is from Maoist China," Mr. Fawaz said. "Mao used to bring people forward and force them to publicly denounce themselves, and that's exactly what's happening now in Syria."
But Joshua Landis, a University of Oklahoma historian who is in Syria on a Fulbright research fellowship, said Mr. Hussam's story was playing well. "Everyone in Syria is watching it, and they're very excited," he said. "They love this stuff. They want to believe it."
Leena Saidi contributed reporting for this article.
The United States has declined comment on Syria's call to revise the U.N. report on Hariri's murder after Damascus said a key witness had recanted.
Syrian officials said the findings by U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis, which implicated Damascus, should be reviewed after their state television broadcast the so-called 'Masked Witness' testimony.
But State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said: "We'll let an independent investigator, Mr. Mehlis, make the decisions about what is credible and what is not credible and what should be included in his report."
"We have refrained, while he is working on his report, to comment on any potential preliminary findings or press accounts that may come out about the facts or alleged facts. So I'm not going to try to comment on those," McCormack said.
Syria's attack on the inquiry came a day before Mehlis' team was due to hold its first interviews with 5 senior Syrian officials at U.N. offices in Vienna, ending a prolonged wrangle over the venue for the interrogations.
McCormack said the Syrians "have apparently decided to cooperate by sending these witnesses to Vienna. We hope only that that cooperation continues and is expanded."(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, Updated 29 Nov 05, 09:24
Lebanon Tears Syria's 'Masked Witness' to Pieces, Calling him a 'Ghawar Tosheh' Comedy
Lebanon lambasted Syria's 'Masked Witness' attempt to discredit the international investigation into Rafik Hariri's assassination on the eve of the interrogation in Vienna of five Syrian senior intelligence officers by the Detlev Mehlis commission.
"It is a Ghawar Tosheh comedy," said Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh.
"It's a new chapter of attempts by the dreaded Syrian intelligence service which has attempted to assassinate me. This apparatus has now moved into lying through a man whom we haven't seen in our lives or his life," Hamadeh added.
Saad Hariri said through his information office in Beirut that Syria's 'Masked Witness' TV show was an attempt to derail the international investigation into his father's murder.
Legislator Gebran Tueni whom the so-called 'Masked Witness' Husam Husam claimed to have seen at the Monteverde headquarters of the Detlev Mehlis commission said "If this is the latest inventions of the Syrian intelligence system to confront reality, I believe they are in a very bad situation. It's an affair of bankruptcy."
"I don't remember seeing him," the General Manager of An Nahar went on. "I would have hoped Syria would go to defend itself in the international investigation and to serve its own real interests as well as the welfare of the Lebanon-Syria relationship, because we do not differ with the Syrian people and because we are not in a state of war with the Syrian people."
May Chidiac, the LBCI anchorwoman who was maimed by an assassination attempt widely believed to have been engineered by Syria's intelligence, also denied from her hospital bed that she was seen or she has seen the 'Masked Witness' at the Monteverde.
"I don't know where the Monteverde is," May told LBCI.
Syria on Monday unmasked the 'Masked Witness' and put him on television to claim that he has tricked the Mehlis commission feeding them a long testimony and that he came now from his own volition to unveil what he called the truth to the Syrian committee of investigation. Beirut, Updated 29 Nov 05, 09:43