consortiumnews.com

On Syria, the NYT Still Doesn't Get It

By Robert Parry
October 25, 2005

It’s finally dawning on the New York Times how thoroughly it was spun on the fictions about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, but the “newspaper of record” is showing the same credulity about the emerging Syrian crisis.

“Some deeply troubling facts about the murder of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, have now been established by a tough and meticulous United Nations investigation,” the Times wrote in an Oct. 25 editorial demanding punishment for top Syrian and Lebanese officials supposedly implicated by the report.

But the problem with the Times editorial is that the report by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis is anything but “meticulous,” reading more like a compilation of circumstantial evidence and conspiracy theories than a dispassionate pursuit of the evidence. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Dangerously Incomplete Hariri Report.”]

Mehlis’s report, for instance, fails to follow up a key lead, the Japanese identification of the Mitsubishi Canter Van that apparently carried the explosives used in the Feb. 14 bombing that killed Hariri. The van was reported stolen in Sagamihara City, Japan, on Oct. 12, 2004, but Mehlis’s report indicates no effort to investigate how the vehicle got from the island of Japan to Beirut.

The report also relies heavily on the testimony of a dubious witness. According to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the witness – Zuhir Ibn Mohamed Said Saddik – is a convicted swindler who also was caught in lies by the U.N. investigative team.

Der Spiegel reported, too, that the intermediary for Saddik's testimony was Syrian dissident Rifaat al-Assad, who opposes the regime of his nephew President Bashar Assad, and that Saddik apparently was paid for supplying his testimony. Saddik called his brother from Paris in late summer and declared, “I've become a millionaire,” the brother said, according to Der Spiegel.

Contradictory Accounts

Saddik’s account also contradicts the testimony of another supposed witness, who is not identified by name in the Mehlis report. These two central witnesses offer conflicting accounts about the alleged role of the Lebanese youth, Ahmad Abu Adass, who claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in a videotape released to al-Jazeera television after the Hariri assassination.

According to the videotape, Hariri was slain by Islamic militants in Lebanon because of his work as “the agent of the infidels” in Saudi Arabia. Abu Adass identified himself as the suicide bomber.

The Mehlis report uses its two supposed witnesses to dismiss the videotape as part of a disinformation campaign to deflect suspicion from Syria. But the witnesses differ on Abu Adass’s role.

The unidentified witness said Abu Adass “played no role in the crime except as a decoy … forced at gunpoint to record the videotape” before being killed.

Saddik, however, claimed he saw Abu Adass at a camp in Zabadani, Syria, where, Saddik said, the Mitsubishi van was filled with explosives. Saddik said Abu Adass planned to carry out the assassination but changed his mind and was then killed by Syrians who put his body in the vehicle carrying the bomb.

Given the fact that the Mehlis report is now being cited by the Bush administration as justification for ramping up international pressure for “regime change” in Damascus, it would seem reasonable that dangling threads of the investigation be tied down before the U.N. Security Council heads down a road like the one that took U.S. troops to Baghdad.

The New York Times editorial does urge George W. Bush and his advisers to learn some lessons from the Iraq debacle and to stick to a diplomatic track on Syria.

“As Iraq should have taught even the most hawkish members of the Bush administration, it is much easier to banter on about ‘regime change’ than to bring it about by military force and then control the aftermath,” the editorial said.

But it is equally true that the Iraq War should have taught the New York Times to turn a skeptical eye toward investigative reports that supposedly have “established” facts, which are actually not fully supported by the evidence.

It is basic to any professional investigation that available forensic leads – such as the chain of possession of the Mitsubishi van – be thoroughly run down before a probe starts relying on the testimony of flawed witnesses.

While Syria and its reckless intelligence services deserve to remain prime suspects in the Hariri murder, there is a danger, too, in rushing to judgments simply because the target of the investigation is as unpopular as the Syrian dictatorship is.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

Back to Home Page