Posted by: sean | November 23, 2010

CBC on the STL and the epistemology of conspiracy

If you haven’t read the CBC report about who killed Hariri, then you can go check it out here. Otherwise, Qifa Nabki has a good summary here:

  • The UN didn’t make much headway on the investigation until late 2007.
  • Captain Wissam Eid — a Lebanese police officer investigating the crime who was killed in 2008 by a car bomb — had made huge strides towards cracking the case all on his own by using telecommunications data (i.e. signal intelligence) and submitted a report to the UN, only to have it shoved into a drawer for over a year.
  • Eid was killed a week after the UN rediscovered the report and re-connected with him, which suggests that he was being watched by Hariri’s killers.
  • Several senior officials in the investigation suspect that Col. Wissam al-Hassan (the head of the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch and close confidante of Saad al-Hariri) had former knowledge of the plot to kill Hariri Sr., and they have evidence that he was in close communication with members of Hizbullah on the night before the murder.
  • Apparently the UN is demanding that CBC news return the confidential documents that Macdonald secured, and is refusing to comment on the story.

Given that this is the Middle East, and it’s hard to separate genuine  skulduggery from crazy conspiracy theories, I suspect there will be some reappraisals of some of the telecom-related arrests last  summer in which a bunch of people were arrested on suspicion of spying for Israel. I expect there will be some claims that these arrests were carried out to preemptively taint any evidence that has been culled from phone records based on the idea that the Israelis could have planted incriminating evidence if they had infiltrated Lebanon’s communications network.

Recent turnarounds, like this one — in which an employee of Ogero, Lebanon’s national land-line provider, was released after being arrested last summer on suspicion of spying for Israel — may well fuel  allegations that Hezbollah and its allies in the army knew that  the hammer was about to drop and have been doing their best to discredit telephone-based evidence.

I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other about who killed Hariri, whether the STL is trying to railroad Hezbollah  under international pressure, or whether the Party of God whacked the former-PM as a favor to Damascus or for themselves. I do know, though, that I’m uncomfortable with the choices being laid out on the matter — the choice between vulgarity and naïveté as Khalid Saghiyeh recently put it (English translation by Mideastwire):

Dealing with the international tribunal in Lebanon is a miniature picture of the Lebanese way of dealing with the world and its complications. On the one hand, some are ready to place the international judges and international justice, international law and human rights all in one category, which is the category of conspiracies against the country and the Resistance and part of imperialist preparations to control the third world countries and their riches….

On the other hand, some are not ready to take any criticism of the tribunal and its work methodology.… Not one question mark can be raised around this tribunal. Indeed, it is like a light that came upon us from the United Nations in order to chase away the darkness that we have been living in: the darkness of the assassinations aiming at settling political scores, and also the darkness of the politicized judiciary system, and the darkness of the culture of impunity.

…Between vulgarity and naïveté, political life ceases to exist along with any mechanism to monitor the work of the tribunal and any critical view of [the tribunal]. Thus we become faced by a closed scene: A tribunal whose credibility is questioned by a part of the Lebanese people; and an accused party whose credibility is questioned by the other part. The voices of the ministers of the president of the republic and Walid Junblatt will not be breaking this vicious circle.

The discussion about Hariri’s assassination quickly becomes a question of competing conspiracy theories, and necessarily so, because there was clearly a conspiracy to assassinate Hariri. The question is: a conspiracy by whom?

And that’s what is so frustrating to me: without any hard evidence, be it presented by the STL or Hassan Nasrallah, we are left to the mercy of conjecture. (Incidentally, the STL isn’t the only international court that’s facing problems of legitimacy and false witnesses.) And worse, given that we are in the realm of conspiracy and competing theories thereof, we are forced into an epistemological Chinese finger trap  in which evidence against a theory actually becomes evidence in favor of it. This is convenient for partisans, since there isn’t much that can challenge the particular conspiracy theory carried out by the villains their ideological and political worldview suggest.

But unfortunately for  the rest of us, we’re left with the uncomfortable choice between exhaustion bordering on apathy on the one hand, or vulgarity and naïveté on the other.



  1. I very much agree with your post and incidentally Khaled Saghiyeh’s framing of the situation (he’s typically always on the ball). At times like these, your blog’s motto truly comes into being, for in the dark, words indeed weigh double!

  2. […] Human Province beson se hetimi është shndërruar në çështje konkurrence në mes të teorive të konspiracionit: Diskutimi për vrasjen e Haririt shpejt bëhet çështje konkurrence në mes të teorive të konspiracionit, dhe patjetër është kështu, pasiqë në mënyrë të qartë kishte konspiracion për ta vrarë Haririn. Pyetja është: konspiracion nga kush? […]

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