Thursday, July 07, 2005

Justice: What does it really mean for Lebanon?

There appears to be three different political camps in Lebanon at the moment:

1. Hizballah, Amal
2. Future, LF, PSP, Shehwan, Takatul Trablus
3. FPM, Skaff, Murr

At least two of these groups use the concept of "justice" in their rhetoric profusely.

Group 3 (specifically, FPM) has been using it ever since Paris.
Group 2 has been referring to justice since Hariri Sr.'s murder.

In fact, looking back at post-assassination rhetoric, it appears that "justice" has never been as popular in political discourse as it is today - everybody who's somebody in Lebanon seems to be referring to it or some other word that implies it. The climax of this sudden spurt of popularity was reached when FPM refused to join the government apparently because Seniora did not give FPM the justice portfolio.

Considering such high drama, it occurred to me that the concept of "justice" as it applies to Lebanon had to be given a little bit more thought by all of us. Especially after one considers that the Aoun Camp (plus Lahoud) appear to have a different, or rather more comprehensive, notion of justice than the Hariri camp. Before I continue however, I must share an assumption I have with all of you. It is important to share it because of its relevance:

Lahoud is most likely guilty. He, in my opinion, at the very least, had the power to stop the assassination, but chose not to.

Okay, now that I have that out of the way, I will continue with my thoughts:

- I think that Aoun and Lahoud came to an agreement in Paris. Part of that agreement could have been a pledge from Aoun to do the following: Call for (or rather, continue to call for) Comprehensive Justice.

So, what exactly does this notion of justice mean in the context of Lebanon? Well, it basically means exactly what Aoun has been saying since he came back to Lebanon: that every single politician in Lebanon is guilty of some sort of crime that exists in the books. In previous posts dating back to Aoun’s arrival, I expressed exasperation and bewilderment with Aoun's resolute determination to "find out where all the money went" during the 90’s. At the time I wondered why Aoun, who appeared to be on the side of the opposition, was turning everybody in that camp against him. I also wondered why Aoun was so determined to look back when all of us (and I mean ALL OF US) were so excited about the future, and about turning the page and starting off with a clean slate.

Today, after the drama of the elections and Aoun's entry into Lebanon's political landscape his behavior is beginning to make sense. But, if such a 'pledge' really was taken by Aoun, why did he do it? How did it benefit him, and how did it benefit Lahoud?

I'll start with Lahoud because it is easier.

Lahoud may be guilty of assassinating Hariri, or at least not preventing his assassination. However, if comprehensive justice is called for, then the rest of the political elite could also come under investigation by the courts since they are most likely guilty of all sorts of crimes – corruption comes to mind, but so does abuse of power. Therefore, if the courts go after Lahoud, they ought to go after Jumblatt, Berri, Seniora, etc.... This move would benefit Lahoud because it would ultimately create a nullification effect. Everyone is interested in self preservation, and no matter how much Sa'ad wants to avenge his father's death, he will not destroy his father's work doing it.

All right then. What about Aoun? How does he benefit out of this?

This question is a little trickier to answer. But, we shouldn't forget that Lahoud remains a very powerful man. The sources of his power are his position as head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces, relationships with officers is the security services, relationships with Syrians in high places, etc.... Lahoud could have made Aoun's return much easier than would have been the case otherwise. More importantly however, I believe that Aoun did not want to throw his lot in with the "opposition". He believed, and eventually proved, that he was much more influential and powerful than the opposition recognized. Therefore, Lahoud was probably seen as a useful counterbalance that could be used during negotiations with the opposition, and probably, even the elections. Aoun's rhetoric about the corruption of all politicians in Lebanon w/o exception, about Hariri Sr. being Rustom Ghazale, and the non-existence of the opposition were very good indicators of his strategy.

Okay... Now back to the concept of Justice:

We, as observers, now have to make the decision: which position appeals to our own morals and standards, not forgetting the interests of Lebanon as a country.

There is no doubt that Aoun's version of justice makes sense. Justice should not be blind, and if Hariri & Co. want to see justice done for Hariri Sr. (RIP), they should not limit their desire, but rather expand it so that all injustices are corrected. If they are as clean as they say they are, then the Hariri click should not fear for themselves. I personally identify with this line of argument very much. Justice is Justice is Justice. If one person is subjected to Justice, yet another is not, then the implementation of justice becomes an injustice.

I suppose most people agree with that line of reasoning as well. But if that is the case, why doesn’t Aoun or Lahoud simply come out and say outright that Justice for one should mean Justice for all? Obviously, the reason is that such a move would mobilize the constituents of the targeted politicians - as it already has. Even supporters of Hariri would be outraged by the equation of the assassination with corruption files. The ultimate consequence of such an initiative would mean that the judiciary would never be able to carry out its mandate and prosecute those individuals because such a move would be politically impossible.

So which form of justice do we support?

1. The limited type that seeks retribution for Hariri’s murder

2. Or the comprehensive (but impossible) type that seeks not only Hariri’s murderers but all other politicians who have committed crimes

My moral sense says comprehensive justice is the better option. My pragmatic sense tells me that comprehensive justice is impossible to attain and is merely being used to stifle the more limited justice that would come out of Hariri’s investigation. But what benefits would emerge for Lebanon if the Hariri family was able to get its retribution? Well, it could set a precedent for Lebanon and the Middle East. If the murderers (including Lahoud, if he is convicted) are sent to the Hague, a strong message could be sent to people across the region: political violence as a means to resolve internal political conflict is obsolete because murderers will be held accountable. This sort of justice would, in my opinion, correlate with our priorities for local politics: First we should destroy those who kill their critics, rather than challenge them politically. Then we can/should go after those who are incompetent and who steal our money (a natural progression: it cannot be the other way around).

There is the answer to my question with regards to justice. In the context of Lebanon today, I choose limited over comprehensive justice. It may ultimately be unjust. But, it is definitely a step in the right direction, a step towards the kind of political process that I would like to see develop in Lebanon.


Doha said...

I agree with you that there's a natural progression; let's strive to attain limited justice before moving to the more comprehensive, important notions of justice.

It is becoming more and more apparent the deal that was struck between Lahoud and Aoun. Lahoud will not accept a government without Aoun, who acts as his cover in one way or another. And it makes sense that the deal was to call for the Justice Ministry, to use this as a threatening tool. Jumblatt, then I think, was not that stupid when he talked about their alliance a couple of days back and his fear from the continuous talk of "malaffet, malaffet, malaffet" (files, files, files...)

ThinkingMan said...

In Lebanon, everything has a different interpretation, and with imagination, they can justify just about anything that happens on the face of the earth- that's their favorite passtime. We keep making excuses, because the leaders make excuses for us which we believe in. And we keep lowering the standards and values that make up a modern society.

I don't think you can split the meaning or application of Justice in order to bias it towards circumstances. There is no guarantee that a limited justice guarantees the truth about Hariri either, in the same way that getting all the crooks in Lebanon will be difficult because they are professionals and they have covered their trails pretty well.
What we need to do is to change the "system" and the "values' of people so that crooks can't operate that way anymore (wishful thinking!).

Raja- Why don't you frame this question to Michael Young in the Q&A forum,- that would be a good one; i.e. will justice be compromised in Lebanon and what are the ramifications?

Anonymous said...

raja, following your logic - does that mean that the "comprehensive" justice will indefinetely have to wait for the "exceptional" justice? so if the hariri investigation drags forever, or does not get anywhere, what happens to the comprehensive justice?

i agree with thinkingman about the unfortunate and recurring phenomenon of lowering our standards just to adapt to whatever we are thrown as excuses: we accept the syrian occupation due to regional situation. we accept the re-election of hrawi "exceptionally" due to i dont know what. we accept the crap election laws of 1992, 1996, and 2000, and now 2004, all for "exceptional situations and one-time-only", we accept the extension of lahoud's term as a fait accompli. enough exceptions! hariri isn't the first and wasnt the last important person to have been murdered! where are we going from here??

Anonymous said...

Isn't it possible that Aoun's insitance on "Absolute" Justice can be explained without the necessity of a deal with Lahoud?

I mean given that, while he was in Paris doing all he can to kick the Syrians out, Jumblat, Berry Lahoud & Co had been doing all they can to descredit him and to label him as traitor. Given that he is known for being bone headed, given his insistance that the syrians were going to be out even if Hariri hadn't been killed isn't it as easy to explain the insistance on opening all the files whithout the need for a deal with Lahoud? Isn't it possible that this was his plan all along?

The way you explain Aoun's benefit is plausible, but is it necessary ?

> Lahoud could have made Aoun's return much easier than would have been the case otherwise.
Would he? I mean the way things were seeming back then, la7oud could not do much about Aoun or ja3ja3's issue. All the mou3arada AND the mouwalat was agreeing that Aoun should be back and ja3ja3 should be out! Was la7oud really still that much of an obstacle after the syrians had already left?

> More importantly however, I believe that Aoun did not want to throw his lot in with the "opposition".
I guess that's true, but again couldn't he have done that as easilly without a deal with la7oud?
What percentage of the people who voted for him and not for the other opposition were doing so because of the la7oud's influence and power?

I am not saying Aoun is better than anyone or that he wouldn't do such a thing! In fact I can add another reason foe what Aoun benefits from this, he would like to see lahoud removed from power much later, when he himself has better chances of replacing him.
It is just that I find it as easy to explain his behaviour even if he did not strike a deal with La7oud. Maybe I just don't like conspiracy theories :-)

In all cases to return to your question, I am afraid that as the lebanese proverb says "Elli bi kabber el 7ajar, ma bi sib" that's why I feel that ultimately, in insiting on prosecuting everyone, Aoun will end up doing nothing at all.
But I keep hoping he proves me wrong.

Finally, I think that justice for Hariri's murder will be done in all cases. I mean if the investigation shows Lahoud had any involvement in Hariri's murder I feel no one will be able or willing to do anything to help him.

On a less serious note, it is possible that Lahoud is not envolved, I mean on no one had to take his permission or tell him about what was going on, his job was to smile, swim and let the syrians do their thing freely in lebanon :-)

Oh well, we'll see.


Raja said...

Anonymous 9:08, I focused on the concept of justice because doing so would force us to question our own beliefs on the issue rather than blindly follow our instincts and criticize the politicians we were brought up to criticize. However, you raise a valid point through your questions: what is justice in our country?

I mean, seriously: Would the Maronite receiving money and "services" from Mouawad or Khazen or Sleiman Franjieh percieve such privelages to be anything but their "birthrights"? The same applies to the Shi'a with regards to Berri's "corruption," and the Druze with regards to Jumblatt's "corruption," and others.

How do you stop corruption when almost everybody is a thief? If you take Berri or Joumblatt away, or Mouawad or Khazen, others will simply take their places. Why? Because these politicians (as well as the politics they practicew) are products of their societies - not visa-versa. Here is where I agree with TM. People need to change.

Now tell me... in such a context, how can you define "comprehensive justice"? If Aoun gets what he wants half of Lebanon's adult population will get arrested. His strategy for stamping out corruption by a blitzkrieg through the judiciary is wrong! It is wrong because it will hit a brick wall! The judiciary is just like the army (and even worse): it only works when there is a political consensus for it to work! Corruption gets wiped out in time through reforms and the emergence of real economic opportunities so that people have less of a reason to steal from the state. I'm sure Aoun knows that (or at least his advisors do), and that is one of the reasons I am convinced that this whole "comprehensive justice" issue is first and foremost a political one.

ThinkingMan said...

"If Aoun gets what he wants half of Lebanon's adult population will get arrested. "
Why makes assumptions out-of thin air?
The Lahoud-Aoun thing is being blown out of proportions and follows typical "conspiracy theories" that are always injected due to the creativity of the Lebanese people.

One must dissociate the "Presidency" and its role from the "persona" of Lahoud. According to Taef, the Presidency has a role to play in the government formation, mainly the "balance" aspects, etc... and that's what the Presidency is doing, whether it's right or wrong. Let's see how it ends. There is more than the Aoun thing to it. Aoun may still not want to be part of the government, regardless of what Lahoud says.
Lahoud himself has no credibility unfortunately, but lumping him with Aoun as co-conspirators is a myth that I don't believe in.

Raja said...

TM, all I'm saying (irrespective of Aoun, Lahoud, Jumblatt or any other politician) is that if the laws were applied in Lebanon across the board, (i.e. if we were to apply "comprehensive justice") a terrible amount of people would be arrested for breaking it. In other words, I concur with your assertion that the problem of corruption (and ultimate justice, or more precisely a lack of it) is societal and not just political.

Raja said...

Pat, I share your dislike for conspiracy theories. But there are so many things going on behind the scenes that one is obliged to try and fill in some blank spots with "original thinking."

I concur though, that most of what I am saying could very well be wrong! All I am doing is speculating, right? Therefore, if anyone is able to produce strong evidence to debunk my argument, I'll accept it wholeheartedly.

Anonymous said...

I think if some good will come out of that, it will be to force the people in charge to make a decision about it, be it we forgive everyone, or punish all those who were corrupt (even if half the country) or first focus on restoring on more important things then we open the files.

Insistance on comprehensive justice might not be the best thing to do, but also total silence on the subject (or threatening to open certain files every now and then) is much worse!

Finally I don't agree with something you said raja.
> If you take Berri or Joumblatt away, or Mouawad or Khazen, others will simply take their places

Of course taking anyone down is impossible, but assuming this is done.

If you take them away out of vengence or by force or by opening specific files for them, those who replace them will not be any better, but if the whole issue is handled fairly without being derected against specific people, and as a result some -or many- people leave their seats then there is a big chance that the people replacing them will have to be better, knowing that if they behave the same they will not last!

I donnow, maybe we'll be lucky and the same corrupt people will behave better this time :-)


Lebanese Meze said...

I agree with your notion of justice and the options available. I, for one, want head to roll for corruption and abuse of power. I thought the point of any revolution was to cleanse the nation from the dirty hands of the old guard politicians who hoodwinked their way to power. That is why I’m so frustrated that so many of the individuals who got us in this mess are still around and very little new blood has been infused in our politics. I guess I’m maybe nostalgic of the guillotine during the French revolutions. And, no I’m not that blood thirsty, but you know what I mean.:) I vote 2. Maybe I have become to Americanized and view this subject only in black or white, but for any politician to have any legitimacy from now on is to have a comprehensive justice served. Easier said than done I know, but if we keep dragging our feet what outcome do you expect, more demoralization within the masses, less foreign investment, less progress, less change for the better. I concur with Pat, I think he made the point I was trying to make.

Anton Efendi said...

Listen to this guy:

ولا تقل القضايا الداخلية عن قضايا العلاقات الخارجية مثل مكافحة الفساد والمال السياسي اهمية ودقة وتعقيداً. فلهذه القضايا وجه وطني عام ووجه آخر طائفي، وفئوي. فالمطالبة بفتح ملفات الفساد والمال السياسي حافز يمكن ردها ايضاً الى الرغبة في اضعاف قيادات طوائف اخرى امسكت بزمام الحكم خلال الحقبة السورية وفي ما بعد الطائف. فاذا نجح هذا المسعى، افسح في المجال امام احياء نظام ما قبل الطائف او على الاقل استرجاع بعض جوانبه الرئيسية. في هذا السياق يمكن للطائفة المارونية استعادة وزنها ونفوذها السابقين. في المقابل فإن هناك دعوة الى مكافحة الفساد ووضع حد لتأثير المال السياسي على الحياة العامة على اساس انه لا يمكن بناء دولة عصرية وديموقراطية اذا لم تضع النخبة الحاكمة الجديدة نصب اعينها تخليص لبنان. ان المواقف تجاه هذه القضايا ستؤثر تأثيراً كبيراً في احتمالات قيام تحالف رباعي يحكم لبنان ويؤمن استقرار الديموقراطية الوفاقية فيه. ولقد كان مفروضاً ان تكون هذه القضايا موضع حوار هادف بين القوى اللبنانية الفاعلة، وكان حرياً بهذا الحوار ان يصل الى تجديد الميثاق الوطني اللبناني في ضوء المستجدات والمتغيرات الكثيرة التي المت بلبنان على كل صعيد سياسي واقتصادي واجتماعي وديموغرافي. ولكن الذين اداروا معركة اخراج سورية من لبنان ابقاء اكثر هذه القضايا في الظل، وآثروا اختزال التحديات التي تواجه لبنان بتحد واحد فحسب الا وهو الوجود السوري في لبنان. واعتبر هذا الفريق ان اية دعوة لمناقشة القضايا الساخنة الاخرى بمثابة عملية التفاف على «معركة اخراج السوريين من لبنان»، ومحاولة لتطويل عمر النظام «الامني السوري - اللبناني». بالمقارنة اعتبر دعاة التركيز على مسألة العلاقات السورية - اللبنانية ان الموقف الموحد من هذه القضية يمكن اعتباره اساس الوحدة الوطنية اللبنانية الجديدة ومعركة بناء الاستقلال الثاني.

There are so many annoying cliches in his article it's unbelievable. What the hell is this fascination with the Maronites recapturing a pre-Taef moment, among these arabists (and Solh is the author of a book on Arabism and Lebanon)?

Anton Efendi said...

Sorry forgot the link

Anonymous 9:08 said...

Raja, what i disagree with you over is your hesitating in face of a "principled government". the comprehensive justice we are talking about should be our ultimate goal in governance even if it is impossible to achieve fully in practice. and this is where aoun has been able to keep his integrity (in spite of his pragmatic and tactical choices e.g. using Murr and trying to use Franjieh as vote-gathering machines): he seems to be saying, "Once we're IN government, let's do it all by the book or not do it at all".

for example, in other words, you want to get lahoud out, let's see what the constitution allows- the constitution has no article that allows for the legislative to impeach the president without proving he is a traitor. if you can't prove it (or are not willing to take it all the way trying to), stop the rhetoric and demagogy about wanting to throw him out and let us get down to the real business of putting this country on the right track. (of course this does not go against his dream to become president, and as others have said, him wanting to protect the "symbolic" power of the Presidency, to have a shiny chair not a defamed one when he sits on it, and also the need to keep lahoud as long as possible and only throw him out when his own chances are at their highest).

another example could be, perhaps, the refusal of the FPM to sign the geagea petition with the excuse that such a petition in the absence of a ruling government is anti-constitutional. i am not an expert, but if that is really true, then i am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt (l7aa' el kezzeb 3a beb el dar) to see if his stance on upholding the constitution whatever the price is real or not. if it is, then this would also fit well with his own past history (e.g. considering himself the only legitimate prime minister b/c hoss's government is automatically dissolved with the end of the President's term (gemayel), and his consequent refusal to recognise hrawi as elected by a body that was also dissolved (aoun dissolved parliament as part of his pre-taef powers as head of state)...

anyway i might have digressed here a bit, but the bottom line is this, if you want to fix a country, you need to start by fixing the goal-posts. in national politics, that is the rule of law set by the constitution. you stop the bi-annual changing of a constitution whenever syria or lahoud want to extend their stay, and you also stop the continuous "exceptions" to the application of the law.

yes, corruption is social in the middle-east, but that is not an excuse to allow it in government. actually the concept of "corruption" in our context only applies to government (or public authorities) - if your corner grocer is screwing you with his crap produce, it certainly isn't the Justice Ministry's agenda to go after him, he only gets in trouble if YOU as his victim press charges. but it is the JM's AUTOMATIC responsibility to ensure that ALL actions or crimes that affect the public are taken to justice.

finally, to sort of give credence to Pat's reasoning about the necessity of a deal with Lahoud (although i am not personally so sure there wasnt some sort of a mutual understanding between the two, but not necessarily what we all think), may i cite Occam's Razor principle: "one should not increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything", or more concisely, "one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed".

and cheers for a great blog and discussions :)

Anonymous 9:08 said...

i want to just add that the only way anyone (and thus everyone) should be allowed NOT to be pursued by justice is if and only if the legislative (and i suppose the president) pass a new amnesty law that covers corruption and financial crimes done in the 1990-2005 period, similar to the one that has salvaged all the a*holes except geagea (framed but not innocent!!) from paying for their war crimes...

Doha said...

anonymous 9:08:

I'm sure you know that Lahoud has agreed to an extraordinary Parliamentary session to pass Geagea's release. This means that the whole justification on the "un"constitutionality of passing such a measure without a government in power does not stand, because in fact all what was needed was an Executive order. You know something? If Aoun's stand on this one worked, then I perhaps would have seen the first move on his part to uphold the Constitution and got myself on board, but it didn't work....

Anonymous 9:08 said...

doha, i am not sure i understand enough constitutional law to agree or disagree with you, but i am tempted to think that aoun probably took this stance knowing it won't stop the measure. This is why i tempt to believe he is really acting on principle, because it would have been suicidal to do anything that had the tiniest negative effect on geagea's release. he might have done it 15 years ago, but today him and his team seem to be much more er, prudent. today, he seems to be trying to build-up "integrity points" towards the general public with a very (perhaps naive) idealistic vision, in preparation for the near future (and probably in his napoleonic mind, for prosperity!)