What 'butcher' Fakhoury's rescue says about Lebanese sovereignty

What the US rescue of 'butcher' Fakhoury says about Lebanese sovereignty
6 min read
23 Mar, 2020
Comment: The US illegally rescued alleged torture mastermind Amer Fakhoury, exposing both US and Lebanese disregard for national sovereignty, writes Nizar Hassan.
Fakhoury had been banned from leaving Lebanon, but left on a US helicopter [Twitter]
The scene of an American marine helicopter landing at the US embassy in Lebanon, and airlifting Amer Fakhoury out of the country last week was a special kind of outrageous. 

Not only did the action come unannounced, it was also a violation of a travel ban issued by a judge against Fakhoury, making it an outright violation of Lebanese sovereignty.

This display of bravado showed no respect for the Lebanese state's judicial procedures and institutions in general, in line with the attitude of arrogance and intimidation that the Trump administration has exhibited towards the country. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit a year ago, and the inflammatory and patronising rhetoric he brought, is just another example. 

Fakhoury's smuggling also came after Lebanon had shut down its airport in response to the outbreak of coronavirus. While no one is able to travel outside the country regardless of how pressing the need, this special treatment was afforded to a man who once committed unspeakable atrocities as a commander in the South Lebanon Army (SLA).

The SLA was a Lebanese militia that acted as a proxy to the Israeli occupation forces in south Lebanon, and operated the infamous detention and torture centre in the southern village of Khiam until its liberation on 25 May, 2000.

Fakhoury has been accused by victims of supervising the indescribable acts of torture in the centre, which included starving prisoners, depriving them of daylight, covering their heads with filthy hoods, forcing them into tiny metallic boxes while handcuffed, and electrocuting their chests and genitals. No wonder Fakhoury was known as the "butcher of Khiam".

The new prime minister Hassan Diab showed neither leadership nor honesty in his handling of the issue

It's not only the Trump administration that should be condemned for its approach to the matter. The Lebanese government should be blamed both for obeying Trump at the expense of justice in a highly sensitive matter, and for its despicable lack of transparency.

The new prime minister Hassan Diab showed neither leadership nor honesty in his handling of the issue. He did not see a need to address the nation, and instead resorted to a one-line tweet, assuring us that divine justice is fairer than the country's prosecution system.

Also beyond insulting, is that it was Trump who informed us of this complicity, in thanking the Lebanese government for cooperating on Fakhoury's release and transport. Diab's colleague in government, Foreign Minister Nassif Hetti, summoned the US ambassador the day after the operation to inquire on its details.

The press release released by the minister's office, another one liner, provided no information beyond the meeting's topic of discussion, and Hetti is yet to comment on the controversy.

So is this what we got with so-called 'technocrats' - a council of ministers without the guts or permission to make statements on a clear violation of national sovereignty?

The blame doesn't only fall on Diab and his government either. In the end, Fakhoury was released through a decision by the top committee of the military tribunal, including its head Brig. Gen. Hussein Abdallah and the government commissioner Peter Germanos.

Read more: South Lebanon Army: Return of war-time 'collaborator' shines spotlight on brutal legacy of Israel's militia

Outrage over the decision has caused Abdallah to resign from his position. Was his resignation a clear message that he was forced to make the decision, and therefore had to be the fall guy? We might never know. But it's no secret that decisions of this calibre are never taken by the judges themselves in Lebanon, and can only come with a green light from political forces. 

The way in which the decision to acquit and release Fakhoury was made also supports the hypothesis that the process was catalysed by political pressure. Indeed, the final session was held in secret, and just two days before the scheduled shutdown of the national airport, seemingly to ensure Fakhoury's quick escape.

According to Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah, the plan was for Fakhoury to travel through the airport, but security and legal complications forced the Americans to resort to the more provocative plan B. 

Despite the clear political nature of the operation, none of the political parties in power has claimed any responsibility whatsoever for these outcomes. The Free Patriotic Movement, the most powerful party in government and the one who named Foreign Minister Hetti, seemed committed to downplaying the scandal and presented no opinion on it.

Its founder, President Michel Aoun, did not make any statements, and neither did its current leader Gebran Bassil. The only word to come out of the party was a statement defending Bassil against accusations of him being close to Fakhoury. As if it is a personal connection rather than justice and the commitment to national sovereignty that the public was concerned about.

In turn, Hezbollah and Amal Movement, the so-called "Shia duo" that were often seen as the political umbrella for the military court chief Brig. Gen. Abdallah, released statements condemning his decision. Hezbollah's parliamentary bloc strongly attacked the court and its decision, prompting questions over  whether they were in the dark about the judicial affair.

Such a major decision concerning a collaborator of this importance cannot possibly have been made without the green light, or at least a yellow one from the party's leader, Hassan Nasrallah.

Such a major decision cannot possibly have been made without the green light, or at least a yellow one from Nasrallah

Yet in his speech tackling the issue on Friday, Nasrallah claimed that he only knew about Fakhoury's acquittal and release from the media. What Nasrallah meant to say was that his party was not consulted on the matter. What he left us with, however, is a hard-to-believe story where Hezbollah is not only innocent from any influence on the military court, but also unable to use its sophisticated intelligence apparatus to discover that there was a plan to acquit Fakhoury.

This incident demonstrates that Hezbollah's margin for compromise as a political party is wider than it is often assumed. It also diminishes Nasrallah's personal credibility, and drives many to question his integrity, especially after the unsupported accusations of foreign sponsorship and funding that he had made against the October 17 uprising just a few months earlier.

The support that Nasrallah enjoys from many Lebanese leftists as a resistance figure is being lost, and it is clear from his last speech that he is not eager for what he called "the friendship" to go on.

A leader who was once seen as a hero in Lebanon and across the Arab world for standing strongly against Zionist occupation and aggression has effectively accepted the role of a political leader with a more tribal form of support, similarly to other Lebanese politicians. 

Fakhoury might have escaped, but the political stains left by the conspiracy to smuggle him are here to stay, adding to the failures and scandals that the Lebanese political elite is responsible for. 

Nizar Hassan is a Lebanese organiser, researcher and podcaster based in Beirut. He is a co-founder of the progressive political movement LiHaqqi, he researches workers rights and social movements, and co-hosts The Lebanese Politics Podcast.