Guest post by DaveM
Tony Badran from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies writes a very good article in Foreign Policy on how engagement with Syria in order to entice the Assad regime to come in from the cold is a waste of time.
For any engagement to work this time the onus has to be on Assad to move first and to deliver rather than, as has happened in the past, gain concessions yet offer nothing substantive in return.
A workable engagement policy requires bench marks and clear, irreversible, substantive deliverables from Syria. It needs all the leverage the U.S. government can bring, such as sanctions, which are proving exceedingly useful especially now that the economic crisis is hitting Syria hard. There should be no talk of lifting sanctions, or removing Syria from the terrorism list, before Assad moves first and in credible fashion. [my emphasis] That isn’t likely to happen for structural reasons.
Badran makes the correct assessment that the Ba’athist regime, far from being able to provide a solution for the region, is in fact its very problem. As soon as it stops being the problem, then it can be engaged with.
The Assad regime involvement in crushing Syrians’ human rights, providing material and logistic support for Al Qaeda terror in Iraq, and engaging in murder and subversion in Lebanon are all well known and widely reported.
However one particular nasty part of Ba’ath party legacy has been its role in the disappearances of over 600 Lebanese since the 1970s and its continual detention of these who are still alive.
(While the local militias were involved in the disappearances of many more, this should in no way let Syria off the hook).
Those abducted include soldiers and civilians loyal to Michel Aoun during the final battle in the Lebanon’s War, members of rival political groups, and the unfortunates who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. After all, totalitarianism has no need for accountability.
Very little indeed has been written in the UK media about this particular part of Ba’ath Party history. The Times’ Nicholas Blandford wrote about it in 2005.
However I can’t find anything specifically related to this in any of the other major UK newspapers.
Nobody knows for sure how many Lebanese are still captive in Syrian prisons and or even still alive– least of all their own mothers.
LBC has been covering this story, particularly the courageous campaigning of SOLIDE (The Committee for Support for Lebanese in Detention & Exile) to pressure the Lebanese and Syrian governments into releasing the Lebanese political prisoners held in Syria.
Even if you don’t speak Arabic it’s worth watching this clip so you can see how similar this all is to the Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina under the military junta. They became a cause célèbre among the Left, whereas here they’re being totally ignored.
This is probably because it disturbs too many cozy assumptions the Left have about the Middle East; it’s difficult to fit it into the whole “Israel-is-the-root-cause” paradigm.
Joseph al Khawly, LBC news: “ The families of the disappeared and those forcefully detained in Syrian jails have been suffering for over 3 decades.
“This chapter still hasn’t been closed because it’s not been put on the political discussion table.
“And so far anything the politicians have been saying in regards to the families’ vigil hasn’t brought any concrete results.
“The Committee Support for Lebanese in Detention & Exile – Solide—sent a letter to the prime minister announcing that they are fed up of the politicians’ promises which so far have delivered nothing other than continuing their misery and tragedy.”
Ghazii Aad, President Solide: “We are sick to the back teeth of the government telling us how much it is concerned by this humanitarian tragedy and how much it sympathises with the mothers, sisters and wives of those disappeared and imprisoned.
“We’ve had enough of this because up till now it hasn’t taken any serious or real steps in response to the demands of the families of the disappeared and imprisoned in finding out what has happened to their sons.
“How long is this deathly silence going to continue?
“And what logic or principle is at work here where as you’re [addressing the politicians directly here] doing absolutely nothing at all while you sit and watch the mothers cry.”
Joseph al Khawly: “The families of the disappeared are demanding the implementation of a judicial agreement to be convened between Lebanon and Syria where the Lebanese government will recover those 107 prisoners that Syria has admitted are in their prisons. [Note: there are more Lebanese still unaccounted for.]
“It’s also been revealed that more than 60 of these 107 all this time have been detained without trial.”
Ghazii Aad: “It’s been nine months since the president of the republic’s inauguration speech, and seven months since the ministerial proclamation which the government has agreed to establish in the parliament. This proclamation contains articles 23 and 35, which stipulate very clearly on resolving both this issue of the Lebanese detainees in Syrian prisons and those who disappeared [at the hands of the Syrian security apparatus during the occupation] in Lebanon.
“However and regrettably the only thing that has resulted from that proclamation is that once again we are being marginalized and it’s as if we’re still living in the time of the custodianship [Syrian occupation of Lebanon].
“The Lebanese government up till now hasn’t done anything to establish mechanisms and the means to resolve these two issues.”
Joseph al Khawly: “The families of those imprisoned and disappeared, carrying pictures of their sons, headed to the parliament where they handed over a letter to the prime minister in the hope that this time he’ll not sideline it or put it in somewhere out of the way
“It’s been four years since the families of the disappeared and the detained in Syrian prisons began their vigil [2005 was when the Syrian army was forced out of Lebanon] Throughout all that time they’ve been listening to hopes followed by broken promises.
“Plus the Syrian-Lebanese committee [set up to deal with this issue] hasn’t yet come up with any concrete solutions or even answers on the many cases of those who were coercively disappeared. At the moment the politicians don’t seem to be particularly concerned with this issue.
“The answer here is perhaps this cause could become a campaign issue between the loyalists and the oppositions for the forthcoming elections.”
Of course everyone knows that this issue will be fudged, as too many politicians are implicated.
The interview in 2001 highlights both his courage and the courage of the mothers as they were campaigning for the release of Lebanese political prisoners while Syria was still occupying Lebanon. He explains why the Syrians abducted Lebanese.
Why were these Lebanese abducted?
To intimidate the population. It is similar to the reign of terror the Assad regime imposed on his its own people to consolidate its power in Syria. The same methods are used to consolidate Syrian control over Lebanon.
I’ll give you a chronology. In 1976, Syria entered Lebanon and clashed with the leftist National Movement, headed by Kamal Jumblatt. So they abducted many people affiliated with that movement. In 1978, Syrian forces clashed with the Christian militias, and so they abducted people involved with these groups. In 1986, they had clashes with the Islamic fundamentalists in Tripoli and arrested hundreds of them. In 1989-1990, they had clashes with the Lebanese army under the command of Gen. Michel Aoun and arrested many soldiers and civilians who supported Aoun. After 1990, they started to pick up people who opposed the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, charging them with collaborating with Israel and putting them in Syrian jails.
This part of the 2001 interview is especially revealing:
Do you think that Syria benefits from the fact that so many Lebanese who have loved ones that disappeared during the war don’t know for sure what happened to them?
Oh, yes. There is a thriving industry of Syrian and Lebanese “brokers” in our country who take money from these people and provide them with false information, false hope.
Can you give me an example? Have you spoken with people who have been taken advantage of?
Yes. Sonia Eid, who heads the parents’ committee, has paid around $30,000 to various people in order to find out what happened to her son.
Would you say that that’s typical of what other relatives have experienced?
Not all the relatives, but extortion by Lebanese and Syrian brokers is a common practice in Lebanon.
So Syria derives an economic benefit from its detention of Lebanese citizens?
Well, Syrian military and intelligence officers certainly do.
Israel has now released all its Lebanese prisoners, including hero of the resistance and child killer Samir Quntar.
However Syria still has hundreds of Lebanese in their prisons, if they haven’t already been killed. Only the Ba’ath Party knows the truth here.
This further exposes the myth that Hezbollah is some sort of national resistance movement, as it claims to be. If it started a war with Israel to free Lebanese citizen Quntar, then why hasn’t it started a war on Syria to free the imprisoned Lebanese there?
My view is that there is absolutely nothing to be gained in talking to Assad unless Assad changes first. And that starts with the release of the Lebanese political prisoners or their corpses to their families so they can finally end their mental suffering.
Otherwise he should be told to go to hell.
Because the only thing worse than knowing that your son is dead is not knowing that your son is dead.