Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Speaking of "Occupied Lebanon"
July 24, 2007; Page A14
As of this minute, Syria occupies at least 177 square miles of Lebanese
soil. That you are now reading about it for the first time is as much a
scandal as the occupation itself.
The news comes by way of a fact-finding survey of the Lebanese-Syrian
border just produced by the International Lebanese Committee for U.N.
Security Council Resolution 1559, an American NGO that has consultative
status with the U.N. Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the
authors have requested anonymity and have circulated the report only among
select government officials and journalists. But its findings cannot be
In meticulous detail -- supplemented by photographs, satellite images,
archival material and Lebanese military maps predating Syria's 1976
invasion (used as a basis of comparison with Syria's current positions) --
the authors describe precisely where and how Lebanon has been infiltrated.
In the area of the village of Maarboun, for instance, the authors observed
Syrian military checkpoints a mile inside Lebanon. In the Birak al-Rassass
Valley, they photographed Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. On the outskirts
of the village of Kossaya they found a heavily fortified camp belonging to
the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in violation of U.N.
resolutions and Lebanese demands.
This is a story to which I can contribute my own testimony. In May 2005 I
paid a visit to Lebanon, just a month after Syria had announced that it
had fully withdrawn its 14,000 troops from Lebanon in compliance with
Resolution 1559. The rumor in Beirut was that a company of 200 or so elite
Syrian soldiers remained encamped within Lebanon near the Druze village of
Deir al-Ashaer. I decided to have a look. After a long drive over rutted
roads, I found it.
Or rather, what I found was a hillside outpost that I was able to enter
without crossing any apparent international border. The man in charge was
a Syrian intelligence officer who "invited" me into a sweltering tent
while he phoned his commanders for instruction. After a few tense minutes
of silence with the soldiers inside, the officer reappeared, explained
that the camp was 50 yards inside Syrian territory, and ordered me to go.
From there I went to the village, where the mayor insisted the camp was
several hundred yards inside Lebanon.
Who was right? Inclined as I was to believe the mayor, it was hard to sort
out contending claims over remote parcels of land. A week later, then
Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced the U.N. had "verified all [Syrian
military units] had withdrawn, including [from] the border area." It
seemed that was the end of the story.
I should have known then that anything "verified" by the U.N. must be
checked at least twice. I should have known, too, that anything to which
Mr. Annan devoted his personal attention would inevitably become worse.
Last September, Mr. Annan paid a visit to Syrian dictator Bashar Assad
after the latter had declared he would treat any attempt by the U.N. to
deploy peacekeepers along the Lebanese-Syrian border as a "hostile act."
To defuse the impasse, Mr. Annan simply accepted Mr. Assad's assurances
that Syria would police its border and prevent arms smuggling. "I think it
can happen," said the diplomat at a press conference. "It may not be 100%,
but it will make quite a lot of difference if the government puts in place
the measures the government has discussed with me."
What happened, predictably, was the opposite. In May, Fatah al-Islam, a
terrorist group whose leadership was imported from Damascus, attacked
Lebanese army outposts outside the Palestinian refugee camps of Nahr
El-Bared and Biddawi, causing a bloody standoff that continues till this
day. In June, current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report citing
numerous instances of arms smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah and the PFLP.
Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that he once again
has missiles that can reach Tel Aviv -- missiles he could only have
obtained via Syria. Israel confirms his claims.
Mr. Ban's report is notable for its clarity and seriousness. Taken
together with the border report, it paints an alarming picture. Though the
land grabs are small affairs individually, they collectively add up to an
area amounting to about 4% of Lebanese soil -- in U.S. terms, the
proportional equivalent of Arizona. Of particular note is that the area of
Syrian conquest dwarves that of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms. The
farms, which Israel seized from Syria in 1967 and which amount to an area
of about 12 square miles, are claimed by Hezbollah as belonging to Lebanon
-- a useful pretext for it to continue its "resistance" against an Israeli
occupation that ended seven years ago.
Needless to say, Hezbollah -- which purports to fight for Lebanese
sovereignty -- makes no similar claims against Syria. For his part, Mr.
Assad refuses to agree to a demarcation of his border with Lebanon, just
as he refuses to open an embassy in Beirut. The ambiguity serves him well:
He can seize Lebanese territory without anyone appearing to take notice,
supply terrorist camps without quite harboring the terrorists, and funnel
arms to Hezbollah at will -- all without abandoning the fantasy of
"Greater Syria" encompassing Lebanon, the Golan Heights and Israel itself.
It would, of course, be nice to see the Arab world protest this case of
illegal occupation, given its passions about the subject. It would also be
nice to see the media report this story as sedulously as it has the
controversy of the Shebaa Farms. Don't hold your breath on either score.
In the meantime, the only countries in a position to help Lebanon are
France and the U.S. They could strike a useful blow by closing their
embassies in Damascus until such time as Damascus opens an embassy -- with
all that it implies -- in Beirut.
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2. July 24, 2007
By NORM COLEMAN
July 24, 2007; Page A14
Two years ago George Galloway, a member of the British Parliament, came to
the U.S. and attempted to make a mockery of an investigation into
allegations of corruption within the United Nation's Oil for Food program.
Readers will remember that Oil for Food started as a way to feed Iraqi
children, but became a vehicle that Saddam Hussein used for bribery and
Mr. Galloway dismissed accusations that he benefited substantially through
a charity he was involved with (the Mariam Appeal), from Saddam. Evidence
that he and the Appeal had received lucrative oil benefits had been
released by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, of which
I was chairman. In testimony to the subcommittee, Mr. Galloway denied the
accusations and later attacked the integrity of his accusers, including
me. His bombastic denials won him international attention.
But now, thanks to an investigation conducted by the British Parliament,
the truth is out. Last week the House of Commons's Committee on Standards
and Privileges issued a damning report presenting "undeniable evidence"
that Mr. Galloway and his political operation at the Mariam Appeal
benefited from Saddam's regime through Oil for Food. This report is the
fourth official investigation -- from the U.N. to the U.S. to the U.K. --
to condemn Mr. Galloway for his misconduct.
The committee report, which is remarkably thorough and objective, is
highly critical of Mr. Galloway, ruling that he violated the House of
Commons Code of Conduct on numerous different counts. In fact, the
committee ruled against Mr. Galloway on every count brought against him.
It concluded that Mr. Galloway, through his extensive misconduct, brought
the House into "disrepute." It also chastised him for his inappropriate
conduct throughout their investigation, including making inconsistent
statements, acting belligerently and verbally attacking key witnesses.
"Mr. Galloway has consistently denied, prevaricated and fudged in relation
to the now undeniable evidence" that his political operation (and he
indirectly) received money from Saddam Hussein's regime via Oil for Food.
The committee recommends suspension from the House of Commons for a month
-- a rare and severe punishment -- and that Mr. Galloway apologize to
Parliament for his improper behavior.
The report relied heavily on evidence uncovered by my subcommittee, the
U.N.'s investigation and the U.K. Charity Commission. But the Parliament
report went further, even enlisting a forensic scientist to determine that
other official Iraqi documents, which provide detailed descriptions of Mr.
Galloway's personal involvement in nefarious deals, were authentic.
Moreover, the report reveals the official Iraqi minutes of a meeting
between Mr. Galloway and Saddam in which Mr. Galloway overtly discusses
Iraqi oil deals -- the very deals he's denied knowing about. According to
the minutes, which have been authenticated by the Iraqi government, Mr.
Galloway complained to Saddam that problems with oil prices are reducing
"our income" and delaying "our dues."
These documents should quash any notion that Mr. Galloway did not know
about oil transactions and had no idea his wife and his political
operation were receiving under-the-table money. In short, this report and
the volumes of evidence presented in it appear to confirm that Mr.
Galloway was neck-deep in Oil for Food deals and that his vociferous
denials were nothing more than a web of misleading half-truths.
Mr. Galloway is already claiming that the Parliament's report relies on
fraudulent documents and mendacious witnesses. His shtick rings hollow. It
is clear that he is putting up (to borrow his words) "the mother of all
Consider that roughly six months after his Senate testimony, in October
2005, my subcommittee released another report presenting extensive
evidence that Mr. Galloway's testimony was filled with false or misleading
statements. That evidence included bank records showing that his wife
received $150,000 from an Oil for Food deal, and that the political
operation he portrayed as a children's charity received at least $446,000
from oil deals. Days later, the U.N.'s investigative committee revealed a
different oil deal in which $120,000 went to Mr. Galloway's wife, and
other deals in which hundreds of thousands of dollars went to his
More recently, the U.K. Charity Commission, concluding that the Mariam
Appeal improperly received at least $376,000 from Oil for Food deals,
chastised Mr. Galloway, and the Appeal's other trustees, for breaching
At each point, Mr. Galloway has vehemently denied every accusation and all
the evidence. But the record should be clear: Mr. Galloway appears to have
been personally involved in oil deals under the Oil for Food program and
indirectly -- through his political operation and his wife -- received
hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result. The U.K. report exposes a
fraud who personally benefited at the expense of the Iraqi people -- the
very people he was pretending to help.
Mr. Coleman is a Republican senator from Minnesota.
3. Today Ward Churchill Fired - tomorrow Neve Gordon?