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Why an international tribunal released the only four people being held over the 2005 killing and what it means for Lebanese politics.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a visit a few days before the generals’ release, visiting Rafiq Hariri’s grave and meeting with Saad Hariri. A few weeks later the State Department sent Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale to Beirut.
"There is no deal with Damascus at Lebanon's expense and no compromise on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon," Hale said after a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman.
Regardless of the effects in Lebanon and who wins the June elections in Lebanon, and despite the fact the tribunal has no suspects in custody, the court has only just begun operating. A trial is not even slated to begin for several years. The building where the court will reside is still being renovated. And so far no evidence has been made public.
“There might be a public perception that there is not enough evidence, but that remains to be seen,” said Marieke Wierda, a lawyer for the International Center for Transitional Justice and an expert on Lebanon’s tribunal. “This decision only shows that there is insufficient evidence in the cases of [the generals]. The overall state of the evidence is so far unclear and it will take a while before all the evidence is publicized.”
The director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, Paul Salem, said that while the generals’ release was a blow to the March 14 movement, the tribunal itself would continue, though its findings, and their potential impact on Lebanon, were still far from clear.
“If it ends up that the investigation has turned up next to nothing on anybody, then it would all end in defeat or failure,” Salem said. “But if this remains a procedural matter and there has been evidence gathered and it will be presented in a court, then I think he who laughs last laughs longest, and this would have just been a procedural event without much impact on the eventual outcome.”
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