Backdrop: The Syrian regime begins a media offensive against Lebanon and certain Lebanese officials, accusing them of selling out to foreign powers and misleading the public and the investigation, etc. It is hard not to include, as part of this huge disinformation campaign, the leaks to As-Safir from “informed sources in Washington”, suggesting that Mehlis has little in terms of concrete evidence implicating the Syrian leadership directly (SANA loves to quote as-Safir these days). File under this Franjieh’s recent re-emergence after a long absence to propagate these same claims and question the credibility of the investigation.
The NTV Report
I am tempted to link this campaign to the allegations that NTV made against Hariri and Kenaan. And I will because the report could have been written by Rustom Ghazaleh himself (I know Khayat had his problems with the latter, but have you seen the report?)
The report starts with an introduction that sets up the theme of the story, which is that the Lebanese investigators have overlooked what the Syrians, through an “exercise of sovereignty”, didn’t.
In form and content, Syria realized its sovereignty and imposed its conditions on the international investigation. A camera was focused on the interrogator, and another on the interrogated. The interrogations were conducted in the presence of two judges and Riad Dawoodi, the foreign ministry advisor.The NTV report then goes on to detail how Kanaan, who allegedly was interviewed not by Mehlis but by other members of the UN team, showed up with a box of checks made out to himself and others and signed by Rafik Hariri. Kanaan immediately volunteers to the investigator the following:
Interestingly, the report also mentions Rustom Ghazaleh who, according to the report, not only does not deny his involvement in the Madina bank scandal, but also names all his accomplices.
I was Lebanon’s ruler for a long time, if you ask me about corruption and briberies, yes, I took part in it. I used to receive checks and distribute them to Lebanese and Syrians. I never forgot to keep copies. This box is full of them but pay attention, they all carry Rafik Hariri’s signature. Why kill the guy if we benefited so much from him?
Have you heard of the 2000 [election] law? Not only did I make it, and they called it the Ghazi Kanaan law, but I took 10 million USD for it, and so did Jamil al-Sayyed. The law was written to fit the politicians who benefited from it."
The NTV report continues:
So Mehlis returns with confessions about the blackmail that was practiced in Lebanon, and the corruption, but not a single word incriminating the [Syrian] officers. The Syrian president takes the tapes and flies to Egypt and tells Mubarak: Here are the confessions of our officers. They are innocent, and will not surrender any of them. Will Syria’s international story end?In other words, the report seems to suggest that Syria is innocent of the crime, that Lebanon was being run by corrupt Lebanese and Syrian officials, that Mehlis has nothing on Syria and that he should really be focusing on Hariri’s and Lebanon's corruption history, possibly as reasons for the assassination.
In the absence of official Syrian denunciation of this report (why would they? It’s their best defense so far and I have no doubt in my mind that someone in the Syrian or Lahoud regime developed it for them), Kanaan chose Warde, of all people, on Voice of Lebanon to air his denial and urged her to forward it to Pierre Daher of LBC and to Future TV and NBN.
I chose you Warde because I know your objectivity and your positive role, which served the Christians and the Lebanese and media objectivity.After defending his record in Lebanon (“we gave and took from all the honorables in Lebanon,” he said), he questioned NTV’s motives:
What are the motives of this station? Are they motives at all or mere recollection of past loathing (towards Hariri)? Did someone set up a trap for the channel by feeding it this poison?We all know that Lebanon was and still is rife with corruption. But does this explain murder?
Motive for Suicide
The “leak” that informed this report, in my opinion, was designed as a motive for suicide. Pro-Syrian Ad-Diyar is already reporting that Kanaan’s family is looking for a lawyer to file a lawsuit against Mehlis, for allegedly leaking “falsified information to the press that pushed Kanaan into committing suicide in defense of his pride and dignity as an officer and an official.”
I find it hard to believe that Kanaan would kill himself over something he believed was false. Even if it were true, why would an official admit something like that to a foreign investigator? And if he did it to defend Syria, as the report suggested, would he then kill himself?
The timing of the suicide, conveniently right after the NTV report and the denial, implies that death was not his choice. Some are suggesting that he might have killed himself because he discovered he was going to be sacrificed as part of a deal with the Americans. So did he interpret that NTV story as a sign his death was being requested?
In any case, his death cost Syria nothing, deal or not. Kanaan was pronounced dead a long time ago. It started in 2002, peaked with Hariri’s assassination and reached the climax when NTV broadcast those claims. Many had expected Rustom Ghazaleh to be the one to go. There were even reports that he was depressed and contemplating suicide. But somehow we forgot the Syrian political context that began with the gradual marginalization and sidelining of the old guard (remember Khaddam’s exit during the last Baath congress), and Rustom’s status and relationship not necessarily to Bashar, but to whoever is calling the shots.
Some have suggested Kanaan was being touted as an alternative to Bashar, so they got rid of him. Some are also saying that he was Mehlis’s secret witness. This is all speculation, and only time will tell.
What we can ascertain at this point is that Kanaan’s death was the cheapest of alternatives to Syria given the trouble they’re in. Talk about deals all you want, but Kanaan’s death, if proven to be an assisted suicide, indicates that Syria is still playing it short-sighted, slow and one small concession at a time. Good "game" playing? We will know soon.
Update. It's confirmed, the Syrian foreign minister is holding the media and the "Mehlis leaks" responsible for Kanaan's suicide. This confirms my above analysis that the NTV report was supposed to provide the final suicide motive.
Update 2. Al-Seyassah today is saying that the Syrian ruling four, Bashar, Maher, Asaf Shawkat and Assad's mother, Anissa, had decided in a meeting held 3 days ago to use Kanaan, Ghazaleh, Mohammad Khallouf and Jamaa Jamaa as scapegoats. Kanaan was eliminated, according to the Kuwaiti paper, because he knew too much about the Syrian leadership's involvement and because he was preparing a military coup. I need more to be convinced of this. Was he that strong and capable? Issam in a comment on this post mentions Kanaan's close relationship with Ali Duba, the director military intelligence until 2000.
Update 3. Joshua Landis has a good post on why "Ghazi Kanaan's death was not related to the Mehlis report or Lebanon-Syria relations." He quotes the New York Times as saying that the Mehlis people didn't even consider him a suspect in the Hariri murder investigation. I agree, but only in the sense that Kanaan's death cannot be seen through the Lebanese and Mehlis investigation prism. We have to look at the big picture, what Syria's predicament is (think Iraq, Arab-Israeli struggle and Lebanon) and what alternatives it has right now. Kanaan was weakening their position and providing them with an alternative they did not want to consider. Analyze this however you want.
Update 4. Robert Fisk reminds us of how brutal Kanaan was.
Update 5. Reuters has this analysis.
He had power and he used it. When Hizbollah fighters attacked a company of Syrian troops in Beirut, he sent his men to storm one of their social halls and shot every one inside, including at least two Lebanese women. Their corpses were heaped on a Syrian army truck and driven slowly through the streets of the Beirut suburb of Basta for the population to see. You didn’t mess with Ghazi Kenaan.
And he didn’t seem to be the sort of man to commit suicide, which is what the Syrians claimed he had done yesterday.