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Pope John Paul II's visit to Lebanon from May 10th to 11th was tremendously important, given the Vatican's caution about papal security. In a mass attended by approximately 300,000 people, the pope said, “A country of many religious faiths, Lebanon has shown that these different faiths can live together in peace, brotherhood and cooperation.” He added that Lebanon needs to recover "total independence, complete sovereignty and unambiguous freedom”.
Allow me to mention names of some prominent Americans who have visited Lebanon since March of last year: George Bush, former President of the United States; former Senator Hank Brown; Charles Percy, former chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations; Terry Anderson, who is here with us today; George Mitchell, the former Senate Majority Leader; Stephen Solarz, former Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific; Nick Rahall, Representative from West Virginia, who sits with you today; Carl Levin, the Senator from Michigan; and I especially want to cite Ms. Deborah Bodlander, the Majority staff person on this Committee who visited Lebanon from January 30th to February 3rd of this year.
Incidentally, I spoke with Senator Mitchell last week and he asked that I submit his letter to you, Chairman Gilman, for the record. I brought it with me. In it, referring to Senator Mitchell's recent visit to Lebanon, he states, “Based on that personal experience and on many other factors, I believe the ban on travel to Lebanon should be lifted.”
Chairman GILMAN. We will make the letter a part of the record. Mr. TANOUS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. [The information referred to appears in the appendix.]
Mr. TANOUS. Given Lebanon's present state of affairs, we believe that principles of democracy should be supported and encouraged by the United States to ensure that no government tamper with Lebanon's democratic institutions. The United States should continue to communicate through diplomatic channels its concern to the Lebanese Government about elections, freedom of the press and human rights.
Comments by the United States do not fall on deaf ears. We know of incidents where U.S. intercession has been effective.
The American Task Force for Lebanon also has concerns about the integrity of parliamentary and municipal elections and the arrest of Lebanese citizens without due process.
On a positive note, in the past year, the Lebanese judiciary has shown some independence in a number of instances and is beginning to resume a proper role as a check on the executive and legislative branches. As an example, the constitutional counsel overturned the parliamentary election of four parliamentarians whose opponents filed complaints.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the Lebanese often liken their country to the Phoenix, the mythical bird that ignites itself, only to rise from the ashes. We in the American Task Force for Lebanon do not believe that the Phoenix needs to burn again to be properly resurrected. The Phoenix may not yet be soaring, but we believe it is very much alive and ascending.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Tanous appears in the appendix.]
Chairman GILMAN. Our next witness is Daniel Nassif, the Washington representative of the Council of Lebanese-American Organizations, known as CLAO, a federation of local, regional and national organizations founded in 1989 to promote the cause of freedom and sovereignty for Lebanon.
Among its activities, CLAO publishes a newsletter, monographs and position papers on various topics related to Lebanon, as well as videos in both English and Arabic.
CLAO has been active in raising concerns about the presence of foreign forces in Lebanon, and has also sponsored several projects dealing with human rights and the state of democracy in Lebanon.
Mr. Nassif is the author of numerous articles on Lebanon and the Middle East, which have appeared in such publications as The Washington Post, the Washington Times, the Christian Science Monitor and the Los Angeles Times.
Chairman GILMAN. Welcome, Mr. Nassif. You may summarize your statement or put the full statement in the record, whichever you deem appropriate. STATEMENT OF DANIEL NASSIF, WASHINGTON REPRESENTA
TIVE, COUNCIL OF LEBANESE-AMERICAN ORGANIZATIONS
Mr. NASSIF. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I thank you for your opening statement. I think you said it all in your statement.
Chairman GILMAN. Thank you.
Mr. NASSIF. I am happy to see two American-Lebanese sharing the podium with you.
Chairman GILMAN. We are pleased they are here with us.
Mr. NASSIF. Contrary to what the State Department said today, Lebanon is no longer an independent country. More than 40,000 Syrian troops control 90 percent of its territory and Syrian-installed officials occupy all positions of authority within Lebanon's Government, Parliament and military. The country's domestic and foreign policies now reflect Syrian objectives, not Lebanese needs. The Lebanese are not the real players on the political scene. No decision can be taken without authorization from Damascus.
Our concerns are as follows:
There seems to be no attempt to address the basic issue of Syrian occupation of Lebanon or even Syria's supposed scheduled withdrawal from the country.
While official U.S. policy remains fixated on supporting the full implementation of the so-called Taif agreement, the clauses in that document pertaining to Syrian redeployment to the Bekaa Valley, as they have been interpreted by the State Department, are all but being ignored.
Numerous major international and local human rights organizations have repeatedly documented and published findings concerning systematic violations of the rights of innocent Lebanese civilians by Syria and its underlings. These incidents, too numerous to mention here, including murder, rape, torture and illegal detention, belie the facade which has been created for the outside world and provide a hint of the real inner workings of the Syrian police state.
The 1996 State Department annual report on human rights recounted some of these abuses. Remarkably, the U.S. Government has failed to translate its knowledge of these violations into specific policy measures requiring Syria to modify its behavior in Lebanon and desist from engaging in further repression.
A disturbing phenomenon in occupied Lebanon today is the increased militarization of the judiciary. The military courts are literally out of control. In 1996 alone, 11,000 cases were judged in these courts. In one notorious instance, a military judge boasted that he had tried 350 cases in the course of 1 day.
Wajdi Mallat, the Chief Judge of the High Constitutional Court, Lebanon's equivalence of a Supreme Court, resigned last April, stating boldly that excessive interference by the Syrian-controlled authorities in the execution of his duties led him to his decision.
It is common knowledge today in occupied Lebanon that only a fraction of the huge amounts of revenues collected by the government through indirect taxation in the form of higher prices on all basic commodities actually make it into the government coffers to be spent on reconstruction and other beneficial projects. The bulk of the remainder ends up in the secret bank accounts of a handful of Syrian and Lebanese officials. The fact of the matter today in Lebanon is that the State itself is the largest Mafia in the land.
Behind all the hype about Lebanon's economic recovery and the reconstruction is a carefully orchestrated public relations campaign by the Syrian-controlled Government to obscure the reality of Lebanon's miserable economic and political situation. The occupation regime has only succeeded in raising taxes on an already impoverished Lebanese population. The purchasing power for the average Lebanese has decreased by more than 40 percent in the last 3 years. The middle class in the country has all but vanished. The majority of Lebanese now live below the poverty line and in constant fear, while 1.2 million illegal Syrian workers-a number equal to one-third of Lebanon's population-transfer an average of $300 million of badly needed currency to Syria each month. Consequently, the Lebanese unemployment rate has been driven up to a record of 35 percent.
Government projects and contracts are mostly awarded to Syrian-installed officials, their associates or Syrian companies. A large portion of the funds allocated to these contracts end up in the pockets of corrupt government officials and their Syrian patrons. Typically less than half actually goes toward funding of the intended projects.
The Wall Street Journal in a front page article on July 19, 1995, quoted Lebanese merchants as complaining that the layer of Syrian authority that hovers over most transactions has increased their costs. This Syrian component, as one calls it, must be factored into everything, from commissions on large public works contracts to customs duties.
Top government officials have been afforded their own special pools of public money to dispense as they please without oversight. These huge slush funds are a major reason Lebanon's public debt has ballooned to more than $14 billion, compared to only $1 billion in 1990. Lebanon's budget deficit is currently running at more than 50 percent of government revenues. An incredible 42 percent of the
The 1992 and the 1996 Syrian-orchestrated parliamentary elections in Lebanon were an unprecedented exercise in fraud on a massive scale. Flagrant violations of the electoral process, such as voter intimidation and ballot and vote rigging, were commonplace. No election in Lebanon will be acceptable under the present circumstances of total Syrian control over Lebanese affairs.
The Council of Lebanese-American Organizations has strongly supported the recent amendment to the foreign operations authorization bill in the 1998 budget that the House voted upon overwhelmingly on June 10, 1997. The amendment calls on the State Department to consider applying to Syria sanctions which are currently enforced against Iran and Libya under the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act of 1996 if the Government of Syria does not eliminate its dangerous and destabilizing policies in Lebanon and the Middle East.
We all know that nothing fundamental changed in South Africa until sanctions were tightened. We feel that the United States has no business playing "business as usual” with the Syrian regime.
Chairman GILMAN. Thank you, Mr. Nassif. [The prepared statement of Mr. Nassif appears in the appendix.]
Chairman GILMAN. We are being called to the Floor for a vote, but we will start our questioning until the second bell starts.
This has been an excellent panel. I think we have seen all sides represented.
want to commend especially you, Terry Anderson, for a very comprehensive insight into the situation. I know Lebanon must stir many emotions for you, the time that you spent there and the fact that you have a Lebanese wife and in light of your return there. I just cannot even imagine how emotional that is for you, considering what you have been through.
Mr. Pipes, you have given a very excellent historical rendition and you certainly are much more of an historian than myself; I looked through your testimony-I really may not have examined it closely enough—but you seem to have ignored the Israeli presence completely in your analysis of the situation. I am sure that you don't and you have a response to my question, but do you equate the presence of Syrian and Israel troops in Lebanon equally or do you give higher preference and status to the presence of Israeli troops in the country of Lebanon than you do Syrian troops? Mr. PIPES. Thank you for your question, Mr. Rahall
. I didn't bring up the Israeli troops because, as I indicated in the beginning, being a specialist on Syria rather than on Israel, I dealt with the subject I know best.
But to answer your question, I believe there is a fundamental difference between the presence of Syrian troops and Israeli troops. The Israeli Government has repeatedly, and most notably last summer, indicated its desire to leave Lebanon and has tried to find a deal by which it could.
The Prime Minister of Israel said, look, we will leave if you, the Syrian Government, will assure our safety; that there won't be further attacks on northern Israel.
Mr. RAHALL. That was not a unanimous opinion of the Israeli Government. I mean, it caused quite a bit of controversy within the country.
Mr. PIPES. Well, it is called “Lebanon First”, and it was a proposal that never got anywhere because the Syrian Government turned it down.
Mr. RAHALL. As well as some Israelis.
Mr. PIPES. The Prime Minister made the offer, and it was quickly and thoroughly rejected by the Syrian authorities who said, in effect, why should we save your skin?
So I see the Israelis basically interested in getting out. I see the Syrians basically interested in staying.
I am the author of a book called Greater Syria, and it is several hundred pages long. The control of Lebanon by the authorities in Damascus is something that has been on the Syrians' minds for decades, and I find it an integral part of the Assad Government's ambitions. So I see the two troops presence in Lebanon very differently.
The Israeli occupation is, in the first place, small geographically and, in the second place, limited politically; it will be over at some point, without too much concern of ours. The Syrian occupation has the prospect of remaining in place for decades and is far more pernicious.
Mr. RAHALL. At what point do you see the Israeli presence being over?
Mr. PIPES. I see Israelis leaving as soon as they can get assurances that their departure from Lebanese soil will not jeopardize northern Israeli towns. This is something that the Lebanese authorities today are in no position to promise and that the Syrian authorities don't wish to promise.
Mr. RAHALL. But it is the same as the Syrian domination over Lebanon—the alleged Syrian domination over Lebanon. Everybody agrees that that should be the case
Mr. RAHALL [continuing]. That Lebanon should be free and have its own integrity and sovereignty, et cetera; and everybody agrees that the cross-border attacks into Israel should stop. It is a matter of who is going to take the first step. Is that not accurate?
Mr. PIPES. I would draw the distinction, Mr. Rahall, that the Syrian Government hopes to stay in Lebanon. I don't believe the Israeli Government wants to stay there.
Chairman GILMAN. Mr. Rahall, we will recess until the votes are over and continue with your questioning when we come back.
The Committee stands in recess.
As you recall, Mr. Rahall was in the process of questioning the witness.
Mr. RAHALL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to continue with Mr. Pipes.
I forgot exactly where I was, but anyway, in your testimony you have called for noncompliance or no help to the Friends of Leb