GHASSAN TOUMA :
SAMIR GEAGEA IS INNOCENT
In an interview, Ghassan Touma, former head of the security apparatus of the now-disbanded Lebanese Forces and second-in-command in the organization, affirmed his reasons for stating that the trials of the former head of the LF, Samir Geagea, were show trials from first to last. Geagea was tried and sentenced for involvement in the murder of Dany Chamoun and members of his family in 1990, and in the murder of Elias Zayek, a member of the LF. He has also been tried in the case of the bombing of a church in Zouk Mekayel, for which a verdict is expected on July 13. Touma was accused of involvement in three cases: an attempt on the life of Michel Murr, now minister of the Interior; the bombing of the Greek Catholic bishopric in Zahle; and the assassination of Zayek. The conversation was conducted in a café located in a suburb of Oklahoma City in the United States. Here is a translation of the interview:
On May 20 of this year Samir Geagea, Tony Obeid and yourself were sentenced to death for the murder of Dr. Elias Zayek, a sentence which was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. What is your comment on the court’s verdict of guilty and its sentences of death, in view of the fact that the court whichpronounced them was not the same tribunal which issued verdict and sentence in the case of the murder of Dany Chamoun and his family?
Until now, all decisions taken by the authorities against the Lebanese Forces, its officials and members, have been taken with the objective of taking revenge for political reasons.They have nothing to do with the principle of due process of law adhered to in democratic nations. That is why we and many others consider them null.
You have stated before that the murder of Dr. Zayek took place because of the «Captagone» [a prohibited medical substance in which Zayek and others were alleged to be trafficking: ed]. How do you reply to the statement by Rafik Saade to the intelligence service and the investigating magistrate, later reiterating his statement in court, that you had instigated the murder?
I assure you that the Lebanese Forces had nothing to do with the case of Zayek. After I had spoken previously about some information we had got concerning the Captagone and the involvement of some officials and the Kataeb Party in this matter, the «ghosts» intervened to conceal essential information in such a way that it would be possible for the political trials to take the course which had from the beginning been traced out for them with the object of condemning Samir Geagea and the Lebanese Forces, and to do so at any price and by any means. I should mention at this point that someone received from Zayek the sum of 25,000 dollars by the intermediary of someone whose name I shall not divulge. Zayek’s associates accused him of pocketing a large part of the money obtained from transactions in Captagone, something which led to a serious disagreement between him and them, during which Zayek threatened to make the whole matter public, so that his accusers would — despite the importance of some of them — be implicated in the crime along with him. If he went down, he told them, he would take them with him. I apologize to the Zayek family for having to mention this information concerning someone dear to them who is now deceased, but my duty is to tell the truth no matter how hard it is on some people. As to Rafik Saade, he is miserable and I feel sorry for him. But I understand how, after having endured pressures and torture, he agreed to play the game of the promoters of loans and transactions. He was hoping, and still is, to be released sooner or later, even though his testimony would mean an unjust condemnation of the Lebanese Forces and of Samir Geagea.
In Zayek’s file are some depositions by André Obeid stating that you yourself asked him personally to watch Zayek and finish him off because he had “deviated from the line”. What is your answer, especially in view of the fact that André Obeid is still in the country and has not been pressured? He gave his testimony in an atmosphere of normality. Why were they able to obtain such statements from Obeid and from Rafik Saade?
André Obeid lied. He is not in Lebanon; he left some time ago and won’t be back. An influential friend of his constrained him to give himself up. When he had done so, he signed a legal statement drawn up in advance, in return for signing which he would be released. And so it happened. The relationship between him and this influential person went back to the beginning of 1995, when this person, on an official visit to Paris, spent the night at Obeid’s apartment there, and they spent evenings together. Subsequently, the wife of the influential person joined him in Paris and was in touch with André, who provided transport around Paris for her.
During the trial of the Zayek case, mention was made of a person called Raymond Gerges, who is wanted by the judicial authorities. Do you know this person, and can you say why he doesn’t appear to confirm or deny, since he is the person accused of opening fire on Zayek?
Yes, I do know Raymond Gerges, and I also know many other members of the LF who could be listed in this dossier as well as that of Gerges. I know that more than 1,500 young men of the Lebanese Forces have left Lebanon, accompanied by their families over the last few years, either after having been arrested and tortured, or to escape such treatment, Raymond Gerges being one of them. I don’t think that anyone expects them to come back and submit themselves to the hangman, or to put themselves in a position where they are forced to sign false statements and betray their principles. The police techniques used by certain agencies against members of the Lebanese Forces are now well known to international instances, and the most important international human rights organizations have denounced and condemned the practices of security agencies and other bodies. For three years — 1994, 1995 and 1996 — the US State Department published scores of pages about Lebanon describing violations committed by certain services such as issuing blank warrants which had been signed and which were to be “filled in” later as the need arose; such as the way in which persons were detained and tortured; such as the political and security pressure exerted on official institutions; and in the repression of political freedom.
In earlier statements made by you, and in the context of the attempt to assassinate Michel Murr, now deputy premier and minister of the Interior, you said that a person once advised you to leave the country, which you then did. Why, in your opinion, didn’t Samir Geagea leave like other LF officials such as Joseph Rizk, Raji Abdo, Akram, Ghassan Menassa, yourself... Didn’t Samir Geagea get the same message? Or didn’t he think the message was directed to himself personally?
Let’s recall what happened in 1991 and 1992. There were a number of tempting offers made to induce the Lebanese Forces to take part in the Administration in order to ensure that it had a Christian “cover” — that was the objective of these offers —, and to make possible a dilution of the Taef Agreement by applying faulty political practices which went against the aspirations of the people. Following failure of the attempts to draw the Lebanese Forces into the circle of power, and the repeated LF rejection of official offers which would perhaps have ensured the security of the Forces’ institutions in material terms but only at the price of betraying the principles of their long struggle and the blood of their martyrs — following this, the authorities decided to use the tactic of the stick. They proceeded to carry out the assassination of Suleiman Akiki and Nadim Abdennour and to perpetrate unjustified attacks on members of the LF. Despite all this, Dr. Geagea continued to confront the pressures by means of political contacts in a democratic way, even when LF officials began to be watched, to be abused at checkpoints, and to be the objects of slanderous allegations in the media. They even began getting threatening letters “advising” them they had the choice of either leaving the country or being thrown in prison. The message intended by these letters was clear: they wanted to deprive Dr. Geagea of all his colleagues to make him submit and surrender. So we left, hoping that our departure would cause an easing of the pressures on him. Everyone knows what happened subsequently, beginning with the attack on our headquarters in the Karantina and ending with the pressures exerted to prevent Dr. Geagea from acceding to the presidency of the Kataeb Party by democratic means during party elections. And for the record, some of us returned to Lebanon intending to stay for good. But the pressures on us began again, to the point where we were prevented, in the summer of 1993, from returning definitively (the dates of the entries and departures stamped in our passports prove this). After this, there was the explosion in the Kataeb headquarters in Saifi at the end of 1993, which they tried, by means of some of those they arrested, to blame the LF. This didn’t work, however. Then there was the attack on the church of Our Lady of the Deliverance at Zouk in February, 1994, following which they fabricated the story that everyone now knows to reach the political objectives they had set for themselves. After the bombing came the encirclement by troops of the LF headquarters at Ghodress, and a threat to hang the Doctor unless he agreed to leave the country. But he refused to go into exile, preferring prison and even the gallows to dishonoring his cause and betraying his martyred comrades.
On July 13 we expect delivery of the verdict on the Zouk case which led to the arrest of Samir Geagea and his comrades, the dissolution of the LF, and the opening of other dossiers. What do you have to say on this subject, in view of the fact that those accused of carrying out the bombing were members of the LF security apparatus directed by you?
I have something to say about the indictments and the verdicts — which are in general mere copies of the indictments —, whose forms throw light on the intentions of the authorities. In each one of them, we find preambles and other passages having a political color whose sole purpose is to justify the issuing of these indictments by covering up the facts, the evidence, and the pleading of the defense. We note also the weakness of the prosecution’s arguments, especially that adduced on the pretended cooperation with the Israeli enemy. The Forces were accused of wanting to sabotage the Taef Agreement, while everyone knows it was they who made it possible for the accord to come into existence in order to end the war and enter the era of «civil peace» which they are themselves praising today. They also accused the Forces of working for the partition of the country, while everyone knows that what the LF advocated was federalism, and that it was on the basis of this concept that the State gave the Forces the right to take part in political life. Anyone who knows anything about the law is well aware of the difference between partition and federalism. They have heard the Declaration of the Synod for Lebanon [held at the Vatican last year] and its resolutions in regard to the cultural and civilizational pluralism which is one of the bases of federalism. In addition, I want to cite certain errors and contradictions in the charge made by the public prosecutor, Adnan Addoum. He claimed that Geagea had hidden the material for the explosion in certain places, and queried him why he had told Gerges Khouri to bring the explosive material — which in the result he never brought — from Israel for the purpose of blowing up the church. On another occasion the prosecutor spoke of a visit to Lebanon by the pope, and of the party whose interests would be harmed by such a visit — an allusion to Dr. Geagea the point of which we didn’t understand. Then at another point in the trial, he didn’t appreciate the deposition made by Father Michel Oweit because it was not in keeping with what he wanted. I just want to say this: Everybody knows that the Christians would not be inconvenienced or annoyed by a papal visit. On the contrary, they were suffering from great frustration and ardently hoped for a visit by the Holy Father. In re-reading the statements made at that period, we easily understand who it was that would have been inconvenienced by such a visit. In regard to Gerges Khouri, the arrest of his mother and sister, the prosecutor — a veteran lawyer — used the word “detention”. This signified that he was stating, unconsciously, that the detentions had taken place, which was contrary to what he stated about other cases. The word “detention” simply means depriving someone of freedom without legal warrant. Everyone remembers that Gerges Khouri refused to be defended by an attorney before the indictment was pronounced, and that afterwards he asked for a defense attorney as soon as the indictment was given. The reason is clear: they had promised not to prosecute him, and they did not keep the promise. That was when a serious mistake was made by those who supervised the investigations and directed the business. Gerges was initially not to have been prosecuted; instead, he was to have testified as a witness for the prosecution, as did many of those implicated in the case of Dany Chamoun’s murder. If this scenario had gone ahead, Khouri would have accepted to maintain his first deposition and to have incriminated the LF in the crime. But the fact that the director of the play incriminated Khouri in the indictment caused the latter to go back on his deposition and speak the truth, after having lost confidence in those who “made proposals”. The prosecutor also insisted on speaking of meetings held at LF headquarters, while those responsible for security at the building, as well as its occupants, stated in the clearest way that they had never even once seen the accused inside the building. They also stated that the names of those who did enter were written in a special register kept at the entrance, and this register was confiscated. Naturally, if the name of any one of the accused had been found there, the register would have been placed before the court. Further, documents were presented to the court attesting that Tony Obeid had left for Australia, with the date of his arrival in that country and the length of his stay being registered, as well as the dates on which he visited doctors offices and public buildings. Rushdi Raad and Jean Shahin, who were in Canada and Australia, respectively, presented similar attestations. If the Lebanese authorities had wanted to know the truth, they would have coordinated their action with the Canadian and Australian authorities in order to know the names of those arriving in and departing from Lebanon in the period preceding the attack on the church. But it was not so much the truth that was sought as the head of Samir Geagea and the LF, which they were determined to have in any way possible.
THE MALEK AFFAIR
In addition, there are details relative to the Fuad Malek affair, his confrontation with his lawyers and his son, and his retraction after his first deposition to tell the truth. Nor must we forget Gerges Khouri and his denial of his first deposition and his rejection of the intervention of influential persons like Frayha and Oweidat. And even a child could criticize the logic of suspecting that those accused in this matter could have given an important role in it to a person who would end up by giving testimony against them. What kind of logic can this be? Thus, it is obvious that all the arrests, investigations, interrogations and pleadings had the purpose of doing the following:
a) Proving that Samir Geagea was the all-powerful master of the Lebanese Forces.
b) Taking from the witnesses’ testimony and the other evidence what suited their needs and ignoring anything that didn’t suit their purpose — and not forgetting the statements extracted by threats.
c) Demonstrating that the accused were members of the LF security apparatus, and proving that they had received their orders from me, either directly or through the chain of command. d) The Doctor being the “absolute master”, all orders would have come from him through me; it would then be possible to try and convict him.
GEAGEA ABOVE SUSPICION
Even supposing that confessions are extracted from suspects even in the best-maintained Swiss prisons, it is apparent that: 1) Tony Obeid’s testimony was not given in a logical sequence (I apologize to Tony for saying this, since I know he’s innocent).
2) None of the suspects received any order or instructions from me.
3) None of the suspects received any order or instruction from Dr. Geagea. This invalidates — twice and on two levels — any suspicion as to the possibility of Samir Geagea having any role in the matter. The file — even if we suppose the facts and data are true — does not lead to the conclusion that I, Ghassan Touma, am in any way implicated as the direct superior of Tony Obeid. But I don’t know how can a jurist with the least amount of logic, not to say experience, allow himself to jump from the testimony of a witness, no matter how it was taken, to an accusation of Dr. Geagea, forgetting about the third element (Tony and his testimony) and the absence of the second element (Ghassan Touma and his testimony) only to attain the first element? In spite of all this, and for known political reasons and under various pressures, there was a flagrant disregard of facts, evidence, the statements of a large number of witnesses, and the logic of the defense.
APPEAL TO THE POPE AND THE MARONITE BISHOPS
Your name wasn’t mentioned in the case of the church explosion. What was the reason? Surely, if there had been any attempt at a frameup, your name would have been included like the others, e.g. Tony Obeid and Rushdi Raad. This is an especially reasonable assumption in view of the fact that the same examining magistrates worked on the cases of the church bombing, Zayek, Dany Chamoun and Michel Murr. How do you explain the fact that your name is not in all the dossiers?
I will not repeat what I’ve said and will not elaborate in explaining the testimonies, pleadings, meetings, and media comments. But I would like, before the sentence is pronounced on the matter of the church (which has led to the opening of new dossiers), to appeal to:
a) The conscience of the judges who are trying a case which concerns all the Lebanese.
b) Cardinal-Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and the Assembly of Maronite Bishops, who are directly concerned in the matter of the church explosion, to ask that the justice be done to members of their religion.
c) The pope and those responsible for the Christian matters in Lebanon after they announced their position through the communiqué of the Synod, and in view of the fact that an event like the bombing is one with which they especially should be concerned. I say the following:
1) Any one following up the trials can easily conclude that I, Ghassan Touma, am the key personality in any attempt to convict Samir Geagea or prove his innocence. Ghassan Touma is supposed to be the link between the one who gave the orders and the ones who carried them out.
2) All neutral observers, inside and outside Lebanon, have affirmed that all defendants who confessed their involvement in all crimes alleged to have been committed by the LF were framed just because they were members of the LF’s Security Agency. Some were forced to make confessions prepared by interrogators and others were bribed to do so.
3) The US State Department and many other international organizations have affirmed many times that freedoms in Lebanon are being oppressed, arrests are made haphazardly, and political interference and torture during investigations are frequent. Some persons held in custody have died of torture.
4) Decision-makers in Lebanon have decided to use LF trials for political ends; thus, legal procedures in the trials were neglected and the testimony favorable to the defendants was ignored.
5) We have full trust in Pope John Paul II and urge him to send a delegate to Lebanon to discuss with the Lebanese authorities the formation of a special committee that includes representatives of the Holy See, the Lebanese judiciary and the Maronite Patriarchate. If this is done, I will turn myself in to the Lebanese authorities.
My conditions are:
a) This committee must make sure the prisons where I and my comrades, the other defendants, are held will be suitable.
b) There should be a new inquiry, carried out in the presence of a representative of the Holy See, into the crimes imputed to the Lebanese Forces. This inquiry should take place in the absence of any non-judicial person, in view of the importance of preventing any of the inhuman practices which accompanied the previous inquiries.
c)All witnesses, defense attorneys and defendants should be given a free atmosphere to say what they like, present the documents they want, and invite the persons they want from abroad to prove their innocence.
d) Once the LF and Samir Geagea are proved to be innocent, all LF members should be released and the LF party should be given the right to free political activity. The real culprits, irrespective of their nationality or orientation, should be prosecuted.
Georges Sader, Oklahoma City, June 30, 1996