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Why is Hezbollah on the Terrorism List?
It was a sign of the times last week (March 27) when House Armed Services Committee Staff Director Erin Conaton declared in a memo to committee staffers that the powerful committee was scrapping the Bush Administration shop worn phrase, Global War of Terrorism. Conaton’s boss, Rep. Ike Skelton,( D-Mo) the new Chairman of the Committee commented that "the overused label had become an embarrassment and had lost its meaning".
Recent research in Lebanon has turned up information previously unavailable which sheds light of the misapplication of the Terrorism label by the Bush administration.
The" T word" is often misapplied as former National Security Advisor Brzezinski reminds us as he tours the country promoting his new book, Second Chance and focusing on the "catastrophic leadership" crisis caused by the Bush administration’s foreign policy.
Another area that would benefit from discarding the "terrorist label" is the Bush administration’s ongoing campaign against Hezbollah. There is considerable doubt among international lawyers whether Hezbollah should ever have been classified as a terrorist organization.
At the urging of U.S. and Israel, Canada classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, which limits the group’s ability to raise funds and travel internationally. . A Canadian peace coalition called Tadamon Montreal is working to remove Hezbollah from the Terrorism list in Canada.
Australia and the UK distinguish between Hezbollah’s security and political wings, and other countries like China, Russia, and member states of the European Union and the United Nations have refused US/Israel demands to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization at all.
The process for putting an organization on the "Terrorism list" is as follows: The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the U.S. State Department (S/CT) monitors the activities of groups active around the world considered potentially terrorist to identify potential targets for designation. When reviewing potential targets, S/CT looks not only at the actual terrorist attacks that a group has carried out, but also at "whether the group may be inclined toward future acts of terrorism or retains the capability to carry out such acts".
As of April 2007, a plurality (39%) of the organizations on the US Terrorism list represent Muslim groups recommended for inclusion by, among others, AIPAC and their friends in Congress. According to former AIPAC Director of Congressional Relations, Steve Rosen, soon to start his trial for passing classified information to Israel, "AIPAC owns the ‘T’ list!"
The US State Department definition of terror is a broad one: "the deliberate and systematic murder, maiming and menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political ends
Suspected terrorist groups are thereby defined as such by the means they use to pursue their objectives. To describe an organization as terrorist is not a comment on its political goal or ends, which may be laudable ones such as national liberation or resistance to occupation.
The common saying that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ is rejected by this student of the subject because it is simplistic and even nonsensical. To whit, a terrorist can also be a freedom fighter struggling for justice and a freedom fighter can fight for freedom by using terrorist means.
Placed on the "T" list in 1999, Hezbollah was taken off the list a couple of years later following Hezbollah’s strong condemnation of the 9/11 attack on America. Hezbollah was returned to the list when Dick Cheney opined that a "presumed Hezbollah operative" probably met with an Al Qaeda representative in South America in 2001. Similar to Cheney’s Saadam Hussein-Al Qaeda ‘contacts’ claim.
Lebanese officials including Lebanese President Emil Lahoud contemptuously dismissed reports of such a meeting as Israeli-sponsored propaganda. According to Lahoud: "The media campaign, which is conducted by Israeli circles, seeks to exploit the September 11 attacks to slander the Lebanese resistance by stigmatizing it with the image of terrorism". Lebanon continues to reject US/Israeli demands that they freeze Hezbollah’s back accounts and force it stop providing social services.
A study undertaken at the American University of Beirut in January- February 2007, benefiting from research and surveys from a variety of international and Israeli human rights organizations, tabulated no fewer than 6,672 acts of Israeli state terrorism directed against Lebanon and Palestine between the years 1967-2007. Not only is Israel absent from the US State Department Terrorism list, Israel appears to determines who is on it.
The case against Hezbollah presented in a draft by AIPAC for the State Department is virtually identical to the one finally issued by the State Department. It claims that Hezbollah bombed Americans at the US Embassy, the Marine barracks in 1983 and held a number of Americans hostages during the 1980’s. Or as Hezbollah’s rap sheet currently appears on US and Israeli government computers:
"Hezbollah (as of April 3, 2007): Suicide bombings, hijacked 1985 TWA Flight 847; rocket attacks against Israel in 2006."
(The latter item re the "rocket attacks against Israel in 2006", is examined in the just released volume, The Price We Pay: A Quarter Century of Israel’s Use of American Weapons against Lebanon.)
Hezbollah is accused by Israel and the Bush administration of a type of Islamist Terrorism similar to Al Qaeda but used in the context of National Liberation, just like Hamas. Both of which have fought Israel in the Lebanese and Palestinian contexts, respectively.
However, unlike al Qaeda, their enemy, Hezbollah and Hamas are complex social and political movements. They use different types of force, including guerrilla tactics which are legitimate under international law. They are also different from al Qaeda in that their alleged terrorist activity aims to liberate Palestine and Lebanon, as opposed to being part of a ‘global struggle’ against the United States with undefined objectives.
Was Hezbollah involved in the attacks against Americans a quarter century ago? Hezbollah has consistently denied these charges ever since it published its "open letter" announcing its foundation in 1985, years after the first attacks.
The results of an investigation conducted entirely in Lebanon including interviews with some who claim to have been personally involved with the "rap sheet" events do not credit Bush administration claims.
What the record to date shows, pending the Bush administration release of claimed evidence to the contrary, is the following:
1) When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and quickly routed much of the PLO resistance, more than 30 local resistance groups formed. Some were no doubt inspired by the success of the Iranian Revolution three years earlier and took advantage of available political and physical training. Arms were available from the soon to depart PLO, and other sources, sometimes as gifts and sometimes for cash.
For example, in late August 1982, as Fateh was preparing to depart Beirut for Greece and goodbyes were being said, two American researchers in Beirut were given (‘for safe keeping’) 250 brand new Chinese made Ak-47’s wrapped in thick grease and heavy plastic. Not knowing exactly what to do with the gifts in the ‘wild west’ atmosphere of the time, the Americans, doing what came naturally, hastily buried them at night. The weapons were never found by the advancing Israelis but were discovered 15 years later when the Commodore Hotel in Hamra was enlarged and workers dug up that vacant lot to its south! Who has them now is anybody’s guess!
The goal of these new groups in the 1980’s was to drive Israel and its foreign sponsors from Lebanon. The local and regional political situation of the early 1980’s was very tolerant of militant modes of actions and many groups adapted and acted because no single force, power or obstacle stood in their way.
‘Operations’ were sometimes carried out by part of a group without the knowledge, participation or liability or the particular organizations command.
Teams of foreign assassins were active those days including one traced to Israel which tried to assassinate one of America’s most competent Ambassadors to Lebanon, John Guenther Dean on August 27, 1980. The weapons used in the failed attempt were traced to a shipment made from the US to Israel. Dean’s crime was getting too chummy with Yassir Arafat and his deputy Abu Jihad, who were helping Dean to get the American Embassy hostages released from Iran.
Another "operation" during this period was the CIA funded attempt of March 8, 1985 to assassinate Sheik Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. The car bomb killed eighty, mostly women and children and wounded 256. As Bob Woodward points out in his book, Veil, the CIA’s William Casey mistakenly thought Fadlallah was the spiritual leader of Hezbollah. To this day Fadlallah is quite independent of Hezbollah although he is probably Lebanon’s most revered cleric due in no small measure to his scholarship, his three decades of social service work as well as his passionate defense of human rights.
2) An exhaustive review, by American researchers, of the nearly 80 Western kidnapping cases, organized by a staggering variety of groups in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990 concluded that more than 100 Western detainees were taken, released, killed or exchanged. As for the Lebanese themselves, thousands were kidnapped; many by Israel and their allies and hundreds are still unaccounted for.
According to some who claim to have participated in one way or another, in some of these kidnappings, active groups sometimes declared responsibility and sometimes were silent. Among the groups admitting their actions at various times were: The Organization of Socialist Revolutionary Work, the Armed Revolutionary Factions in Lebanon, Islamic Jihad, the Organization of the Oppressed in the World, the Revolutionary Justice Organization, Holy Warriors for Freedom, the Khaibar Brigade, the Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine, the Blessed Resistance, the Islamic Liberation Organization, the Organization of the Mujhahideen for Freedom, the Revolutionary Cells, The Organization of the Islamic Dawn, The Organization of Militant Revolutionary Cells.
These were some of the ‘main stream’ groups, there were others, some for whom kidnapping was a cottage industry. Some functioned much like the current US and the UK hired mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan. In some cases contracts were drawn up with individuals willing to "hire out" for certain specific abduction projects. Given the available labor pool there was sometimes intense competition for a contract. For some groups, westerners were snatched for no other reason than the ransom money was good. Often those involved would use the ransom money to start a legitimate business, pay for family needs such as medical care or their children’s tuition fees. Sometimes Western companies paid for the release of their employees and in other cases governments would pay.
The largest payment for hostages during this period was the Arms for Hostages deal worked out by the Reagan administration when it provided missiles and spare parts to Iran to use against Saadam Hussein’s army after the same administration had supplied the Iraqi regime with chemical weapons to use against Iraqi Kurd, Shiites and Iranians.
Lebanese Islamist groups, and others, who in the 1980’s were resisting Israel’s attacks did not feel that their acts were nearly as reprehensible as the US responsibility for what Israel was doing to their people and country.
For example, once it became clear to them that the US Marines had abandoned their initially claimed neutrality as ‘peace keepers’ and instead began the shelling of Lebanon with 2,700-lb shells from the USS New Jersey most of these groups felt it their duty to repulse the US attacks.
Interviews with some of these now middle aged resistance fighters in Lebanon who were active in this period make plain that these groups, felt that their military actions against the foreign forces constituted legitimate self defense, protecting Lebanon’s population from attacks by foreign forces.
While the military legitimacy of fighting the American and French forces was clear to the Lebanese during the early 1980’s what about bombing the American Embassy? International law has protected Embassies since the 1815 Congress of Vienna extend protection to foreign plenipotentiaries.
Safe passage for diplomats is not always honored and as recently as February 2007 the United States government has been accused by Iraq and Iran of unlawfully kidnapping Iranian diplomats
The evidence from the 1980’s suggests that Hezbollah stayed out of the kidnapping game and concentrated on building its organization which they formally announced in an ‘open letter’ on Feb. 14, 1985.
Would the founders of Hezbollah have heard of something on the street, village or family level of who may have been responsible for some of the high profile western kidnapping cases? One assumes so. Did neighborhood gossip attach an obligation to get involved on behalf of their viewed oppressors, including the US, and rescue their hostages? In order to avoid some future ‘terrorism’ list?
The evidence suggests that Hezbollah is on a "political list" called the "terrorism list" because Israel wants it there not because there is proof that it engaged in terrorism against Americans 25 years ago.
Using the scare tactic of ‘kidnapping Americans’ and ‘terrorism’ without proof, adds to the international ridicule of Bush’s policies.
In the nearly empty Lebanese Parliament building these days the gossip is that the Bush administration wants to bargain with Hezbollah to remove it from the ‘T’ list if Hezbollah gives up its objective of liberating Palestine and cancels its opposition to the Bush/Olmert backed Siniora government
Given this kind of Bush administration offer, many view Hezbollah’s spot on the ‘T list’ as a badge of honor . Yet, respect for international law would suggest that the Bush Administration ought to show their ‘evidence’ or remove Hezbollah from the list.
When pressed in early April, 2007 by a former House Judiciary Committee staffer, one lawyer in the State Department Office of the General Counsel commented, "Its not that Hezbollah is terrorist per say, actually we know they are pretty clean-they are ok- but you must realize that they do associate with shady characters to their East, if you know what I mean."
Hezbollah’s view of the April 17, 1983 Embassy bombing is different from some militia operating during this period. Hezbollah has consistently opposed attacks on foreign civilians. It was one of the first to condemn the 9/11 operation as well as the 1997 attack at the Temple of Hatshepsut at Luxor, Egypt which killed 58 civilians as "bloody and terrible, calling them crimes against Islam. Hezbollah also condemned the Cairo attacks on the Greek tourists, and the Algerian killing of 7 trappist monks in Algerian by claimed Islamists.
Despite Hezbollah’s view, which is based on the Koran’s prohibitions against harming innocent civilians, was the 1983 US Embassy attack terrorism against an internationally protected structure or had the Embassy become a legitimate military target? In the assertion of one individual, a former member of Islamic Jihad, interviewed by American researchers during the spring of 2007 his group had nothing to do with Hezbollah during the Embassy operation or at any other time. He claims his associates knew in advance (soviet intelligence passed to Lebanon via Syria) that the eight CIA operatives assigned to Lebanon were holding meetings in the Embassy and using its diplomatic protection for cover for plotting assassinations and attacks on Lebanon. The entire CIA contingent was indeed meeting on the 6th floor of the Embassy at the time of the attack. The same source claims that the Embassy was also being used for feeding targeting information to the USS New Jersey, visible offshore from the upper floors of the Chancery.
The view that the American Embassy was a legitimate target on April 17, 1983 cannot be summarily dismissed without careful review because principles of International law tend to support it. Once an Embassy’s is used for aggressive military purposes its protection collapses and it becomes what Donald Rumsfeld calls a "legitimate target of opportunity".
Where is the proof that has been demanded for more than two decades? Is the only reason Hezbollah is on the ‘terrorism list’ is because Israel wants it there and a desire by some in the Bush administration to settle old scores without proof of who was responsible?
Organizations such as Islamic Jihad, Organization of the Oppressed on Earth and the Revolutionary Justice Organization are considered by the Bush administration and Israel to be synonymous with Hezbollah. That grouping appears to be a clumsy and inaccurate conclusion designed to support political objectives. No proof has ever been offered to establish that these groups were part of Hezbollah during this period rather than adversaries or competitors.
As one Hezbollah supporter commented:
"In America as you built a resistance to the British invaders and occupiers were all the groups neatly organized? Were some ‘terrorists’? Did the ones who did operations such as the Boston Tea Party’ give their names and address to the occupiers? Or did some hide their identity and even dress like natives? Did George Washington and his staff know everything that was going on or did some groups just form and decided it was better to work on their own liberation project? That is what it was like here in Lebanon during this period. We should leave that period and concentrate on working together to solve today’s problems in Lebanon and the Middle East. All parties talking and meeting"
In denying Hezbollah involvement in operations targeting American civilians, their leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah has stated:
"The truth of the matter is that there was something other than Hezbollah, called the Islamic Jihad, who kidnapped the hostages. There exist videocassettes, communiqués that bear the signature of the Islamic Jihad. It is independent form the party. It is absolutely incorrect that the Islamic Jihad is a cover name for Hezbollah.
Hezbollah remains on the US and Israel ‘terrorism’ list for purely political reasons and to punish the organization for its resistance to Israeli aggressions against Lebanon and Bush administration plans for the region."
It is time for the Bush administration to present its case and prove what terrorism Hezbollah has actually used against the American people in the 1980’s in light of US government admissions that since 1999 there is no evidence that Hezbollah has engaged in ‘Terrorism’.
It’s time for the poker players to reveal their cards, or as they say down in Crawford.. ‘ y’all show ‘em er fold ‘em!
FRANKLIN LAMB has been in Lebanon researching a book for the past nine months. Hezbollah: a brief Guide for Beginners in expected in early summer, 2007. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org