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Does Lebanon Really Want to Solve Imam Musa Sadr Mystery?

Where's the Political Will?
Does Lebanon Really Want to Solve the Imam Musa Sadr Mystery?

“It is not too late to re-energize the moribund Sadr-Yaacoub-Badr Eddine inquiry employing proven and widely available investigative techniques. It’s a question of whether there exists the political will on the Lebanese side."

by Franklin Lamb | Cairo
November 23, 2012

Some former Gadaffi officials, among the hundreds lying low in Egypt these days, continue to express remarkable interest in contributing to uncovering the truth surrounding the August 31, 1978 disappearance of Lebanon’s Imam Musa Sadr, Sheik Mohammed Yaacoub, and journalist Abbas Badr Eddine.

Currently in Cairo for the purpose of advancing the Sadr-Yaacoub inquiry, this observer has been granted a number of appointments with former high ranking Libyan officials who are willing to cooperate with the inquiry including, but not limited to, Ahmad Gadaffi Eldam, Abdul Rahman Chalkan, Mohamad Alkhadar, and former Libyan Foreign Minister and UN ambassador Ali Treki as well as individuals from the intelligence community and media.

It may be recalled that it was Mohamad Alkhadar during his recent stay at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Cairo, that the close Muammar Gadaffi associate revealed that it was Libyan intelligence operative Mohammad Rehiby, with another officer (identity soon to be revealed), who was sent on 8/3/78 by Gadaffi’s chief of intelligence for 40 years and brother in law, Abdullah Senussi to check into the Holiday Inn in Rome carrying Musa Sadr and Mohammad Yaacoub’s passports and luggage. Rehiby, was wearing the Imams clothes and he shuffled a bit as he walked on elevated shoes wanting to appear taller. The Imam was 6 feet 6 inches tall. Instead Rehiby drew curious stares from the hotel front desk staff and guests, compromising his mission a bit. Two days later Mr. Rehiby returned to Tripoli in his own secular clothes, without the shoes which he left in “Imam Sadr’s room”. For years Rehiby shoes jokes passed among Gadaffi regime insiders and Abdullah Senussi was kidded by his brother in law, according to friends.

Ali Abdussalam Treki, Libya’s former foreign minister, who is currently living in an apartment in Cairo, sometimes gives interviews at the Sofitel Hotel in Cairo surrounded by body guards. During part of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Treki also served as Libya’s Permanent Representative to the UN and was elected President of the UN General Assembly 2009-2010. He has been able to confirm key details of the Sadr-Yaacoub 1978 visit to Libya. His cooperation continues as he, like some of the other ex-officials in the Gadaffi regime, attempts to negotiate return to his cherished homeland. This observer first met Ambassador Treki, back in 1986 following the Reagan attack on the Gaddafi compound in Tripoli.

The heightened interest in finally solving the Sadr-Yaacoub case is evidenced by questions being raised here concerning why the widely perceived void of credible progress in unraveling the trio’s fate, a mystery for the past 34 years.

The fall of the Gadaffi regime initially led to much speculation that the Sadr-Yaacoub case would finally be solved. Yet despite some brief meetings in Libya, including one with Abdullah Senussi in Mauritania, nothing much new has been learned according to Lebanese officials selected to investigate and resolve this mystery.

Mauritanian and Libyan officials have expressed the opinion, that some of those close to Gadaffi’s regime have believed since September 3, 1978. And which is that Musa Sadr was killed three days earlier on Gadaffi’s direct orders, with foreign backing, and buried in the desert south of Tripoli. This observer visited the suspected site where during late July 2011 with three then Libyan officials, one of whom is currently in Egypt. Negotiations continue with respect to the Libyan government’s cooperation regarding partial exhumation of located remains to be followed immediately by scientifically conducted and supervised DNA testing.

Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Adnan Mansour, was quoted in Afkar magazine recently as saying that the key Senussi meeting was not successful and that “Abdullah Senussi played with us leaving us more confused.”

Mansour’s statement supports what ex-Libyan officials who know Senussi well, and who were interviewed in early November 2012 in Cairo, expressed which is that Senussi did not take the Lebanese side seriously after just minutes into the meeting.

Former officials also note the necessity of adding professional investigators to the Lebanese team. Gadaffi regime ex-officials have explained to this observer that Senessi, well known as a tough, smart, experienced analyst and judge of people’s credibility quickly came to suspect that the Lebanese side was ambivalent about pursuing a serious investigation of the Sadr-Yaacoub case and appeared content to prolong the 34 year mystery.

Among those who care about the Sadr-Yaacoub-Badr Eddine case both in Lebanon and internationally, including millions of Shia Muslims and others, as well as the international investigative team that has been working on the case for the past 17 months, questions abound.

Some of the puzzlement rises from the unsubstantiated claims by some in Lebanon that DNA tests were made by “DNA specialists” but proved negative. These claims have not been supported by any probative evidence relating to the timing and place the tissue samples were gathered or even the identity or competence of the “DNA specialists.” Nor has there been any scientific testimony regarding the alleged tests, relating to where the samples were gathered or the vital chain of secured custody or even laboratory reports of any and all DNA samples or testing.

Some friends and longtime associates of Abdullah Senussi, as well as some lawyers currently working in the Libyan Ministry of Justice in Tripoli, who claim to know the Sadr-Yaacoub case from the Libyan side, question whether there has even been any competent DNA testing conducted. In any event, no samples have been taken nor has the soil been disturbed from the location where it is believed the Imams remains are located.

Certain current and former Libyan officials are willing to help with an honest objective investigation, but need assurance that the Lebanese side is serious. One Judge at the Libyan Ministry of Justice has made the serious charge that the “Sadr-Yaacoub investigation” was designed in Lebanon to mislead the Lebanese public.

Among the many questions being raised are the following: why Lebanon has failed to add an experienced investigator or to enlarge the team with family members? Would not a larger team or at least one with more experienced professionals obtain more results in less time? Logically, do not the families have the strongest interest in learning the truth and should they not be represented or directly involved? Why have they consistently been refused participation? Why did not the Lebanese side disclose that Libya paid Mauritania one billion dollars to breach its earlier signed agreement and refusal not to extradite Senussi? Why did the team wait from March 1 when Senussi was arrested entering Mauritania with a fake passport until September 2012 to visit Senussi who all agree knows the case very well?

The Lebanese investigating committee has more than once stated that “All media speculations on Sadr's case has been proven to be false.” Yet, most of the media speculation was based on sources close to the same committee. This fact raises questions about what were these speculations and how were they proven false and with what evidence?

Some observers believe that the public and the followers of Musa Sadr and Mohammad Yaaoub, including from among the Muslim and Christian communities, deserve a full and probative inquiry. It is not too late to achieve this goal since several knowledgeable witnesses, including two eyewitnesses, are still available.

Ex-Libyan officials report that they have little interest in prolonging the mystery of this case and reminded this observer that Muammar Gadaffi’s son, Saif al-Islam, currently awaiting trial, most probably to be held in Libya they claim, rather than in the Hague as favored by the UN and international judicial opinion, stated last summer that “It’s time to finish with the Sadr file.” Before he was on the run following the surprise takeover of Tripoli by NATO backed rebels early last August, he intended to do this.

International investigators have also found that current Libyan officials from various factions are quite willing to cooperate in uncovering the truth while former regime members are trying to deal with other more pressing personal problems and almost to a person have expressed no interest in blocking the truth that can be established beyond peradventure by reliable DNA testing. The charge that ex-Gadaffi officials are “still meddling in the Sadr case” appears spurious and anchored in Lebanon, not Libya.

Moreover, there is to date no evidence to suggest that local Libyan courts or International Courts, including the International Criminal Court, will be involved in the Sadr delegation case that would bar the Libyan government’s cooperation. Nor has there been credible evidence of foot dragging from the Libyan side as some have claimed.

One tentative conclusion surfaces concerning the Sadr-Yaacoub-Badr Eddine case and it is that the “investigation” over the past year is deeply flawed and has created many more questions about its work than answers about this three decades old mystery.

It is not too late to re-energize the moribund Sadr-Yaacoub-Badr Eddine inquiry employing proven and widely available investigative techniques. It’s a question of whether there exists the political will on the Lebanese side.

*************

Franklin Lamb just returned to Beirut from Damascus.

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