The following testimony was presented to the House Appropriations Committee on May 9 /2002:
Testimony Of The American Lebanese Institute A member group of The Council of Lebanese American Organizations (CLAO) Before The House Appropriations Committee
The Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export, Financing
and Related Programs

May 9, 2002

My name is David Epperly and I am testifying on behalf of the American Lebanese Institute, a member group of the Council of Lebanese American Organizations (CLAO).  The Institute reflects the interests and sentiments of three million Americans of Lebanese ancestry.  The Institute and CLAO work to further the cause of freedom and sovereignty in Lebanon by calling
for the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of Syrian forces from the country.  Both the Institute and the Council act to promote ties of friendship and cooperation between the United States and Lebanon based on the principles of democracy and human rights.

With this brief background information, please allow me to outline our concerns and suggestions for this subcommittee.  We understand that it is not the task of this subcommittee to involve itself in the complicated internal politics of Lebanon, but we hope that the honorable Representatives on it will factor in this complexity when making decisions regarding Lebanon.

What happened on September 11th in New York and Washington wounded not only the United States, its government, and its people, but also all freedom-loving peoples and nations around the world including the people of Lebanon.  The Lebanese have not been distant spectators of terror; for years now they have been repeatedly compelled to drink from its bitter cup.  They
have been suffering at the hands of state-sponsored terror for over a quarter of a century.  Back in the 1970s and 1980s when hardly anyone around the world had heard of the car bomb, its destruction and misery were regularly felt in Lebanon’s residential neighborhoods, in front of crowded bakeries, and near schools and hospitals.   Kidnappings, assassinations, ethnic cleansing and every conceivable form of terror have been practiced against the Lebanese by an assortment of Palestinians, Syrians, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and mercenaries.  Much like Afghanistan under the Taliban, Lebanon was hijacked from the Lebanese and transformed into a center for international terrorism and drug trafficking, all orchestrated under the direction of the Assad regime in Damascus, which today continues its brutal occupation of Lebanon.   For far too long Lebanon has been the testing ground for new and ever more lethal tactics of terror, and today it remains a breeding ground and staging area for Iranian-inspired and Syrian-sponsored terror masquerading as national liberation.

Westerners too, particularly we Americans, were on several occasions the targets of terrorist attacks in Lebanon.  No one will ever forget the 63 Americans and others killed in 1983 in the first U.S. embassy bombing in Beirut; nor the comparable number in the second explosion; nor the 241 Marines slaughtered in their barracks that fateful October day; nor the dozens of Americans and other foreigners kidnapped and murdered or held in detention for years; nor the assassinations of a U.S. ambassador, two American University deans, and a president; nor, finally, the blowing up of College Hall, the 100-year-old symbol of that great American institution of higher learning.  The fingerprints of these terrorist outrages are eerily identical in every instance, with strings leading ultimately to the same address in Damascus.

I speak on behalf of the silenced people of Lebanon, many of whom as recently as this past August endured the latest vicious wave of mass arrests and unlawful detentions at the hands of the Syrian-installed authorities in Beirut.  And all because some have dared to call openly for the departure of Syrian occupation forces from their country.   Lebanon used to pride itself before 1975 as being the Arab world's oasis of free expression.  Much of that is muted today as the agents of Damascus inflict punishment upon any dissenting voice.  Despite its many flaws, Lebanon before the 1975 war produced shining examples of moderation among its educated Muslim citizens;
men and women who have served as beacons of inspiration in a variety of walks of life for the entire Arab world.  Today, under Syrian hegemony, only
the voices of religious extremism and intolerance are given free range to make themselves heard.

Decades of appeasement of the Syrian regime have yet to pay.  Syria has reaped ill-gotten economic, military, and political rewards at Lebanon's expense, often with Western acquiescence.  Its fig-leaf participation in the anti-Iraq coalition in 1990 gained it the final green light to secure its hold on Lebanon.  After September 11th Syria, a country still on the State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism, has inched its way forward towards implanting itself squarely in the anti-terrorist international coalition, thereby setting the stage for a repeat of the travesty of its role during the Gulf war.  And then there is the farce of Syria acquiring a seat on the U.N. Security Council to cap off a litany of incomprehensible appeasements.  And what does the Untied States have to show for all this misplaced good will?  The late Hafez Assad rejected President Clinton's peace proposals and with that he wrecked the Israeli-Syrian track of negotiations.  His son Bashar has made a number of virulent statements that can only be described as vintage rejectionism.  Damascus continues to use
Hezbollah as a destabilizing force in south Lebanon even after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal in May 2000.  The Lebanese army is prevented from being deployed in the south in order to take charge of security and patrol the border with Israel.  Little or no regard is paid in Damascus and in the circles of the Beirut regime for the detrimental effects all this is having on the collapsed Lebanese economy and the daily suffering of the people of Lebanon.  Meanwhile, Syrian officers and their "partners" in the Beirut government continue to amass wealth at the expense of the country's resources and people's livelihood.

Back in 1989 many Lebanese stood in open opposition to the Taif "agreement" because they knew it would not bring its promised peace and reconciliation in Lebanon, but instead would legitimize Syrian annexation of their country. At that time they were aware of the objectives of the Syrian regime. Their position was that the ratification of the Taif "agreement" would
subjugate the actions of the legislative, executive, judicial, and military sectors, as well as the freedom of the citizenry, under Syrian dictate. Subsequent events have proven this stance was justified.

Due to a series of bilateral agreements imposed on Lebanon following Taif, Syria today is actively interfering in every aspect of Lebanese political, security, and economic life.   All freedoms have been severely curtailed;
political parties have been dismantled and their members disbanded, arrested or exiled.   The authorities increasingly use the accusation of “collaboration with the Zionist enemy” as the favored weapon in their war on freedom of expression and peaceful dissent.

The failure of Syria to seriously re-deploy its forces in accordance with the provisions of Taif should serve as an unmistakable warning against relying upon the word of the Damascus regime, especially for something as vital as the dismantling of terrorist networks currently under its control. In addition to Hezbollah, which has effectively become an armed mini-state within a state as the PLO was in Lebanon back in the 1970s, Syria sponsors a host of rejectionist Palestinian extremist organizations based in Damascus with extensions and roots in Lebanon's refugee camps.  Also operating under Syria's orders are other renegade Shiite groups in northeastern Lebanon and a number of radical Sunni Islamist organizations based in Tripoli that Syrian intelligence occasionally unleashes in order to terrorize vocal opponents of Syria's occupation.   Just as the Taliban are inextricably linked to Usama Bin Laden's Al-Qa'ida thugs and criminals, so too the Syrian regime is organically intertwined with this gallery of terrorists.  Under Syria's auspices, Lebanon has been transformed into a "duty free zone" for international terrorism.  Small wonder why Syria persistently impedes efforts at bringing about comprehensive regional peace: this would spell the end of its lucrative empire of terror and drug cultivation and trafficking.

As the world wages the noble fight against the global menace of international terrorism, it is important to pause and consider a future danger.  States like Syria with documented rogue behavior and established terrorist credentials are lining up to extend their "services" to the U.S. and the international coalition in upcoming battles with organized terror. President Bush called for concrete steps and practical actions leading to results.  Now is the time to call Syria's hand.  The Syrians are either part
of the problem or part of the solution.  They cannot be both.  Wavering, dissembling, and equivocation in grave matters like this ought not to be tolerated.   Syria must begin to prove its good intentions and redeem itself in the eyes of the civilized world by quitting Lebanon altogether.

As I testify before you here today, Lebanon's economy is in shambles, its resources squandered or plundered, its youth demoralized and emigrating, and its free voice brutally suppressed.  Yet its spirit remains unbroken and the hearts of its people are filled with hope that the international community, led by the United States, will prosecute the war against terrorism to the
bitter end, whatever and however long it takes.  The freedom-loving people of Lebanon, who share our deepest values of freedom and respect for human dignity, stand side by side with us in this fight.  The time now has come for America to get reacquainted with her true friends around the world, and these certainly include the suffering people of Lebanon.  It is the time to differentiate clearly between real friend and sworn foe, between those who seek a future of peace, openness, pluralist diversity, and freedom, and those who promote a culture of hatred, violence, and death.

President Bush drew a firm line and we know on which side of that line Syria clearly stands.  Help Lebanon to regain its freedoms, national sovereignty, and independence.   Help it to end the unjust occupation of its land, an occupation that has lasted far too long.  Help it to reemerge as the Arab world's freest and most vibrant civil society.  Help it to restore its
shattered yet unique homegrown communal democracy based on genuine reconciliation and the rule of law.  Finally, let’s not turn a deaf ear to sincere friends when they call on us in their hour of need, an hour that has lasted a quarter of a century.

In light of the above, we strongly recommend that Congress allocate not a single cent of U.S. taxpayers’ money to the present regime in Beirut.  All appropriations should be channeled directly to credible individuals and institutions in the Lebanese private sector. For example: the American University of Beirut, still the greatest American educational institution outside the United States, and other private universities and colleges in the country, to the many hospitals and other medical facilities that make
Lebanon a leading medical hub in the region, and to the scores of hard-working NGO’s whose missions support human rights, environmental issues, or charitable causes.

In addition we urge all members of Congress to support the Syria Accountability Act of 2002 (H.R.4483.IH), which was introduced in the House by Representatives Dick Armey and Eliot Engel and in the Senate (S.2215.IS) by Senators Barbara Boxer and Rick Santorum.   These bills are intended to halt Syrian support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, stop its
development of weapons of mass destruction, cease its illegal importation of Iraqi oil, and by so doing hold Syria accountable for its actions in the Middle East.

The Institute, the Council and I appreciate the opportunity to express our concerns and suggestions before this subcommittee.  We strongly urge you to consider and incorporate them in your appropriations decisions and in other deliberations regarding U.S. policy towards Lebanon and we remain hopeful that in the end democracy and justice will prevail. 

Thank you.