The following is a
transcript of a televised program on the Australian TV. station SBS on the Syrian
occupation of Lebanon.
The weekly political program "Dateline" The title of the program: "The Army That Doesn't Exist".Aired Wednesdays, July 12, 2000 at 8.30 pm. Repeated Thursdays, July 13, 2000 at 12.30pm This week on Dateline, reporter Mark Davis examines the vacuum left behind in Southern Lebanon following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the region. What he found was a phantom army that no one in the region is prepared to formally acknowledge. At least fifty thousand Syrian soldiers and intelligence people are now the only real authority in an area that's been fought over for decades. Residents who speak out against the occupation of their homeland risk persecution and even death but the continuing presence of the Syrian army in Lebanon is a major barrier to a lasting peace. The army of occupation that dare not speak its name - this week on Dateline.
The Transcript of the Program:
MARK DAVIS: It may look like a meeting at a modelling agency, but these students are in a truly deadly situation.
YOUNG WOMAN (translation): I was interrogated for four hours. Eventually he wrote the statement and just told me to sign it.
MARK DAVIS: They're being watched day and night for saying out loud what other Lebanese have only dared whisper for the past decade. They've become the focus of Syrian Intelligence, the most brutal security force in the Middle East.
YOUNG MAN (translation): All these slogans and posters put up byintelligence about the liberation of the south and whatever, we will just remove them.
MARK DAVIS: Over the past three months, virtually every person in this room has been arrested in a crackdown against Lebanese suspected of anti-Syrian activities.
YOUNG WOMAN (translation): They didn't let the lawyer see me. I was there four days and no lawyer.
MARK DAVIS: In Lebanon, Syria controls the government, the army, the police and the courts, but not for now this small nationalist group which is gaining national attention.
YOUNG MAN: When the Syrians are really in the corner in Lebanon, they hurt. And when a thing you do or a speech you make or a statement you announce will hurt them, they will hurt you.
MARK DAVIS: It's been an astounding month in Lebanon. The war between two foreign armies, Syria and Israel, is no longer being fought on Lebanese soil.
And why do you throw the rocks?
LEBANESE BOY (translation): They've occupied our land, so we want to throw
rocks at them now.
MARK DAVIS: After 22 years of occupying the south of Lebanon, Israel has withdrawn to its side of the fence. And it's in this victory for the Lebanese people that the complete impotence of their government is being revealed. There are no Lebanese troops or police here to protect and control
this volatile border. The Syrians remain in Lebanon, stronger than ever, and they've ordered the government to keep away.
With Jewish settlements just a stone's throw from this border, the only groups in control here are Syrian Intelligence and the Islamic militias they support.
YOUNG MAN (translation): If a Jewish guy gets out, I'll rip him to pieces.
GRAHAM DAVIS: The political certainties that have endured for all of this young man's life have been shattered in the space of a few weeks. Not only has Israel suddenly packed up and left, but the man who made the Syrian annexation of Lebanon his personal mission just as suddenly dropped dead.
CROWD CHANTS: With our soul, with our blood, we will protect you, Bashar.
Arise, Beirut, and listen...
MARK DAVIS: This rally is supposed to be an affirmation of Lebanese loyalty to Syria and a spontaneous outburst of mourning for the death of its President. But there's hardly a Lebanese national in the crowd. It's a circus arranged for the media by Syrian Intelligence and attended mostly by the Syrian workers they control. This pro-Syrian parade through the streets of Beirut is heading for an unusual destination. There is no Syrian Embassy in Beirut - a clear sign that Lebanon is not regarded in any way as an independent country. Without any irony, this group here is travelling towards the real powerbase in Beirut - Syrian Intelligence headquarters.
In all of the eulogies that are being sung for Hafez Assad and his son and heir apparent Bashar, there is of course no mention of the murder and torture the Assad regime has been built upon. Nor in the chants about Lebanese loyalty is there any mention of the hundreds of Lebanese who've been spirited away to rot in secret Syrian prisons. Like frightened people everywhere, these Syrian men are prepared to chant but not to talk, even in response to the most innocent of questions.
Could I ask why President Assad was so important to you? (Lebanese man chants pro-Bashar slogan)
MARK DAVIS: Can I ask you why he was so important to you?
TRANSLATOR: He doesn't want to answer.
MARK DAVIS: Just ask again. Does he want to answer or not?
MAN (translation): Why is this man talking to me?
MARK DAVIS: Apparently, the talking is best left to the Syrian organisers. This is the headquarters for Syrian Intelligence in Beirut. Lebanese are too terrified to even walk down this street, and today is a rare opportunity to film the building. It's said if you're taken in here, you don't come out. Time will tell whether Bashar Assad harbours the same obsession his father
did to create Greater Syria through the total annexation of Lebanon. But there's little doubt his party, minders and military are determined to stay here.
YOUNG MAN: I had here my hand broken. They were beating me on the face with
the back of the gun, so I put my hand in front of the gun and it was broken.
I had it plastered - I think you saw it in the film later.
MARK DAVIS: Ziad Abz is one of the leaders of the Lebanon Patriotic Movement, which has opposed the presence of both Israel and Syria. But for criticising the Syrian presence in Lebanon, he's been arrested 22 times in the past nine years and imprisoned for "damaging relations with friendly countries".
ZIAD ABZ, LEBANON PATRIOTIC FRONT: It's not accepted in Lebanon to speak over a certain limit. There's some guidelines. Inside those guidelines, you're allowed to speak whatever you want; even you are allowed to reject certain things, just to reflect the image there is freedom. When you speak outside those guidelines, you become a troublemaker. Is it me, or is it anybody else?
MARK DAVIS: What is that line you can't talk past?
ZIAD ABZ: You cannot talk about Syrian presence in Beirut, you cannot talk about the way Syrians are benefiting from their presence here. Before, they used to give the impression they are here just because the Israelis are here - to protect Lebanon from the Israelis. Now, there's an Israeli withdrawal, there's no more Israeli occupation, and there's no whatsoever reason for them to say. That's why we are planning to raise our voice louder, and we will. Once, I was arrested in the Ministry of Defence. I was blindfolded for 72 hours, and they kept me standing - not allowed to sit down for 72 hours...
MARK DAVIS: As a vocal critic of Syria, Ziad is lucky to be alive. Over the years he's been politically active, dozens of others have disappeared or been killed for similar activities - daring to state the obvious, that Lebanon is an occupied country. Apart from the military presence, what's the intelligence numbers in Beirut?
ZIAD ABZ: There are around 35-40,000 official military Syrian soldiers, and around 25,000 intelligence.
MARK DAVIS: The odds are intimidating, but apparently for Ziad, not overwhelming.
ZIAD ABZ: We're ready to pay the price, whatever it take. We pay the price for the Israeli withdrawal; we are right to pay the same price for the Syrians to withdraw.
MARK DAVIS: The Lebanese have already paid the price for asking Syria to leave. In 1989, a faction of the Lebanese Army rose against the Syrians, accusing them of attempting to completely annex Lebanon, rather than merely assisting to oust Israel. The Syrians crushed the Lebanese Army and unleashed a brutal round of assassinations, arrests and torture.
A pro-Syrian government was installed and elections managed ever since. On the streets of Lebanon, the Syrian President has taken equal billing with the nominal leader of the country, Emile Lahud. The government claims it's a brotherly relationship. In his tour of Beirut, Ziad reveals a less benign side of the "brotherly forces".
ZIAD ABZ: They used this building for the intelligence and the interrogations here for this part of Beirut. You can see them here sitting...on the address of this building, there's the Intelligence...
MARK DAVIS: And what's their operation there?
ZIAD ABZ: Here is an interrogation apartment where they usually arrest people and interrogate them.
MARK DAVIS: It's a pretty run-down building, though...
ZIAD ABZ: Yeah, but there is four floors underground.
MARK DAVIS: Four floors. And what's in there - cells or what?
ZIAD ABZ: Yeah - cells and offices for interrogation. They use the underground part of the building.
MARK DAVIS: And how long are people kept there for?
ZIAD ABZ: Depends - usually when you're kept for more than one month, they take you to a place near the border. They have a big prison, where some people are there for 10 years now. If your case is a bit more serious, you go to a prison in Syria, where you never come back.
MARK DAVIS: When the Israelis announced their withdrawal in April, Ziad was one of the first arrested in a pre-emptive strike by Syrian and Lebanese intelligence. Nothing unusual in that, but this time, there was a very public reaction. In a rare demonstration, students from around Beirut took
to the streets, demanding the release of Ziad and five others who'd disappeared. They were in no doubt who was behind the arrests.
STUDENTS CHANT: Syria out! Syria out!
MARK DAVIS: These words were never heard on Lebanese TV.
STUDENTS CHANT: Freedom, sovereignty, independence!
MARK DAVIS: 15 people were taken in by the security forces and 20 sent to hospital. In the days and weeks that followed, another dozen were taken from their homes or arrested on the streets, most of them