A drone picture shows the destruction after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (Photo credit: AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
On 25 November Lebanon’s Court of Cassation threw out two lawsuits submitted by former Prime Minister Hassan Diab and former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk accusing the judge in charge of the Beirut Port blast investigation of summoning them illegally.
The court also overturned two similar lawsuits filed by Amal movement lawmakers, Ali Hasan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, as well as a lawsuit filed by ex-Public Works Minister Youssef Fenianos.
All five officials had been summoned by Judge Tarek Bitar on suspicion of negligence that allegedly led to last year’s catastrophic explosion that leveled large sections of Beirut.
On 4 August 2020, nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate improperly stored at the Port of Beirut ignited after a massive fire at the port. The explosion killed over 200 people, injured over 6,000 and left thousands more homeless.
The lawsuits against Bitar called for his removal under the accusation that he politicized the blast probe to almost exclusively persecute officials who have been critical of the US.
However, the Court of Cassation has ruled there was no evidence suggesting Bitar had committed any errors.
According to an in-depth investigation by The Cradle, Bitar’s political targets say his accusations are deliberately selective, and that his interrogation roster focuses overwhelmingly on personalities belonging to one political affiliation, while unjustifiably excluding officials in the very same posts with opposite political views.
Bitar has also often ruled out questioning the current army leadership, most of the country’s judges, as well as the ministers of justice and defense. This despite the fact that the devastating explosion could have been averted had the army and the judicial system carried out their functions over the span of seven years.
Among those spared by Bitar is Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) Commander Joseph Aoun, the person who has the final word on any explosives inside Lebanon’s legal boundaries. A close ally of the US embassy, Aoun is reportedly Washington’s favored man to be named president in exchange for a postponement of the 2022 general elections.
However, most glaring has been Bitar’s refusal to question the country’s judges, in particular Judge Jad Maalouf, who signed off on the decision to unload the ammonium nitrate in the middle of Beirut. He then also failed to issue a ruling to destroy these highly dangerous materials based on both Article 13 of the Hamburg Convention as well as the provisions of Paragraph 2 of Article 579 of the Lebanese Code of Civil Procedure.
For their part, the families of the victims of last year’s blast have continued to demand answers, as 15 months have passed since the investigation was launched. On 25 November, the families of the victims gathered outside Lebanon’s top court to condemn the delays, saying the probe has been caught “in a web of politics and judicial complexities.”