TIME interview and the ensuing storm
Posted on August 23, 2011
When the article dropped, myself and several colleagues were stunned. TIME magazine had gotten an interview with one of the four men accused by an international court of killing Rafik Hariri. This man was subject to an INTERPOL arrest warrant and, if we are to believe the Lebanese authorities, the focus of a nationwide manhunt.
What the anonymous suspect said was not exactly life changing. It didn’t need to be. The sensational point of the article was that the magazine had managed to get an interview in the first place. The shockwaves had began.
Within hours, Hezbollah had issued a denial and Hariri’s son, Saad, had bashed out a statement saying that the impunity displayed by the person interviewed was indicative of how the Party of God was protecting its members from Lebanese security apparatus and essentially ignoring international justice.
Yesterday, a TIME journalist – who didn’t write the interview – was summoned for questioning by State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza. He was clear: He didn’t write the interview, his editors in New York had called saying that they had the interview and he had no idea where it came from.
But the author of the article, who has only been identified as “a TIME reporter” is slightly beside the point. For nothing about the article makes sense.
Naturally, conspiracy theories abound. As’ad Abukhalil has suggested that the article bears hallmarks from similar interviews with alleged kidnappers in the 1980s, where money exchanged hands. He also argued that the journalist named in the saga has links to the Hariri family, and that the narrative emerging from the piece would fit nicely in with the Future Movement’s version of events.
But the journalist in question didn’t write the piece. We still don’t know who did.
Hezbollah has said that the interview didn’t take place, although it is not usually the most transparent of organizations. It seems specious to suggest that a TIME reporter, whoever they were, would simply fabricate an interview. It’s probable that the interview did take place and very possible that the interviewer believed that they were interviewing who the interviewee said he was.
But think about it. If this guy really is a suspect and a member of Hezbollah, what is the party getting out of him saying that Lebanese security officials “can’t” arrest him? This puts enormous pressure on Najib Mikati at a time when the Prime Minister is walking a tightrope between Lebanon’s international obligations and placating STL opponents.
Hezbollah is the driving force behind the new government, and it’s taken a long time for them to get into such an administratively strong and legitimate position of power. Why would they allow one of its men to boast about the impunity the party enjoys? We know this. Hariri knows this. The STL and the international community know this. What does Hezbollah gain from coming out and saying it?
From the counter point of view, what do supporters of the court have to gain from “planting” the interviewer? Very little. All it did was point out that which is already known and accepted and has exposed March 14 to allegations that it is trying to create a rift between the government and the rest of the world, which to be fair is probably true.
It’s all so messy. It seems really odd that TIME editors in New York should source and corroborate an interview that took place in south Beirut. They’ve sort of left their man here in a hole, although they have provided legal counsel. If you are an editor and someone comes to you saying they’ve got an interview with a Hezbollah suspect, you run the piece. But even before considerations of the fallout such a report will cause, think about why whoever is telling you this is telling you it.