In a stunning revelation that has caused a “furor” at the United Nations, The Times Online reports that the UN report on then assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was edited prior to its release by a UN office:
THE United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged yesterday.
The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.
The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.
One crucial change, apparently made after the report was submitted to the UN chief, removed the name of President al-Assad’s brother, Maher, his brother-in-law, Assef al-Shawkat, and other high-ranking Syrian officials.
The final, edited version quoted a witness as saying that the plot to kill Mr Hariri was hatched by unnamed “senior Lebanese and Syrian officials”. But the undoctored version named those officials as “Maher al-Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamal al-Sayyed”.
The deleted names represent the inner core of the Syrian regime. Maher al-Assad, President al-Assad’s younger brother, is a lieutenant-colonel and head of the Presidential Guard. He is known for his quick tem- per and six years ago was said to have shot his brother-in-law, General Assef Shawkat, in the stomach during an altercation.
The lead investigator, Detlev Mehlis, has come to Annan’s defense claiming that he was not pressured to change or edit his report. In fact, he and his spokesperson said Mehlis was responsible for the edits describing this as an “unfortunate clerical error”.
Mehlis and U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric quickly insisted that the editing had been done by Mehlis himself and not by Annan, who had transmitted the report to the Security Council about seven hours after receiving it from Mehlis.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, already on shaky ground as a result of the UN Oil-For-Food scandal and despite the mea culpa by Mehlis, is sure to be a target of this “doctoring” by those who want to see him resign. Paging Norm Coleman…
Update [2005-10-22 2:46:12 by catnip]:: corrected the headline and body to reflect that the headline came from the Times Online, not The Independent.