Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Another witness disappears

According to the French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, a key witness to the Hariri Tribunal has disappeared. His fate is unknown, although rumors have it that he is in Abu Dhabi. This is yet again a major blow for the Tribunal. What's interesting is that Michael Young already mentioned this disappearance on April 1, quoting former minister Wiam Wahab.

Why would it take France a full week to confirm the whereabouts of this key witness? It seems they weren't really watching him, let alone protecting him. That's a worrisome message to send to potential witnesses who are currently reluctant to come forward.

And forward they might come, especially now with the disappearance of this key witness Siddiq. Most people will assume that Syria is behind it, getting rid of unwanted witnesses. Imagine you are a lower rank security official and somewhat connected to the Hariri events. Would you fear for your life? Absolutely. But would you turn to France for protection? Well, not so quickly anymore.

The best thing France can do is to immediately launch an extensive witness protection program to capture on the increasing fear amongst possible witnesses. This program should be open to anyone who steps forward. It should be clear that France will do its utmost best to protect witnesses and their families. Unless that happens, the strategy of intimidation could easily pay off and the removal of Siddiq would be only the first of a possibly long line of vanishing witnesses.