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Tribunals Replace Most Courts in Lebanon : Militias Impose Swift, Final Justice

June 01, 1986|ED BLANCHE | Associated Press

BEIRUT — Mahmoud Hable, an alleged Israeli collaborator, was strung up in Sidon's main square by hooded executioners from a Sunni Muslim militia while a crowd chanted "go to hell."

Bahij Kamand and another man were handcuffed to stakes, blindfolded in a mountain stockade and riddled with bullets by Druze militiamen before dawn. A militia tribunal had found them guilty of murdering three men from a rival faction in a personal vendetta.

Two men who stole power cables from Beirut airport, blacking out runway lights and halting night landings for weeks, were shot in the hands on the spot by Shia Muslim Amal militiamen who caught them.

Justice in Lebanon, its judicial system plagued by 11 years of civil war, is rough and ready and enforced by the militias who control most of the ravaged country.

27 Executions

Militias have killed at least 27 men and women by firing squad or hanging since September. Officials say more are likely to to be executed.

Radical Shia Muslims of Hezbollah, or Party of God, claimed in May that they executed 11 Lebanese, including two women, who were alleged Christian Falangist agents working with U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies and responsible for a string of car bombings. All were hanged.

It gave no indication in a detailed 68-page report on the alleged spy ring of whether the 11 were given any kind of trial. If they were, it was held in secret.

Informed sources believe that none of the 11 were put through any kind of legal process by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which considers itself bound only by Islamic religious law.

'Should Be Penalized'

Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, spiritual guide of Hezbollah, staunchly supported the mass hangings. "As a Muslim," the gray-bearded cleric said, "I support the notion that a killer should be penalized."

Fadlallah, who was the target of one of the car bombs in March, 1984, added: "I did not interfere in this case because it concerns me personally. But the verdicts were just."

In Muslim West Beirut the militias are the only effective authority. Nabih Berri, leader of the powerful Shia Amal movement, is Lebanon's justice minister.

Amid the bloodletting of the last 11 years, the killings have passed almost unnoticed.

100,000 Deaths

Officials conservatively estimate that since 1975, more than 100,000 people have been killed in Lebanon's civil war, intermilitia battles and Israel's 1982 invasion. Unofficial records put the death toll as high as 152,000.

Lebanon has the death penalty. But the only judicial execution carried out in the last 14 years was in April, 1983, when convicted murderer Ibrahim Tarraf was hanged in Beirut.

Most of Lebanon's courts ceased to function years ago, although many Lebanese still cling to the niceties of the law, such as registering marriages and drawing up contracts for house sales, in an effort to keep some semblance of order amid the mayhem.

Militia Rule

The militias police their areas and have set up their own tribunals or field courts to try those who violate their rules.

The bigger factions have their own prisons, including some former government facilities and offices that gunmen have taken over. One is Beirut's unfinished 40-story Murr Tower, which Amal uses as a detention and interrogation center.

The prisons are filled with political enemies and suspected agents, as well as common criminals and troublemakers.

Since 1975, militiamen have emptied Lebanon's government prisons twice over to free friends or relatives.

General Coordinator

The Christian Lebanese Forces militia established the Office of the General Coordinator on Judicial Matters last year. It has 10 lawyers to "help everyone and guide civilians to the right way and does not interfere with the courts or their verdicts," Chairman Emile Rahmah said.

"We want to create an atmosphere in which the courts can function," he said. "'The Lebanese Forces' judiciary system resembles the army's military courts. This office only handles cases involving our militiamen. All other cases, without exception, are referred to the courts of law."

Rahmah said his office has nothing to do with "those imprisoned by the Lebanese forces for other reasons," including the hundreds of Muslims kidnaped by the Christian militia or held as suspected spies.

"If we hadn't set up our own system, we'd have ended up with the same chaos that exists in (Muslim) West Beirut," he said. "We don't want that to happen to our people."

No Appeals

Little is known about the procedures of the militia tribunals except that there are no appeals.

Amnesty International, the London-based human rights organization, said in a recent report on Lebanon that the militias, including the Lebanese Forces, hold prisoners "outside the normal legal process, without charge or trial."

Citing human rights violations, the agency voiced concern over executions and reports that militia prisoners are "subjected to torture and ill treatment."

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