Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Let's hold Lebanon's army accountable

Lebanese army

The Lebanese have elevated their armed forces to levels incompatible with democracy. While it is customary in any country to thank the men and women in uniform for their service and their willingness to risk their lives for the safety of others, any army in the world is just another institution whose members should remain under the law and whose leaders should be held accountable before an elected government.


Because the dysfunctional Lebanese state and all of its institutions are fragmented, corrupt and unaccountable, there is no reason to assume that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) is an exception. Just like the state, the army is made up of Lebanese people, and the majority of these people put tribal loyalty before national interest and have little regard for rules, regulations or policies.


And because of its inadequate equipment and inferior training, the LAF has always been viewed as a benign institution whose main role is to show up at Independence Day parades and send its personnel to be filmed in music videos praising the army.


Also because of its weakness, the army has often served the ceremonial role of being a "national symbol."


Lebanese culture is riddled with examples of how people fail to understand what would make up a healthy relationship between the citizens and the military.


Fans of former army commander, now lawmaker, Michel Aoun idolize his picture in military uniform. When the national anthem plays, they often stand and hold their arms high in an imitation of Mussolini's fascist salute, perhaps mistaking their posture for heartfelt nationalism.


And when the LAF defeated the Fatah al-Islam terrorist group in 2007, after an unjustifiably long campaign that left the army's elite forces bruised, a popular advertisement showed Lebanese people saluting a soldier military style, an image suggesting citizens are under the military in the chain of command, which is a mistake. In America, a similar "support our troops" ad showed Americans simply shaking hands with a soldier who had just returned to the country, therefore emphasizing the separation between warzone and civilian life.


This undue veneration of the mostly weak and rarely competent Lebanese army, in a culture that idolizes macho figures and fascist nationalism, has put the LAF above the law.


Throughout history, army commanders have acted independent of elected governments. Most recently in May 2008, then-Commander Michel Suleiman decided to keep his forces out of the fray of a mini civil war that had broken out and that was concluded with the Doha Conference, only after March 14 had taken a beating and surrendered to Hezbollah-led militiamen.


Suleiman justified his stance at the time by saying that the army would have splintered, so instead he thought it was wiser to let the country as a whole fracture for the sake of keeping the army together. This raised a question that remains unanswered: If the army cannot prevent the outbreak of a civil war, what, exactly, can it do?


Also independent of any national oversight is the LAF's Intelligence Directorate.


We know that, like the army commander, the general director of the intelligence branch is appointed by the cabinet. And, like the commander, we don't know who the general director of the intelligence branch answers to.


What makes the behavior of the Lebanese army and its intelligence branch more puzzling is their random law enforcement.


Most recently, an army force showed up in the village of Arsal in eastern Lebanon to apprehend – or maybe liquidate – a certain Khaled Hmayyed. A confrontation ensued and left Mr. Hmayyed and two army personnel dead


The story became more intriguing when the judiciary said it had issued no arrest warrants against Hmayyed. But even if there was one, why was the military intelligence so adamant to capture him while leaving at large someone like former Hezbollah Secretary General Sobhi Tofeili, sentenced to death years ago for clashing with an army force that also left military personnel dead? Tofeili lives in Brital, a mere 30-minute drive from Arsal.


The LAF and its intelligence branch have no answers as to why they decide to apprehend some people but not others. They have no answers either as to why they wage wars against some Islamist militias, like in Nahr al-Bared in 2007, but not others like Hezbollah, which boasts an arsenal that puts the army to shame.


"The plan to respond to the aggression against the army is being cooked according to circumstances," said Military Intelligence Chief Edmond Fadel in a press conference following the Arsal incident. The LAF also put out a list of "wanted" men from the village.


Who has authorized Mr. Fadel to "cook" a response? And on whose behalf? And are there warrants for the "wanted" men? And what do Lebanon's cabinet and parliament think about the country’s military that also doubles as a judicial authority?


The Arsal story, and many similar ones, such as the killing of the Sunni sheikh and his bodyguard in the north last May, need answers that often come from leaks from "sources" to this or that journalist. These leaks often aim at making the army's version of events dominate the media.


Lebanon's army and its intelligence branch are just another state within the Lebanese state. Like Hezbollah, they possess tools of violence and conduct unwarranted surveillance of citizens that seem to be beyond the control of elected authorities.


In a functional democracy, the cabinet would have ordered the Arsal operation based on a clear policy approved by the Lebanese and their parliament, and would have taken responsibility for the deaths. Both the cabinet and the army would be held accountable before parliament.


It is about time that the Lebanese drop their macho fascination with the Lebanese army and start treating it for what it should be: A professional force accountable before an elected government.


Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai. He tweets at @hahussain


The Lebanese revere their army, which is mostly active in marching in Independence Day parades. (AFP photo)

Lebanon's army and its intelligence branch are just another state within the Lebanese state.

  • fightingdemons

    Yo Hussain, why you laying it out on the LAF blood?! Your entire logic is frayed. One, you say that the army is under-equipped and badly trained and then you say Nahr al-Bared was an "unjustifiably" long campaign? Then go blame the entities who are supposedly training and equipping our army. Again, you say that the army did not react during the 2008 Hezbollah takeover, while now berating it to "cooking" a response to the Arsal situation "without orders". Well, i ask you this, was the army ordered to react , and failed to, in 2008? I do not recall any orders given then. And there were orders to do so, the army chief should have been sacked and not "promoted" to president. Again, if that did indeed happen, blame the dysfunctional Lebanese politics and corrupt politicians but not the LAF. Our boys lost 168 brave brothers during the Nahr el-Bared to fend the dangers of Syria-sponsored terrorism for you to belittle their sacrifices. Seriously Hussain, get a grip man!

    March 5, 2013

  • roy.allam

    Go feed the camels Abdul Hussain I am sure you would do a better job than attempting journalism. No wonder.

    February 13, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    This is further evidence of NOW's pro-Sunni Harirism at whatever cost. Before blaming the army - and I personally think it is a mediocre army at best - we should blame the dysfunctional unmenageable failed state and government of Lebanon that Mr. Abdul-Hussain elevates to the level of a democracy. How can you expect the army to rise up to its role when it is surrounded by a cesspool of highly respected and officially recognized religious theocracies, fundmentalist Sunni armed gangs, Shiite terrorist organizations, and other assorted mercenaries of Palestinian, Iranian, Saudi, etc... militias and outlaw organizations. Mr. Abdul-Hussain does not seem to understand the fundamentals of what constitutes a democracy, even though he lives in Washington. I presume his tribal allegiance precludes him from using his neurons in any useful manner.

    February 10, 2013

  • Mariama Abdalla

    Why is it followed by "delete" and not "reply"?

    February 9, 2013

  • Mariama Abdalla

    Mr. Abdul-Hussain, how come you don't mention the fact that Fath Al Islam had agressed and violently assasinated soldiers and officers of the LAF, BEFORE THE RESPONSE OF THE LAF? It is strange how you attack our Lebanese Army because it tries to do the work of the Internal Security Forces who are, they, supposed to protect "internally" the Lebanese from gangsters, lawless criminals, fanatical strangers trying to provoke a civil strife in Lebanon. The Army is supposed to protect the borders of the country against the enemy, but because the ISF is weak and unable to face Sunni criminals (being themselves headed by a Sunni) then the LAF is being pushed to face the danger in their place. As for the killing of the Sunni Sheikh in the North, you forgot to mention that his "jeeps" (wow a sheikh who has two jeeps when we all know how expensive these cars are), contained heavy weapons and that they had refused to stop at the army checkpoint. So Mr. whoever you are, if you are a Lebanese working for the Kuwaiti newspaper (and I hope for your sake that you aren't one), then start looking for the truth before writing something is irrespectful as that, and if you are a Kuwaiti, then go and check your Kuwaiti parliament that is being pushed to be changed by fanatical islamists every two months.

    February 9, 2013

  • Allegro

    It is very easy to pontificate from the safe confines of Washington. The LAF may not satisfy your misguided test of accountability but it is still the most trusted institution in Lebanon by far. Yes the LAF was bruised in Nahr El Bared and we lost many of our bravest sons in that engagement but at least it demonstrated that it is not just a dummy entity good for parades and that its the only deterrent force that is capable of eliminating the ill guided messengers of chaos and terror that are currently laying havoc across the region. The images and ads used to highlight the role of the LAF in that crucial engagement and the acknowledgement of the Lebanese people for such a noble sacrifice may not appeal to you and that is your right, but your weak attempt to contrast this with the American model for recognizing US soldiers betrays your ignorance of the Lebanese people and their aspirations. The LAF may not be your cup of tea but it is the only institution in Lebanon which is inclusive and committed to safeguarding that country's fragile peace and integrity.

    February 8, 2013

  • الى مغوار

    According to Miranda, democracy does not exist because Israel is not democratic and the UK has no separation of powers (u ever heard of UK parliament doing executive roles. or u ever heard of 10 Downing Street legislating?). And if there is no democracy in these two countries, then Lebanon should not be democratic either, and anyway no one understands democracy but those who can write sentences like this one: "Gratuitious self deprecation in excess". (With spelling mistakes too). What a schmuck! As for Berry, 1) she actually dignified the author with a comment, 2) NOW published the comment, 3) why not start responding by why Lebanese Army does not apprehend Sobhi Tfeily who is sentenced to death and is at large in Brietal? Oh Lebanon, this is what you get, not only idiots, but idiots with an attitude. With such twisted minds, no wonder the army is as lousy at it is.

    February 7, 2013

  • Miranda

    This article is simplistic at best and exhibits limited understanding of what actually takes place in real life around the world. Gratuitious self deprecation in excess, without analysis, stating a problem without offering solutions. What are your qualifications? Are you familiar with basic modern states structures? What constitutes a democracy? The applications of democratic processes and government structures around the world? from a legal or political perspectives? the state of Israel claims to be a democracy, it is a theocracy, an army with a country attached to it. In the UK the head of state is not elected and the House of Lords is appointed. Is there an actual separation of power? This aforementioned sounds naiive and indicative of the main Lebanese problem. Illiteracy of many politicians and journalists

    February 7, 2013

  • Cedar Shish

    Blunt and bold! Takes quite some b... to dare say this in Lebanon

    February 7, 2013

  • Vonathan

    "often stand and hold their arms high in an imitation of Mussolini's fascist salute". I believe those who use the fascist salute are the "Kataeb" and "Lebanese Forces", allies of the future movement. The Kataeb, Phalanges, are essentially a fascist party inspired by Hitler's Nazi party. They are the ones who use the fascist salute, not the FPM. "a certain Khaled Hmayyed". Talk about independent reporting. Why not explain to your readers who exactly is this certain Khaled Hmayyed? Lastly, would you please kindly mention that those "certain islamists" have not only executed (note there is a difference between dying in action and being captured alive and executed) Lebanese soldiers but they also severed their heads and desecrated their bodies. Furthermore some of them (fatah al islam) declared on national television their intentions to wipe out the "crusaders" from Lebanon.

    February 7, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    This is so stupid. Hezbollah terrorists and the Qaoumiyeh (National Social Syrian Party, aka NAzi)) idiots make the Nazi-Fascist salute like no others.

    February 10, 2013

  • bbecca

    very thoughtful analysis and a fresh opinion that I can only respect. You are right and despite our love and respect to the LAF, they are not above the law and if we suffer from Hizbullah's bullying and mafia style rule, that doesn't mean that the LAF can now be politicized and used against its own citizens for political reasons and to serve the policies of whomever is in power these days... young officers died and that's also unacceptable. No one should die like that. as for the Ad you mention, the people salute the army out of respect and love but no one really understood it to be the people "under the" military. it was a symbolic affectionate gesture which we all approved of. sadly nowadays the army is being used more frequently and openly for political gain and they are the scape goat, indirectly doing Hizbullah's dirty work so it doesn't look like Hizbullah is doing it. who is going to argue with the LAF when lebanese in general like the LAF? and what better way to make them hated then to implicate them in this clearly sectarian anti syrian anti sunni (however you want to label it) skirmishes and incidents... sad... that's my lebanon and I wish it would not be so.

    February 6, 2013

  • Phil؟

    Beautiful piece Hussain. I couldn't agree more.

    February 6, 2013

  • Metnman

    One of the best op-eds Now has published in months

    February 6, 2013

  • Jennifer Berry

    To take but one phrase in this "article", t he LAF is mostly active in marching in Independence Day parades? Why don't you live in Lebanon for a change? Seriously Hussein one shouldn't even dignify you with a comment, or it would take too long to highlight each and every one of the falsehoods upon which your article is based, and honestly, I dare NOW to publish this comment.

    February 6, 2013

  • Miranda

    thank you, well said

    February 7, 2013