Case of murdered US envoy takes a leisurely turn

Victim of Lebanon's civil war still unavenged after 19 years, writes Robert Fisk in Beirut

It was not the finest moment of Lebanese justice. Nineteen years ago, President Gerald Ford had demanded that the Palestinians who murdered the US ambassador to Lebanon, his economic counsellor and his driver be brought to justice.

And on the fourth floor of the Beirut High Court yesterdayJudge Moeen Osseiran sat in his red robes, a clutch of press photographers beside the dock, a huddle of men and women outside the doors - witnesses to the kidnapping of Francis Melloy in the early months of the Lebanese civil war. For all of 25 minutes, we waited, until it was announced that neither the two Palestinians accused of the killings nor their lawyers would be in court for the hearing.

Judge Osseiran,a man who forgoes even the official driver with which the state could provide him, glared down at the empty benches. He had already waited for 10 minutes in his chambers in the hope that the defendants would appear. But then a policeman arrived to announce that "we might not be able to bring them today". Bassim Mohamed al-Farkh and Namiq Ahmed Kamal, it turned out, were still on their way from Roumieh prison, north of Beirut. One of their lawyers was out of town; another simply failed to turn up. Judge Osseiran publicly admonished him by name. "They haven't arrived yet but we are here," he snapped impatiently. To no avail.

There was talk outside the court of a shortage of policemen, rumours that the one-day-a-week trial of the former Christian militia leader Samir Geagea on charges of blowing up a church and murdering a Christian rival, Dany Chamoun, in 1990, had used up too many security men.

There were questions as to why the current US charg d'affaires in Lebanon, Ron Schlicher, had visited the Lebanese Justice Ministry the day before the trial. Did the Americans want to extradite the two Palestinians before the Beirut hearing got under way? We were to hear the excuses later.

Melloy's murder, with his counsellor, Robert Waring, and his Lebanese driver, Mohamed Moghrabi, shocked the United States when their bodies were foundon a Beirut beach on 16 June 1976. It was the first overtly anti-American act of the civil warand Yasser Arafat, whose PLO controlled west Beirut at the time, promised to hunt down the murderers. He failed and it was not until last year that Mr Farkh and Mr Kamal were first brought before a Beirut court, charged with kidnapping - but not murdering - Melloy and his colleagues. Both men, it transpired, belonged to George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group under the PLO's umbrella but not under Mr Arafat's direct control.

Mr Farkh and Mr Kamal said at the time they were unaware their victim was an ambassador, claiming they had not noticed his armoured limousine - in which he was crossing the front line from west to east Beirut - nor the US flag on the car, the radios in the vehicle nor the driver, who was yelling in Arabic that the victim was the US ambassador. Their orders, they said, had been only to drive the hostages to a PFLP office in the Ras al-Naba district. The defendants, who gave no clue as to the reason for Melloy's abduction and murder, were sentenced, respectively, to imprisonment for five years and 12 months.

The convictions were subsequently set aside so that new charges of murder could be brought.Washington, in any case, had been pressing the Lebanese authorities to bring to justice all those who had kidnapped or killed US citizens during thecivil war, including those responsible for the suicide bombing of the USMarine base in 1983and for the abduction of Americans, the longest of whom was held for almost seven years.

The Beirut government, which is anxious to persuade Washington to lift its travel ban on Americans visiting Lebanon, has sought to prove that law an order have been restored to the country. Yesterday might therefore have proved to be a cause clbre. But it was not to be.

The Americans, who might have been expected to show some interest in the case of their murdered ambassador, did not even bother to send an embassy diplomat to Judge Osseiran's court.

Did they know in advance that it was going to be a "no show''? The judge certainly did not. Two hoursafter he abandoned the sitting, the prisoners turned up. They had been caught in a traffic jam with theirpolice escort, we were told.

Judge Osseiran did not say whether he believed this. The hearing would be resumed, he said irritably, on 7 June. Which left a lot of questions - political as well as criminal - unanswered.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower