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Ghosts of civil war stalk Beirut courts: Lebanon's police force resuscitates justice system

AS DANY CHAMOUN lay on the floor of his home, wrestling with the man about to kill him, his seven-year-old son, Tarek, ran to his father's briefcase and pulled out a gun with the words: 'He's hitting my Daddy - I'm going to shoot him.'

The murderer coldly blew out the brave little boy's brain with a 9mm bullet. His five-year- old brother Jullian - screaming 'No, no, no, no' - was shot in the left eye.

Shouting in anguish, Dany tried to protect his young wife, Ingrid, as a gunman shot her five times in the chest and stomach. Dany, leader of the right- wing National Liberal Party, was cut down with 14 bullets.

The massacre of the Chamoun family occurred almost four years ago, but the details of the crime, now being revealed in Beirut for the first time, are so terrifying, it is as if they happened yesterday.

Like the 1976 murder of US Ambassador Francis Meloy the ghosts of the Lebanese civil war are being resurrected in the long-dormant Beirut Justice Ministry, where judges and lawyers who spent 15 years in fear of assassination are now cross- examining a series of young men, who must have thought they would never be held accountable for their crimes.

What these cases also prove is that the Lebanese police force - impotent and sometimes derided as it was during the war - continued during the conflict to investigate the country's horrific murders and file away reports until the day the militias were disarmed and law was reimposed. Many Lebanese, who tried to forget the war and its lessons, have now been forced to recall the savagery with which it was fought.

A legal amnesty covers most civil war crimes - which is just as well, since there are men in the Beirut government with blood on their hands.

But the Chamoun murders were committed a week after the amnesty deadline, and the authorities, perhaps prompted by the United States government, have also decided that Ambassador Meloy's murder, with that of his economic councillor, Robert Waring, and his driver, Mohamed Moghrabi, is not covered by the state pardon.

Samir Geagea, a former Christian militia leader and rival of Chamoun, is charged with 12 other men with the murder of the Chamoun family on 21 October 1990 - a crime they all deny. Two Palestinians, Nafek Kamal and Bassem Ferkh, have already appeared in court accused of involvement in the kidnapping of Ambassador Meloy and his colleagues in June, 1976.

Ferkh told the Beirut criminal court this month that he was ordered to take ambassador Meloy, Waring and Moghrabi from their hijacked embassy car by Mahmoud Awada, an official of the Socialist Action Group.

He claimed that there was no US flag on the embassy car, and that he did not know who Meloy was, though the ambassador had twice talked on his two-way radio after his kidnapping. Ferkh says the embassy driver then showed him a newspaper photograph of Meloy standing beside the Druze leader, Kamal Jumblatt. Ferkh told the court: 'I told him (Moghrabi), 'With this picture, you have been saved.' '

But within 24 hours, the bodies of all three men were found lying on a beach at Ramlet el-Bayada in West Beirut. All had been shot.

The reasons for their murder have not yet been revealed; however, two important elements did emerge in court.

The first was that Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, had tried desperately to find and release the ambassador - confirming a claim Arafat made at the time. And the second was that the kidnapped men had been taken to a Beirut office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Habash's radical Palestinian guerrilla movement.

Although the wheels of justice are grinding again in Beirut, they are doing so amid disturbing accounts of pre-trial torture and beatings by the police.

Amnesty International has complained of the mysterious death in a Ministry of Defence cell of Fawzi al-Rasi, a young Maronite, who was being questioned about the massacre of 11 worshippers in the bombing of the Zouk church in February - a killing for which Geagea has also been charged.

In January, Amnesty also complained of allegations that a man charged with 'collaboration with the Israeli enemy' had been beaten in Defence Ministry cells.

Kamal, one of the accused in the Meloy case, claimed this month that he had admitted involvement only because of threats made to him during interrogation. And this week, Youssef Chabaan, a Palestinian and former member of Abu Nidal's assassination group charged with murdering a Jordanian diplomat, pulled off his sock in court and showed the judge red marks on his feet, claiming he had been tortured in custody.

The chief prosecution witness, a Palestinian woman called Aytaf Mohamed Youssef, then withdrew her testimony because, she said, a senior police officer and his men had stripped her to her underclothes in a police cell and beaten her up before forcing her to make her statement.

A police general and a lieutenant colonel agreed that the woman had been thought at one stage to be involved in the crime but that she, like the accused, had never been harmed.

The Lebanese police general confirmed that the Syrian intelligence services had arrested Chabaan at his request because the Bourj al-Barajneh Palestinian camp in which he lived in Beirut was 'off-limits to the (Lebanese) security forces'. Beirut newspapers published the 15,000-word indictment against Geagea for the Chamoun murders along with graphic accounts from witnesses. The document stated that all the accused pleaded not guilty. French lawyers have been hired for what is likely to be a dramatic trial.

In Sidon, Germany's request to extradite Mohamed Chreidi, a Palestinian accused of the 1986 bombing of the La Belle discotheque in Berlin, is likely to be considered by the local court next month, although he has just been acquitted - for 'lack of evidence' - of the murder of a Libyan dissident in Germany two years earlier. Two Americans and a Turkish woman died in the bombing, which was followed by an American air attack on Libya.

Chreidi denied both offences; another Palestinian charged with him claimed that he had been forced to sign a blank sheet of paper, and that his court statement was written on the paper afterwards.

(Photograph omitted)