by: Prime Minister General Michel Aoun on 9/18/2003

Madame Chairwoman. Honorable Members,

It is an honor for me to bring you the voice of the Lebanese people; a people longing for freedom and suffering under occupation.  I have come here today to convey their gratitude for your initiative in introducing the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, and to urge the immediate passage of this bill into law.  This piece of prospective legislation is crucial, as it establishes for the first time a clear United States policy regarding Syria's occupation of Lebanon.

For twenty-seven years, the Syrian Regime has played the role of both arsonist and firefighter.  Syria starts fires in order to give itself a pretext to extinguish them and thus justify its continuing occupation of Lebanon.  And any Lebanese who dares to expose or resist Syria's hegemony is simply eliminated.

 Syria's occupation of Lebanon has been detrimental and costly to both American and Lebanese interests in five major ways.

 Impact of Syrian Occupation of Lebanon

First, Syria's hegemony over Lebanon has turned the country into a fertile ground and safe haven for terrorism.   In the 1970s and 1980s, Lebanon was the first victim of Syrian terrorism.  And this was one of the main reasons in 1978 to list Syria as the first terrorist country on the US Department of State list of terrorist states.  Back then, Hizballah and Hamas did not even exist.

One cannot rationally dissociate the Syrian regime from terrorism.  Syria provides safe haven for a myriad of terrorist organizations, directs their operations, and uses occupied Lebanon as their main field of training and operation.  Like an organized crime syndicate which uses fear,intimidation, and violence as instruments of pressure to buy silence from otherwise good and honorable people, the Syrian regime uses these terrorist organizations as instruments of pressure in a foreign policy strategy that has earned for Syria a "no questions asked" attitude from the free world with regard to its  occupation of Lebanon and its persecution of the Lebanese people.

Terrorist organizations do not stand on their own in terms of identity; instead, they are proxies to regimes that provide them with financial means and an operational framework for their terrorist activities.  The suggestion heard in some circles that these regimes can be charged with the task of dismantling terrorist organizations is the height of naiveté and folly.

Furthermore, let's not forget that the clandestine nature of these regimes and organizations would allow them to quickly and easily restructure and reemerge under completely new aliases, ready to resume operations in full capacity.

Any perceived cooperation in the war on terrorism does not represent a strategic choice on the part of the Syrian regime to combat terrorism; it is only a tactical and temporary ploy to dodge responsibility for the central role that Syria has had in sponsoring terrorism during the last three decades.  Let us not forget that Syria's proxies in Lebanon were responsible for attacks against the American embassy and the Marine compound costing hundreds of Lebanese and American lives.

Second, Syria's occupation has turned Lebanon -- a nation that once enjoyed democracy and freedom -- into a puppet-regime subservient to a dictatorship.

Dictatorial regimes, which instill in their people an overwhelming feeling of helplessness to affect any kind of change through democratic or peaceful means, are the cause of fundamentalism.  The only effective long-term solution to the spread of fundamentalism is the spread of freedom; the only truly effective and permanent way to reverse the spread of fundamentalism is not to choose dictatorship over fundamentalism-it is, rather, to provide a third alternative -- democracy.

The democratic process in Lebanon has been hijacked.  Election laws have been regularly tailored to guarantee the election of Syria's puppets in Lebanon. Nonetheless, the Lebanese people remain apt and resolute to resume their democratic way of life once conditions become conducive and the Syrian regime withdraws its forces and intelligence apparatus from Lebanon.

Third, Syria's occupation of Lebanon has led to instability and hindered the peace process. Most puzzling and frustrating for the Lebanese people is that there are supporters of the Syrian Regime in positions of authority, both in Lebanon and in the U.S., who assert that Syria provides an element of stability in Lebanon. These supporters turn a blind eye to the fact that Lebanon has become unstable only as a result of Syrian hegemony over Lebanon.  Today, the Lebanese-Israeli Border is a lit fuse that can erupt into a regional war at anytime.  And why this present state of affairs?

The blame lies squarely at the feet of Syria, which forbids Lebanon to implement UN Resolution 426 and deploy its army along the border with Israel. I ask a simple question:  Where is the much-heralded stability that Syria is providing?  And how many times has the US intervened to diffuse tension and prevent escalation of this Syrian-created mess?

Those same apologists for the Syrian Regime also argue that political detente and dialogue among the Lebanese factions would not be possible without Syria's alleged role as an "intermediary" between them.  Again, on this point separation must be made between reality and Syrian-propagated myth.  Hafez Assad made it clear on July 20, 1976 that he is sending his forces to Lebanon to protect his Palestinian proxies and other radical groups.  Since the Syrian regime directly intervened in Lebanon, it has consistently incited the Lebanese against each other at every level. Many Lebanese personalities, who recognized and rejected Syria's sinister plans to promote "internal conflict," were assassinated. These patriotic Lebanese sacrificed themselves on the altar of peace by choosing to take an active role in bridging differences and resolving stalemates, in direct contradiction to Syria's wicked plans.  Among these Lebanese victims are those, from different factions, who dared to open genuine channels of dialogue with me during my tenure as the Prime Minister of the Interim Lebanese Government.  And I personally was also the target of three Syrian-sponsored assassination attempts that inflicted many casualties, and some fatalities, in the ranks of my personal security entourage.

Fourth, under Syrian occupation the human rights of the Lebanese people have been systematically violated.  An exhaustive description of the crimes committed by the Syrian Regime and its goons in Lebanon would take thousands of pages and dozens of hearings.  Two Lebanese presidents-both of whom can be accurately described as unwilling to take their orders from the Syrian intimidators-were assassinated immediately upon their elections.

Ambassadors, elite journalists, and political and religious figures from all denominations who dared to oppose Syria were kidnapped, tortured, imprisoned, and/or assassinated.  And this is in addition to the tens of thousands of Lebanese who perished in countless massacres, in months upon months of random Syrian artillery shelling of civilian areas, and in countless booby-trapped and bombed cars. Furthermore, the freedom of speech has been restricted and any media critical of the status quo have been silenced.  Last but not least, the judicial system has been politicized and used as an instrument of intimidation, harassment, and oppression.

Fifth, widespread corruption of enormous magnitude has devastated the Lebanese economy.  Syria's puppet regime and proxies in Lebanon have excessively abused their power.  They unnecessarily built a national debt currently exceeding two hundred percent of GDP while simultaneously amassing gigantic personal fortunes at the expense and welfare of the average Lebanese citizens.

The aforementioned are only few illustrations of the negative impact of Syrian occupation of Lebanon.  Prior to Syria's hegemony, Lebanon was a living example of political and religious pluralism, and a symbol of moderation and tolerance.  Lebanon, free from Syrian occupation and terror, will emerge once again with a political system that is democratic, an economic policy that is truly capitalistic and transparent, a modern and independent judiciary that enforces and respects the rule of law, and an educational system that nurtures a culture of peace in a region and environment in dire need of true peace.


 The Restoration of Lebanon's Sovereignty

The restoration of Lebanese sovereignty is an absolute necessity if terrorism is to be defeated.  In order to achieve this objective, the Lebanese people and the international community, under the sponsorship of the United States, will have to collaborate closely and commit resources towards this goal.  Today the majority of the Lebanese, across all groups and factions, are living in anticipation of the restoration of their sovereignty and free will and are longing for the day when they can again exercise their freedoms without fear of arrest, persecution, or death.

We hope that the Syrian regime will take the opportunity to act positively and withdraw its forces from Lebanon as we seek to build with the Syrian people genuine and strong friendly relations based on mutual respect and common interests among the two people.

Following a Syrian withdrawal, it is quite conceivable that the Syrian regime will leave behind many of its instruments of terror and destruction as well as its paramilitary/intelligence apparatus. Therefore, it is imperative that Syrian withdrawal be accompanied by a complete disarmament of all armed elements.  Only the legitimate armed forces of Lebanon can be entrusted with providing security to the Lebanese people.  They are certainly capable of doing so when provided with a strong political leadership duly elected by the Lebanese themselves, rather than appointed by an occupying power as is the case today.  Equally important, Lebanon will need certified tribunals to investigate and bring to justice all criminals who committed war atrocities and crimes against humanity.

Lebanon will certainly need significant economic aid.  The Lebanese people have incurred catastrophic losses and the Lebanese economy is devastated due largely to the corrupt Syrian puppet regimes installed in power since the early 1990s.  And to this day, more than any other country, Lebanon has been carrying an enormous burden as a consequence of the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict.   The Lebanese cause is a cause in and of itself.  It is not and should not be linked to the resolution of any regional or global conflict or crisis.  Lebanon, alone, is a legitimate and pressing issue by every standard of international law.

This small country, Lebanon, is not a producer of oil or raw material.

Lebanon is however rich beyond description.  Lebanon is rich in its culture, in its people, in its beauty, in its history, and in its heart. But most importantly, Lebanon is rich in its tradition of democracy and freedom.

Only in very recent history has it become evident to the Western powers that Lebanon must be saved as a matter of global security, and hence my presence here today before this honorable committee. But the salvation of Lebanon is more than a matter of security-It is a moral imperative.  Lebanon must be saved, because it is right to save Lebanon; a nation which cherishes American principles and human values that we all believe in.  To save Lebanon is to lend credence to what President Bush declared in his speech on September 11, 2002 and I quote:

"We will use our position of unparalleled strength and influence to build an atmosphere of international order and openness in which progress and liberty can flourish in many nations. A peaceful world of growing freedom serves American long-term interests, reflects enduring American ideals and unites America's allies."

Madame Chairwoman, the true nature of the Lebanese people is love of freedom and affection for America; and the true nature of America is support for those aspiring to freedom.  A Lebanon dominated by a Syrian terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship is inconsistent with the nature of Lebanese people and does not serve their interests.  And looking the other way while a democracy is being turned into a repressive satellite state is inconsistent with the American nature and interests.  Madame Chairwoman, we have been fighting valiantly for our beloved Lebanon for over 30 years.

We have lost almost everything.  We lost our brothers and sisters, our friends, our fellow soldiers, our freedoms, our security, our homes, and our money.

But we are determined to continue fighting for our cause because we never lost hope-and never will-that our natural allies in the free world would ultimately see our fight for what it truly was-a fight for freedom against terrorism and oppression.  I come before you today to urge you to be true to America's nature, to aid those aspiring to freedom, to strike a blow to terrorism, and vote to pass the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003.

Thank you for your attention.

Prime Minister General Michel Aoun

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