It was especially interesting that initial copies of the Mehlis report released to journalists at the United Nations last night came as a Word document, with tracked changes in the text. The final emendations were made by the office of Secretary General Kofi Annan.
In the initial Mehlis draft of the particularly damning paragraph 96 (here is a link to a non-annotated version of the final report), two very senior Syrian officials--Military Intelligence chief Assef Shawkat, Syrian President Bashar Assad's brother-in-law, as well as the president's own brother, Maher, are mentioned by a witness as having helped plan Rafik Hariri's assassination. However, in the final draft redacted by Annan's office, the names were removed, though the original text is clearly visible via the tracked changes.
This seemed to indicate timidity from Annan's office, or at least a desire to avoid any accusation of high-level Syrians in the context of a statement by a single witness. However, that may be half the story: Why was the document released in this fashion? It would have been very easy to just make the changes and leave no editing marks. Was this a compromise between Mehlis and Annan, so that people like me could mention that detail, while the U.N. could later claim that the official version was "clean" of the names in question? Judge for yourselves.
Here is the paragraph as it reads now:
One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, senior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that a senior Lebanese security official went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of a senior Syrian security official. The last meeting was held in the house of the same senior Syrian security official approximately seven to 10 days before the assassination and included another senior Lebanese security official. The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.
Here is the original:
One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, Maher Assad, Assef Shawkat, Hassan Khalil, Bahjat Suleyman and Jamil Al-Sayyed decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that Sayyed went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of Shawkat. The last meeting was held in the house of Shawkat approximately 7 to 10 days before the assassination and included Mustapha Hamdan. The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.
And finally, here's an explanation for the additional dramatis personae: Khalil was Military Intelligence chief before Shawkat, though Shawkat was the real power-holder; Bahjat Suleyman was the head of the internal branch of Syria's State Security service; Jamil al-Sayyed was the head of Lebanon's General Security service; and Mustapha Hamdan was commander of Lebanon's Republican Guard, the unit that protects President Emile Lahoud (and that acted as his own security service).
Addendum: The Washington Post has posted the report with the tracked changes here.
More: Since posting, I've learned that this has turned into a bona fide "issue." According to Security Council spokesman Stephane Dujarric, the changes were made by Mehlis himself, though the Syrians are bound to claim that all this means is that there is no evidence against those initially listed. My own view is that Annan was trying to play it safe and deleted the names, that Mehlis wanted to keep them in, that a Word version with tracked changes was released accomodating both, and that now the U.N. has a headache to deal with. I could be wrong, and I'm basically guessing, but the notion that the names were removed to protect the innocent is absurd; the whole report is full of names, and even Assef Shawkat, whose name was deleted from paragraph 96, is mentioned elsewhere.
(Thanks to Chuck Freund for the last link.)