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'Snake Eat Snake' | The Nation

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'Snake Eat Snake'

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There are, of course, plenty of episodes of which Cobra has direct knowledge. He confirms, for example, that four Iranian diplomats kidnapped by the Lebanese Forces in the summer of 1982 were killed on Hobeika's watch. How does he know? One of his close friends was told by a Hobeika aide to remove their bodies from near the militia's headquarters and bury them in the mountains so they would not be found. Reportedly, Cobra's account was credible enough for the Iranian Embassy in Beirut to request that the judicial authorities investigate the matter.

About the Author

Walid Harb
Walid Harb is the pseudonym of a writer living in Lebanon.

Perhaps the most revealing incident is the chapter on the kidnapping of Roger Tamraz. Tamraz, a saponaceous Lebanese businessman with US citizenship, became known to the American public in September 1997, when he testified before the Senate Finance Committee on a contribution of $300,000 he had dropped into the Democratic Party coffers. In 1989, when Tamraz was still in Lebanon, Hobeika ordered Cobra to abduct him. Two of Hobeika's finest were sent in to extort $12 million, though Tamraz bargained this down to $5 million despite several rounds of torture. Cobra describes the incident in detail, reproduces relevant documents and even records to whom the money was distributed.

Cobra also writes that he took a liking to Tamraz. The explanation is not long in coming: Tamraz, Cobra informs us, sent him $50,000 after the kidnapping. If true, then Tamraz was turning his captor. Is there a possibility Tamraz is behind this book? It took several weeks for Hobeika to take legal action against Cobra in a libel suit. When he did, his lawyer unambiguously insinuated that Tamraz was the publisher. No proof was provided, and Tamraz, who is wanted in Lebanon, is everyone's favorite villain. But if Tamraz is indeed Cobra's Svengali, then there must be some kind of moral here: perhaps that snakes eat snakes.

Hobeika's career provides another apocalyptic message, which Cobra, for all his calculating, brings out nicely: namely, that societies emerging from war willingly develop short memories. The mechanism of Lebanon's amnesia was offered up in August 1991, when the government passed Law Number 84, "granting a general amnesty for all crimes before March 28, 1991, according to specific conditions." All those who had fomented civil and confessional conflict and who engaged in politically motivated murder were pardoned. That meant that Hobeika's activities during the war were nullified. Within certain limits, Hobeika is, according to Lebanese law, an innocent man.

Politics aside, Cobra has unwittingly written a raw, stunning masterpiece, almost literary in its momentum, describing what it really is like to be a petty criminal of war. His message is, for lack of a better word, universal, all the more so thanks to the coarseness of its delivery. As the reader proceeds through Cobra's account, the recitation of killings, kidnappings and sundry crimes takes on a malignant grandeur. One begins to marvel at the sheer bestial ingenuity of predators so pervasively engaged in the business of exploitation--men who, from continent to continent, seem to cover every angle, who instinctively sense an opponent's or victim's weaknesses, who profit among the cadavers.

One then realizes that in Lebanon's case, the survivors were, indeed, the fittest; that in the melee of all against all, it was they who best understood that power is its own measure. It was the Hobeikas, the Hatems and the countless others currently in positions of influence who discerned that a Lebanon at peace would most abruptly discard the war's victims, their victims.

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