ANOTHER HISTORICAL DAY IN LEBANON: JULY 26, 2005
Freed Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea arrives in Paris
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
BEIRUT: In a final move to consolidate national reconciliation, Lebanese Forces commander Samir Geagea was released from prison yesterday after serving 11 years and three months in an underground cell at the Defense Ministry for crimes committed during the Civil War.
Geagea, 52, who was the only prominent former warlord from Lebanon's 1975-90 Civil-War era to be jailed for his actions during the conflict, was freed under an amnesty law passed last week. The amnesty, passed by a Lebanese Parliament dominated by an anti-Syrian coalition, is seen as a step toward reconciliation now that Syrian dominance over Lebanon has ended.
Geagea was driven straight from his cell at the Defense Ministry to Rafik Hariri International Airport in a military convoy. He was greeted by supporters and LF members, who crammed into the VIP lounge to sip champagne and celebrate.
The LF commander appeared in public for the first time since his imprisonment in 1994 via a televised speech from the airport, visibly thinner but speaking with a strong, clear voice.
"Dear Lebanese people, you left the large prison you were put in and took me with you out of the small jail I was put in," said Geagea in reference to the Syrian troops withdrawal in April of this year after a 30-year-reign over Lebanon.
"They were long dark black years," he said during his emotional 30-minute speech.
"If people choose to live [in freedom] then fate will definitely respond, and it did!" said Geagea to roaring applause from the politicians, clergymen, and supporters who had gathered at the airport.
Geagea, who targeted Druze, Muslim and Palestinian forces during the civil war and allied his men with Israel during its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, called for cooperation from all of Lebanon's political and religious groups to help in the country's reconstruction.
"We now need cooperation of a totally different spirit than the one that prevailed during the war years," he said.
Geagea also took a few moments to reflect on his personal struggles during his confinement in the underground cell at the Defense Ministry and said: "I have spent 11 horrific years in solitary confinement in a 6-square-meter dungeon three floors underground without sunlight or fresh air. But I endured my hardships because I was living my convictions."
Geagea drew the loudest applause when he spoke of "the plight and endurance of my darling, my wife Strida," who was recently elected as an MP and actively sought for her husband's release.
Many officials were present but perhaps most notable was the presence of former President Amin Gemayel, Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade, Batroun MP Butros Harb, Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, Tourism Minister Joseph Sarkis, Former MP Nassib Lahoud, Beirut MP Gibran Tueni, and Zghorta MP Samir Franjieh.
Amin Gemayel surprisingly received the warmest greeting from Geagea, characterized by several hugs that lasted longer than with other guests.
"It was an emotional moment. Any person would be affected when meeting a person who has endured as much as he has in an underground cell," said Gemayel.
"Our relationship has had its ups and downs, but it is time to focus on the good and look forward to a new beginning as we have all learned from our mistakes in the past," said Gemayel whose friction with Geagea has been well documented. Gemayel famously lost authority over the Lebanese Forces to Geagea
who led a successful coup against the Phalange Party to become the head of the LF.
Michel Aoun representative, Metn MP Ibrahim Kenaan, spoke privately with Geagea where he delivered Aoun's message of future "positive cooperation" between the two former Civil-War nemeses
"A new page has now been turned in Lebanon, with a commitment to accept others and respect their opinions; it is this co-existence of conflicting opinions which is what democracy is all about," said Kenaan.
No officials from Hizbullah or Amal met with Geagea.
Former Premier Najib Mikati released a statement in which he viewed Geagea's release along with Islamists detained following the Dinnieh and Majdel Anjar clashes as "necessary reconciliation steps to fold the pages of the painful past and move forward together in united steps toward building the foundation of a modern state."
Geagea arrived in France late last night.
"For security reasons and under agreement with French authorities, he was taken directly from the runway to his home," said Georges Abiraad, a member of Geagea's welcoming committee.
Samir Geagea's speech at Rafik Hariri airport after his release
'The dark days are behind you. The bright days ahead. You will not have to pay twice for your independence and freedom'
Wednesday, July 27, 2005/Daily Star
Now that you have come out of the great prison to which you were confined, you have released me from the small prison in which I was put. These were long, dark years that almost caused the demise of the nation, beginning with the assassination of President Martyr Rene Mouawad, and not ending with the assassination of late Prime Minister Martyr Rafik Hariri.
Right from the beginning they realized that only with Lebanon's two wings would its resurrection be possible. Hence, they decided to break one of them, even uprooting it if need be. They went to extremes, banishing, arresting, persecuting, imprisoning, torturing, suppressing and oppressing.
As souls were filled with fear and hearts with distress, many of Lebanon's youth had to emigrate, leaving their forefathers' land. Moreover, they did not spare those who had embarked on construction and development despite all obstacles.
So they practiced continual extortion, putting obstacles and barriers before them, and indulging them in their crooked ways and limitless corruption. This being so, the Lebanese had to pay much too much to have their country reconstructed, thus incurring unprecedented astronomical figures worth of debts.
I will not elaborate on the past, which you have lived with your sweat and tears and through your fear for your children, liberties, sovereignty, independence and future. Only I would like to draw lessons from the past:
It has been proven that if there is a heyday for what is wrong, there are a thousand days for what is right.
It has also been established as a fact that if a people is determined to live, destiny cannot but respond favorably. True, fate turned favorable. Nevertheless, fate provides joy but cannot supply a morsel in the mouth. Therefore, let us be determined to seize opportunities without delay.
I do not want to hide from you the fact that heavy burdens of work loom before us, but I promise you that we will not fall under them. Also, our internal Lebanese home is undergoing a state of imbalance, as a result of the 15 years of oppression. Yet, we will exert all possible effort in order to reach more agreement with our allies over the needed rehabilitation.
As you know, Lebanon is still subject to various forms of aggression: assassinations and security instability, both inside the country and along the border. However, all this will not change the course of events in the slightest. As always true, time does not move backwards.
I spent more than 11 years in a small prison cell underground, totally isolated from the external world, and without any company inside the prison. Even during the daily promenade, I was alone. But I was never truly alone, for you were all with me.
Although the circumstances surrounding my arrest were really harsh, l was overwhelmed by a strange feeling of inner reassurance, owing to the fact that I was true to myself. Indeed, I lived up to my convictions, though in 6 square meters only. To me, this was immeasurably better than living up to others' convictions, even if that experience were extended over the whole universe.
Throughout this whole period of imprisonment, I never felt imprisoned despite being in prison. What prison? For my spirit remained free, and that is the most important thing Real prisoners are those who have built their own prisons, by means of impersonating others and adopting their convictions, greedily seeking a position or gain, or avoiding persecution or arrest.
The essence of human existence is that free will with which God has distinguished man from other creatures. This free moral agency should not be abandoned or exchanged for any other thing. The only thing that makes me feel sorry is the extent of fear and suffering to which my wife, family, relatives and friends were exposed on account of me, who would rather be a free prisoner underground than be free in the world away from the flock.
I have always considered my presence in prison to be a duty I was fulfilling, just as I had done everyday before being incarcerated. Assuming full responsibility is one's duty through thick and thin, without reluctance or retreat.
In this regard, I must hail all comrades in the Lebanese Forces wherever they are: in the country or abroad. To them I say: I am very proud of you, your awareness, your faith, your understanding, your strength and your sacrifices.
The pursuits, persecutions, arrests, incarcerations, torments, court rulings and sometimes killings constitute the greatest injustice in Lebanon's modern history. Regrettably in this connection, all these practices were done by Lebanese, even though the decision was non-Lebanese. But nations can only be built by struggle and sacrifice, as well as by sweat and tears.
I especially salute Lebanese Muslims and Christians, admiring their silent resistance throughout all these years, as they opposed the attempts to empty Lebanon from all historical, national, intellectual, economic, and even demographic components. And I thank all those who helped effect my release, whether directly or indirectly. Understandably, as I am not able to mention them all, I particularly thank:
His Beatitude Cardinal Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, as well as the other patriarchs and bishops, who have not ceased to advocate this cause from the beginning, without letup;
Our allies in the Progressive Socialist Party, headed by Mr. Walid Jumblatt, and the Future Movement, headed by Sheikh Saad Rafik Hariri, for their efforts during the past few months;
Members of the Qornet Shehwan Meeting, for their struggle and advocacy of this cause, throughout all its phases;
The Free National Movement, headed by General Michel Aoun, for its youth's struggle to change the long-standing conditions;
The Lebanese Parliament, both speaker and members, for signing the amended amnesty bill.
My special thanks also go to hundreds of thousands of Lebanese, who have made March 14, a nation's procession toward freedom, dignity and justice.
How can I forget the silent, painful sacrifices of my parents, who were deprived of comfort normally enjoyed by others their age, after years of hard work?
How can I forget my beloved wife, who suffered the captivity of her life partner when she was still enjoying the first years of her marriage. Moreover, she was displaced, pursued, and summoned twice to be interrogated on various false charges. Nonetheless, shouldering big responsibilities, she did her utmost to manage things in the best way possible, strengthened by faith and patience.
The dark days are behind you, the bright days ahead. You will not have to pay twice for your independence and freedom. If we really want to build a better future for our generations, we must all cooperate in a spirit completely different from that prevailing during the war. We must not look at others with preconceived judgments based on our former wartime prejudices, because the logic of war does not work for our days. So let us look toward the future, and let us exert concerted efforts, so that we may engender hope in the souls of our youth. The best of days is tomorrow; let us build it today together.
Long live Lebanon!