"ATFL": Principles Versus Acts
By: Colonel Charbel Barakat
Translated by: Elias Bejjani

The American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL) is a prestigious American-Lebanese NGO that embraces among its membership ranks many Lebanese American dignitaries. Its prime objectives include the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon, reclaiming the country's sovereignty, and disarming all militias that are still armed. These objectives are honored and advocated by all patriotic Lebanese parties, individuals and NGOs, in both Lebanon and the Diaspora, that struggle peacefully for a free, independent and sovereign Lebanon.

In reality, however, the ATFL adopted a set of policies and stances that contradict its prime objectives. It initially opposed the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act (SALSRA), but later abandoned its opposition to it while declining to cooperate or coordinate with any of the NGOs that were long-time supporters of the bill.

Meanwhile all the American congressmen of Lebanese descent - except only one - changed their position from one of opposition to the SALSRA to actually voting for it when it went to the floor of the House of Representatives, and among them is Mr. Darrell Issa who is known to be very close to the ATFL.

Advocates for a free Lebanon all over the Diaspora as well as inside occupied Lebanon are wondering why this prestigious American-Lebanese NGO has kept itself so distanced from all pro-Lebanese, anti-Syrian occupation lobbying efforts in the US, even though it has for many years called for the reclaiming of Lebanon's confiscated independence and its marginalized sovereignty, as well as for the withdrawal of all foreign troops and armed militias from its soil.

In fact we were aware for a while that the ATFL positions on Lebanon were very close to those of the US administration. So it comes as a surprise that the ATFL did not change its positions in parallel with the Bush administration's own reversal to a clear pro-free Lebanon policy!

Our intention is by no means to be accusative or unfair to anyone. Also, we are not trying to tag any Lebanese or those of Lebanese descent with acts of treason, failure, or serving Lebanon's enemies. But it is very obvious that some influential members of the ATFL have aligned themselves with the status quo imposed on Lebanon to the extent that they forgot or turned a blind eye to their organization's own stated objectives that are published on its web site.

Mr. Nijad Fares is a well known businessman and a prominent member in the ATFL. He is the son of Mr. Issam Fares, Lebanon's current Deputy Prime Minister. Both father and son are well known and well respected in Lebanon and the USA.

We hate to believe that the Fares family members are satisfied and content with the present status quo of occupation in Lebanon due to the fact that it serves their business and social status interests. We wonder if the position of Deputy Prime Minister - with the kind of services and facilities provided by the Syrian occupation to the Fares Family - are more important than the sovereignty of Lebanon?

In fact, Mr. Issam Fares, who is a self made millionaire and a very successful businessman, does not need the Syrian occupation to get the kind of political and social status that he is enjoying now in Lebanon. On the contrary, we are confident that Mr. Fares honors the position of Deputy Prime Minister, and not vice-versa.

We share the Lebanese people's faith and their solid belief that working for independent, free and sovereign Lebanon is the vehicle for gaining credibility, respect and status. Working for Lebanon and its people exhibits a great deal of wisdom and righteous insight, while betting on a temporary status quo inflicted through crime and oppression, keeping a blind eye turned obvious facts, and abandoning one's convictions on Lebanon reap no benefits and do not lead anywhere in the long run.

Some might argue that Mr. Fares, who hails from Akkar, Lebanon's northern region that is adjacent to Syria, has no choice but to appease and cajole the Syrian regime in a bid to safeguard the existence and fate of Lebanese citizens there. The same argument suggests that if Mr. Fares does not do so, the Syrian occupation will then exercise cruel oppression, impoverishment, hardships and displacement against the residents of Akkar. Plausible as this scenario might be, and while nobody is asking or even expecting Mr. Fares to fight the Syrians in his region, nothing can justify Mr. Fares's subservience, slavery, kneeling and puppetism that seems to aid Syria in improving its public image and help it solidify its hegemony on Lebanon and its people.

If Mr. Nijad Fares has become a victim of the Syrian leadership and a hostage to it, helpless in resisting their pressure, unable to act freely, and fearing their revenge against the residents of Akkar. Or, God forbids, if has sold himself for thirty Dinars to the executioners of Lebanon, then it would be more honorable for him to quit his position in the ATFL than to pretend to be a free Lebanese individual who will not succumb to pressure or to serve the Syrian occupation under the disguise of a reputable American-Lebanese NGO. Such a substitute leader will advocate and serve through the ATFL for Lebanon's interests and not for those of its occupiers and oppressors.

The preceding is not based only on the ATFL's ambiguous stance on the SALSRA, but also on the ATFL's statements trying to justify the atrocities of Syria and Hizbollah, as well as its blatant advocacy for an ongoing Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

The ATFL is adopting these anti-Lebanese stances at a time when Lebanon's rights in reclaiming its freedom, independence and sovereignty are swiftly gaining public support in the US and elsewhere. A support that was non-existent for almost thirty years. The ATFL is ignoring the fact that the American legislature in both houses has made history by voting to pass the SALSRA by an overwhelming majority. They have made Lebanon's cause of freedom a priority for the American people, while the ATFL is still dragging behind.

Based on all these remarkable positive changes in American policies towards Lebanon, we call on the ATFL's patriotic leadership and members to expose and isolate all those among their ranks who are working against their homeland, Lebanon, and the interests of its people. ATFL's mandate is to advocate for human rights in Lebanon and to champion the freedom of its people. Those who have a different agenda do not deserve to remain among its membership.

We are not against those farsighted Lebanese leaders and dignitaries back home and in the Diaspora who believe that Syria's enmity is not an objective of Lebanon. Meanwhile we call on them to advise their friends in the Syrian Baathist regime leadership to withdraw the Syrian occupation army from Lebanon with all its Intelligence Service agents and organization of terror that have inflicted great harm to the Land of the Cedars and committed horrible atrocities against its people. We call on them also to advise their friends to immediately and forever close all their terrorist breeding schools and cells that they have established in Lebanon.

The terrorist organizations that are sponsored, harbored, and controlled by Syria have been terrorizing not only Lebanon and its peaceful people, but also the whole world. These "Made in Syria" terrorist groups and individuals have badly disfigured Lebanon's image worldwide. This kind of blemishing has forced many Lebanese who respect themselves to pursue other countries' citizenships and passports to safeguard themselves from the image and tag of terrorism.

We call on the ATFL leadership and members, as well as on all those Lebanese politicians inside occupied Lebanon, and on dignitaries of Lebanese descent in the Diaspora who have adopted anti-Lebanon and pro-Syrian occupation policies and positions, and to a lesser extent those who hesitate in supporting pro-Lebanese lobbying groups and individuals, to re-evaluate and reassess their acts. We call on them to advocate strongly for the immediate and unconditional implementation of UN resolution 520 that demands the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon, including the Syrians who are currently in full control over its government.

Turning a blind eye on Syria's military occupation and hegemony over Lebanon will no doubt ultimately lead to a devastating climate of instability in all neighboring countries.

The fact remains that there will be no lasting peace in the Middle East as long as Lebanon remains an occupied country and its people oppressed. A Lebanon free from foreign troops, sovereign, independent and democratic is key to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and to the defeat of worldwide terrorism and fanaticism.