The ATFL & its questionable role!!
By: Elias Bejjani & Charbel Barakat

In fact, we do not unveil any secret by echoing the concerns of the many members in the American Lebanese community, as well as the multitude of Lebanese Diaspora in neighboring Canada and elsewhere around the world who have lately been questioning the sincerity and patriotic values of the American Task Force for Lebanon (ATFL), with its declared policy and objectives. The activities of this reputable nonprofit organization, with over one hundred prominent members from the American Lebanese community, have recently been drifting from its declared mandate. Its Board of Directors have been aggressively promoting interests of the Syrian Baathist regime much more than it does for occupied Lebanon and its oppressed people.

On paper the ATFL states that its unifying goal is to work towards reestablishing a secure, stable, independent and sovereign Lebanon with full control over all its territory. Meanwhile it has opposed ‘The Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act’ (SALSA) of 2003 that was passed by both US houses with a huge majority and then became a law after President Bush signed it. Although this law delineates that "the Government of Syria should immediately declare its commitment to completely withdraw its armed forces, including military, paramilitary, and security forces from Lebanon and set a firm timetable for such withdrawal" and "the Government of Lebanon should deploy the Lebanese armed forces to all areas of Lebanon, including South Lebanon, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 520 (September 17, 1982), in order to assert the sovereignty of the Lebanese state over all of its territory and should evict all terrorist and foreign forces from southern Lebanon, including Hizballah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards".

The ATFL also states that, "At all times, the mission and objectives of the ATFL shall be in the best interest of the United States" and consequently it declined from supporting the same U.S. act that demands that, "The Government of Syria should halt the development and deployment of medium and long range surface to surface ballistic missiles and cease the development and production of biological and chemical weapons. The Government of Syria should halt illegal imports and transshipments of Iraqi oil and illegal sales and supplies of weapons and military-related equipment to Iraq and come into full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 661 and subsequent relevant resolutions. The Governments of Lebanon and Syria should enter into serious unconditional bilateral negotiations with the Government of Israel in order to realize a full and permanent peace"!

In its policy statement the ATFL further declares that it has to "provide a national structure within which Americans of Lebanese heritage may promote the national unity, independence, sovereignty and security of a free and democratic Lebanon and heighten awareness of the American public and United States government to the social, economic, political, cultural, and educational situation in Lebanon". Meanwhile the ATFL did not voice any concern addressing Lebanon's fatal foreign debt, or the Syrian Baathist systematic destruction of Lebanon's heritage, demography and educational system. Not even one statement was issued by the ATFL when the Syrian appointed Lebanese government tried to Islamisize the country's educational system after its thirty members with the President unanimously approved a draft law stipulating Lebanon’s joining to the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) even though its charter indicates plainly that members should have the Islamic identity, which "discriminates against people on the basis of religious affiliation" and contradicts several articles of the Lebanese Constitution! The government referred this draft law to the parliament requesting its ratification. The draft law violated the people’s right to absolute freedom of religion and the United Nations Charter. The draft law was fortuitously withdrawn by the government following massive Christian protests.

In its policy statement the ATFL commits it self to advocate for "the departure of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanese territory and the implementation of all U.N. resolutions and international agreements regarding Lebanon, the assumption by the United States of an aggressive diplomatic leadership role in the Middle East peace process and the assurance that the conclusion of the Middle East peace process will not be at the expense of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon and the disarmament of all remaining militia on Lebanese soil". Yet, the ATFL opposed the SALSA which adopts the UN Resolution 520 that calls for "the strict respect for Lebanon's sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence under the sole and exclusive authority of the Lebanese Government through the Lebanese Army throughout Lebanon".
On the same note, not even one release or stance was issued by the ATFL denouncing the terrorist group Hizbollah, even after the US administration has added it to its terrorist list.

The ATFL's policy statement also declares "support for Lebanon's democratic and judicial institutions and the support for Lebanon's strict adherence to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". However, the ATFL has never once took a stance denouncing any of the hundreds of atrocities and infringements savagely committed by the Syrian occupier and its appointed Lebanese government against innocent Lebanese citizens from all walks of life.

One has to wonder whether the ATFL is aware of the tragic dilemma of the thousands of innocent Lebanese, arbitrarily detained in Syrian torture prisons, some for over 25 years! Not one word from this organization has ever addressed this on going human rights crisis even as members from its board of directors have been meeting with the Syrian president and other Syrian officials on a regular basis for the last few years. Ironically, one of ATFL’s prominent members has visited Israel, Lebanon and Syria in an endeavor to secure the release of Hizbollah prisoners from Israeli jails. One again wonders about the kind of criteria adopted by this organization that seems to delineate it on a severely skewed path and biased anti-American and anti-Lebanese agenda.

The ATFL says, "Our purpose is to refocus on American interests and friendship with Lebanon and keep the Lebanese cause alive in the consciences of the United States government and the American people". Based on the record of activities of this organization during the last four to five years one must ask if it is actually a task force for Lebanon, or a task force to maintain the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Unfortunately, all its American focus activities have been centered on justifying this occupation and bridging the Syrian Baathist regime's relations with the American administration.

We feel that there is an urgent patriotic duty and ethical emergency to remind the ATFL Board of Directors as well as its one hundred respectable members of the following fact, hoping they will genuinely reevaluate their activities in a bid to abide by the declared policy and goals of their organization, or otherwise to amend them so they reveal what they are actually promoting and practicing:

1. The Syrian military presence in Lebanon is almost unanimously not wanted by the Lebanese people. It is only wanted by the collaborating puppet regime presently in power; understandably, a puppet cannot ask its puppeteer to remove itself from the hand. Syria has been officially asked at least twice by two Lebanese governments to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, but to no avail. The governments of President Amin Gemayel in 1984 and of Prime Minister Michel Aoun in 1989, both made the request publicly and to international audiences. In both instances, their requests were ignored.

2. In the Taef Agreement signed in 1989 and literally forced and imposed on a decaying Lebanese Parliament, Syria categorically refused to commit itself to a timetable for the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon. That was precisely in order for it to perpetually extend the justification for its occupation of its neighbor, which in fact it has done to this day. The argument that the Syrian occupation of Lebanon is a matter between those two countries is as absurd as blaming the victim for the crime. We only ask that the ATFL simply endorse the idea that the Syrian regime, commit itself to a verifiable timetable consistent with UN Resolution 520.

3. The argument that Syria's military presence in Lebanon is justified on the grounds that Israel could outflank Syria through the Lebanese-Syrian border has been amply proven wrong with the direct Israeli attack against Syria last October--the first in 30 years--to which Syria dared not respond. This goes to show that the threat to Syria across the Israeli-Syrian border is at least equal, if not greater, than the charade of a threat from Lebanon. (The ATFL denounced this attack yet did not denounce any Syrian atrocity in Lebanon)

4. The majority of the Lebanese people from all factions, denominations and ideologies are more than willing to sit together and decide on Lebanon's future and reconstruction plans when the Syrian iron fist of hegemony is broken. It is a blatant lie that the Syrian Baathist occupier is a stabilizing element in Lebanon. On the contrary, it is the direct and indirect cause for all Lebanon's hardships in all domains.

5. Lebanon under the Baathist Syrian occupation has become a haven for world-wide fundamentalists, terrorists and drug traffickers. In Lebanon and thanks to the Syrian Baathist regime we now have official schools and camps that create anti-western sentiment and teach hatred and techniques to kill Christians and Jews - the Ain El Helwi Palestinian Camp.

6. Thanks to the Baathist Syrian occupation and the Lebanese Syrian appointed government, 1.5 million Lebanese citizens, mainly youth and highly educated individuals, were forced to emigrate from Lebanon and settle in other countries. Meanwhile more than 1.2 million illegal Syrian workers invade the labor Lebanese market and compete with the Lebanese people. The so called "Lebanese" government has abandoned all its duties and obligations to appease its masters in Damascus.

Elias Bejjani
*Human Rights activist, journalist & political commentator.
*Spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation (CLHRF)
*Media Chairman for the Canadian Lebanese Coordinating Council (LCCC)

Charbel Barakat
*Vice President for the (WLO) World Lebanese Organization
* Historian & political commentator
*Author of the book "Madamik"
*Retired Colonel - the Lebanese Army