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Lebanon's army puts the boot in - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A Lebanese soldier inspects the area outside the Bilal bin Rabah mosque, scene of this week's deadly clashes between the Lebanese army and supporters of radical Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, in the Abra district of the southern city of Sidon on June 28, 2013. AFP PHOTO/MAHMOUD ZAYYAT

A Lebanese soldier inspects the area outside the Bilal bin Rabah mosque, scene of this week’s deadly clashes between the Lebanese army and supporters of radical Sunni cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, in the Abra district of the southern city of Sidon on June 28, 2013. AFP PHOTO/MAHMOUD ZAYYAT

Lebanese singer Fairouz has in the past sung about the Lebanese army. The song in question starts with the line “your footsteps on the ground roar.”

It’s a line which people repeat every time war or conflict strikes Lebanon. This song was remembered a lot in Lebanon in the past week as there were many chants and slogans in support of the military. Propaganda reigned over the media scene as some outlets used terms linked to the “military boots,” as a Lebanese artist once said on one of the channels.

Of course the aim behind this was to support the Lebanese army in the military confrontation against Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir and his armed group in Sidon.

As the rhetoric voiced admiration of the “military boot” increased, a video in which members of the army along with their officer appeared showing them gathering around a detainee from Assir’s group and interrogating him. They are seen laughing at him and mocking him before they began beating him, with their military boots “roaring” on the man’s back.

Following the incident, photos emerged showing the dead body of Nader Al-Bayoumi, who was detained and died of torture at the ministry of defense, according to his family. Signs that he was beaten up and tortured appeared on his body.

The first thing that the emergence of the video and the photos aimed to achieve was the end of the Lebanese army’s mission in Sidon. The video and the photos aimed to abort this mission, particularly with the huge confusion that accompanied this military operation and the inclusion of Hezbollah as a major factor in it.

Of course no one in Lebanon is under the illusion that security institutions do not practice intimidating violent while detaining and interrogating people.

Detainees have previously died in Lebanese prisons, and stories of violent behavior inflicted on detainees have a long history. There are also many reports issued by international rights institutions condemning interrogation processes in Lebanon. But what happened last week, particularly the video in which the soldiers are seen interrogating and stepping on a detainee on the ground, appeared to be a wholly new kind of incident.

It’s the first time that Lebanese soldiers appear to smile while hitting a detainee and filming him at the same time. It’s certain that whoever leaked the video is one of them. They carried out this act with the clear approval of the officer in charge.

This video compels us to carry out a quick comparison with the beginning of the Syrian revolution and the many videos in which soldiers and officers appeared torturing and murdering people while smiling and filming in order to publish videos and spread fear. It’s a reminder that after the Lebanese civil war, the military has been rebuilt in the shadow of the Syrian regime.

Yes, violent practices have certainly existed before last week’s events. But what’s new is that now they have been documented. This means that the supervision of the security services has become an issue that the military cannot avoid. However, the statement issued by the army condemning the footage from Sidon does not indicate that the military has learnt lessons about the new media.

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled

Diana Moukalled is a prominent and well-respected TV journalist in the Arab world thanks to her phenomenal show Bil Ayn Al-Mojarada (By The Naked Eye), a series of documentaries on controversial areas and topics which airs on Lebanon's leading local and satelite channel, Future Television. Diana also is a veteran war correspondent, having covered both the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan, as well as the Israeli "Grapes of Wrath" massacre in southern Lebanon. Ms. Moukalled has gained worldwide recognition and was named one of the most influential women in a special feature that ran in Time Magazine in 2004.

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