Samir Geagea (born October 25, 1952) is the formerly imprisoned leader of the Lebanese Forces (LF) militia. Geagea served what were to be several life sentences for crimes allegedly committed during the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990, but he was pardoned by the government of Lebanon on July 18, 2005. He remains the only civil war-era leader to have stood trial for crimes committed during the war.
Geagea was born in Ain el-Rummanah in Beirut in 1952 to parents from the Maronite town of Bsharri in the mountains of Northern Lebanon. While studying medicine at the American University of Beirut, he became an active member of the right-wing Phalangist Party, which became the main Christian fighting force upon the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War in 1975. He steadily rose through the ranks and led several daring operations at the request of Bashir Gemayel, then commander of the Phalangist militia (a right-wing movement advocating Maronite political participation in Lebanon). In 1983, he led the defence of the Shouf Region in Central Lebanon against an onslaught by various militias especially by those led by the later ally Walid Jumblat that were supported by the Syrian Army. Geagea was appointed head of LF’s northern Front in the early 1980s, where he commanded around 1,500 battle-hardened soldiers, drawn mainly from his native town of Bsharri and other towns and villages in Northern Lebanon. This loyal following would later ensure his ascension.
In 1984 Geagea and Elie Hobeika orchestrated an internal coup in order to end the leadership of Fuad Abu Nader on the Lebanese Forces. Abu Nader was considered to be too close to his uncle, president Amine Gemayel whose policies were not accepted by most LF leaders. In 1986, Geagea became head of the Lebanese Forces after overthrowing Hobeika, who was widely accused of treachery in the Lebanese Christian sector for agreeing to a Syrian-sponsored accord (the tripartite agreement). Geagea transformed the LF into a formidable fighting force and nurtured links with Iraq, which developed into a major source of weaponry and support due to its animosity towards Syria. He also developed a highly organised civil infrastructure in area’s under LF contol. In 1989, Geagea approved of the Taif agreement which aim was to put an end to the lebanese war.
Geagea initially supported General Michel Aoun’s military campaign, with the declared intention of freeing Lebanon of all foreign forces, launched in 1989. However, he later began to question Aoun’s motives in pursuing such a destructive and unpromising war against the much larger Syrian Army and its leftist allies. When Aoun began taking active steps to undermine and dissolve the LF, Geagea resisted violently. This resulted in a devastating war in 1990 between the LF and Lebanese Army units loyal to Aoun.
The post-war period
Aoun surrendered on 13 October 1990 after the Syrian army expelled him from the Baabda presidential palace. This date is considered to mark the end of the civil war. Geagea was subsequently offered ministerial portfolios in the new Lebanese government several times. However, he declined on the grounds of opposition to Syrian interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon. In 1994, Geagea was arrested on charges of attempting to undermine government authority by “maintaining a militia in the guise of a political party,” of instigating acts of violence, and of committing assassinations during the Lebanese Civil War. Prior to his arrest, he was contacted by several sympathetic politicians and warned about the forthcoming proceedings and offered safe passage out of Lebanon. Geagea refused to leave and was subsequently arrested, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment on several different counts. Many members of the LF were allegedly subjected to horrific torture techniques in the process of being interrogated, resulting in the death of at least one LF official under interrogation. The evidence used by the Lebanese authorities to convict Geagea was criticized by some as unreliable, circumstantial, and inconsistent. Human rights groups including Amnesty International decried the judicial process leading to his conviction as seriously flawed and politically motivated. He was incarcerated in solitary confinement in a small cell three floors underground in the Lebanese Ministry of Defense, with his access to the outside world severely restricted.
During his incarceration, support for Geagea among Lebanese Christians remained high, and by some accounts has even increased . Despite widespread calls for his release by notable politicians and clerics, all lebanese pro-syrian governments refused to grant Geagea a pardon during the 1994-2005 period. Geagea is said to have rejected an offer of a presidential pardon that would have restricted his ability to participate in political activity.
Speaking to a delegation from the Lebanese Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, which visited him in prison in November 2004, Geagea said, “I would prefer to remain in prison for another 20 years than bargain my beliefs for freedom.” Calls for his release intensified after the Cedar Revolution and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005. Several public figures openly conceded that Geagea’s arrest, trial, and incarceration were engineered by the Syrian-backed political order in response to his movement’s hostile stance towards the Syrian presence in Lebanon.
The Lebanese Parliament passed legislation on 18 July 2005 to free Samir Geagea. Only the Hezbollah deputies abstained from voting. Geagea’s party, the Lebanese Forces, held major celebrations throughout Lebanon.
Geagea was released from prison 26 July 2005 and left Lebanon for medical tests. “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 merely living my convictions,” he was quoted saying upon his release. He returned on October 25 (the day of his birth), and currently lives in the cedars region in north Lebanon.